As I grew up in 1980’s London like most Jewish people in my neighbourhood I lived an amazingly simple life. Hard working parents, a comfortable home, one holiday a year and most of the normal toys and games that any child would look back on with sentiment and joy.
My living environment was outrageously normal.
I never went without and in hindsight I was blessed to be given the things I needed (not always the things I wanted!). I never sought the extraordinary and I always looked to the future with very reasonable ambition and aspiration. As a family, we were not wealthy, but we were comfortable and, in that, lies a great deal of why in my formative years I guess I remained a pretty stable animal. I was always a character, maverick, susceptible to wild ideas – but all coming from a foundation of profound stability.
My parents were middle class, hardworking and traditional. They believed in investing in education and I was the grateful recipient of that. I guess in some ways that education shaped me into what I am today, and I am eternally grateful for that. I think that is where my personal story starts. At home, because for most – that is where it starts.
The Start (Not a surprising headline)
The home where I grew up was like many branded homes. What do I mean by that? It was purchased from a well-known property development company, it was furnished with goods from stores that advertised on prime time TV and the kitchen had appliances from companies made famous not by the quality of their goods but by the actors who broadcast alongside them. When I think back to my bedroom and the toys I played with (a journey of nostalgia in itself) I recall names such as Atari, Spectrum, Hornby, Waddington’s and Milton Bradley. Brands that managed to inject themselves into the bloodstream of my daily existence. Sad but true – most of those brands no longer exist.
When I think about those electrical appliances, the gadgets we used back then, the way we lived and the shops we visited, I realise now those brands could have survived.
Let’s go one step further – let’s move to the 90’s. Why did Blockbusters not transform into Netflix? Why did Kodak not realise that smartphones will have cameras or why did my local Wimpy’s bar (a well-known and beloved English hamburger chain) not decide to take on McDonalds?
The simple answer is they took the journey to irrelevance.
Loosely translated: they did not change with the times and stay relevant to their customer’s needs. They did not transform how they do business and therefore, in short, they collapsed for financial and economic reasons or gave up the fight and got acquired and subsequently ceased to exist as a brand in their own right. In short, my local Wimpy bar went soggy.
Step back and ask – why did those business leaders allow their companies to die and be laid to rest in the graveyard amongst the other mighty fallen. In other words:
What makes a company choose to die with intent?
Yes, there are many reasons why companies go to the wall, but for me there is one main reason:
Leadership. Or lack of it.
Rightly so, leaders get all the plaudits on the way up but deserve all the rotten tomatoes on the way down. A little black and white maybe – of course – but provoking debate is what we need – only then do we uncover the truths.
As a transformational consultant and change agent, I have worked for many of the good and even great. I have helped entrepreneurs achieve the exceptional and have watched some of the most famed ruin businesses overnight. I have learned from the best and learned even more from the worst. The defining factor between the successful and the non-successful is the ability to change and make change. Making a decision, and not procrastinating. Pushing and even relishing the internal debate but seeking the outcome of it and then executing accordingly.
Change waits for no man, and in business, not moving is moving – only in reverse.
A friend of mine and esteemed business leader once said to me, “if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t make decisions.” I have used this phrase time and time again. If a decision in hindsight was made mistakenly, it can be altered. But not making a decision is like injecting cancer into your organisation. It grows and kills not only the organisation – but the cherished employees within it.
Those who Changed – a bite of Apple and a trip to the Amazon
As a company we should look no further than Apple to see a company that made decisions and reinvented themselves from the shambolic company of the 70s to the global innovation leader of the 21st century. How did they wrestle themselves from near obscurity? BIG decisions. Steve Jobs walked in, made decisions and then executed – mercilessly.
Let us look at another example: Amazon. Who remembers getting a book in the post? (How novel, how different). Yet we should know that despite the rhetoric, Amazon today was never envisaged to be what it is. It evolved into a billion-dollar company. Why? Jeff Bezos wasn’t afraid to make the tough decisions. The radical ones. The life-changing ones.
Sure, Apple and Amazon are the easy companies to quote but there are thousands like them. I use them as examples as I believe any company can be the next Apple or the next Amazon. Seriously. Your company can be the biggest, boldest and best.
Testing the Theory
Let us reverse engineer and see how we could have saved a company like Blockbusters. Once synonymous with every high street and with millions of DVD’s being rented every evening across the globe. A brand that managed to be part of our lexicon when it came to entertainment. Let me ask you this; if you were the CEO in the early 90’s would you have:
a) Filled the shelves with costly DVD’s?
b) Added expensive real estate costs alongside staff and other operational expenses?
c) Ignored how your customers were changing their viewing habits and ignoring technology innovation?
d) Invested in identifying potential new technologies that would allow Blockbusters to maintain its position in an ever-changing world
If you chose D – you are ready to rank yourself alongside Bezos, Jobs and Bill Gates.
A Simplified Article
I make no apologies for the oversimplification of the above – because I could write 100 pages but the summary would still be the same. Making decisions are the lifeblood of a company – failure to make them will kill your organisation. For anyone who disagrees, I’d love to hear why. For those who need more – feel free to reach out.
And, if you reminisce about those old toys and brands, feel free to let me know which ones! If you remember your old Wimpy bar, let me know where it was. I was quite fond of mine!