The Roemer Report December 1985

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Football, Basketball and Trucking

Those of you who have done business with Roemer know that there are three things we take very seriously: Our families, business and football. Indeed, it is safe to say that football and in its purest form, Ohio State football, might be more appropriately labeled a religious experience within our organization. We supply this as background to suggest that the game of football may be losing its relevance as an analogy of how to run a business such as a truck line. Now some background. The lessons and axioms of winning football have long found considerable use in management. Developing a company "game plan"…putting the ball over the goal line...quarter­ backing a project…fumbling an opportunity, etc. Quite honestly, many of the basic management lessons in football (which after all involves a great deal of management) have been adopted by business. But, we don't think football is the appropriate analogy today. The contemporary management style is represented far better by basketball.

SORRY WOODY, IT'S ROUNDBALL: Here's the football management approach. You begin with exceptional pre-game preparation. You go into the contest with a game plan and you stick with that plan…discarding it only in desperation. The head coach is clearly the top banana and he calls most of the plays. The quarterback and other skilled people are allowed to free-lance but within clear limits. Line­ men are basically fixed near the line of scrimmage and stay within their zones. This is how many of today's slow growing truck lines are operated. What about the most dynamic firms? Well, they're usually operated under a "basketball” management philosophy. Fewer, high paid players. The team has a game plan, but it can be discarded two minutes into the game if a major strategy shift is warranted. The coach doesn't call many plays. Moreover, each player must have all the key skills, dribbling, running and jumping. And, they move around the court at will. Everybody handles the ball. In short, basketball with its more flexible, freewheeling and partici­pation style is the sports analogy for the ‘80s…Sorry, Woody! It breaks our heart, but we've got a business to run.

HOW INFORMATION EQUALS POWER: The computer revolution is spawning countless ways to reduce costs, increase revenues and build market power. Here are some cutting-edge examples: (1) Telemarketing. The cost of sales plummets when sales contacts are made by phone. Comput­ ers can pre-evaluate prospects, saving sales force efforts and pumping up productivity. (2) Training. Instructing employees individually by computer and video disc frees staff and puts faster learners to work sooner. (3) Relationship-building. The firms that react most quickly to new opportunity are those that are closest -- via computer -- to their suppliers, customers and banks. (4) Sales. Portable computers can put wings on a sales force, speeding orders and deliveries. (5) Service. Giving clients access to your data base means they can moni­ tor their own orders and shipments. This builds loyalty and effectively locks out competition. (6) Consumer feedback. Customer input (via toll-free telephones and computer connections) is a vital source of ideas for new products and improvements. (7) Vision. Market and demographic information, properly sorted, point the way to previously unseen problems as well as new markets and products. (8) Cost recovery. Not using all your processing power? Selling off-peak time can help the system pay its own way.

PRAGMATIC DREAMERS: Leaders are sometimes defined as "pragmatic dreamers." They have a vision -- essential in these times of rapid and tumultuous change -- of what they and their organization can become. Moreover, they have the skill, drive and insight to implement that convert dream to reality. Underpinning their leadership talents is a sort of motivational magic -- an ability to make others want to follow. It begins with a positive self-image and a belief in self-determination. True leaders project this faith onto their subordinates and, in so doing, develop an "other" orientation -- a people-advocacy policy. They have the emotional wisdom to see the potential in people and to treat them with a courtesy and generosity too seldom accorded workers. In tackling problems they adopt a present perspective, rather than raking up the past. At the same time, savvy leaders are attuned to changes in both the corporation and the outer world, adjusting their vision and action as needed. Aware that leadership potential exists throughout the organization, wise leaders work at developing it…both directly (through intrapreneurial units) and indirectly (by lessening insti­tutional pressures to conform). To paraphrase Thoreau, pragmatic dreamers build castles in the air, then put foundations under them.

NETWORKING--A "BUREAUCRACY BYPASS": Best-selling author John Naisbitt calls it one of the ten Megatrends revolutionizing our lives. Why is networking so important? Because networking pays -- in developing new products, applications, services, clients, suppliers and distributors•••In short, networking pays optimal dividends on a very reasonable investment: the intelligent use of contacts. Before you can use contacts, however, you have to make them. That entails training yourself to listen, focus and follow through. On the corporate level, networks are a "bureaucracy bypass," leading ideas past clogged hierarchies straight to the heart of decision making. Their myriad uses include: (1) Direct business deals. (2) Introductions to prospective clients. (3) Brainstorming opportunities. (4) Professional/technical assistance (e.g. R&D, marketing, training)…The first step is to meet more people, exchanging business cards whenever possible. Then follow up -- arrange casual meetings to share insights and observations. Fill requests for favors whenever possible. (You never know when you'll need them returned.) Finally, maintain your network. Like any skilled operation, its long-term success depends on periodic checkups.

PRE-EMPTING THE COMPETITION: A pre-emptive move, says Ian C. MacMillan, author of the Handbook of Business Strategy, is a "major action taken by a company before its adver­ saries can make similar or forestalling moves." Pre-emptive moves to secure prime positions can be made anywhere along the industry chain: supply, product, production, market, distribution, services. A company must target its best opportunities, search­ ing for moves that can be implemented rapidly, yet are difficult for adversaries to imitate. It must try to create situations which slow competitive response but leave the company able to reverse itself if necessary. Pre-emptive moves are, by their very nature, risky. Locking up suppliers, for example, might also mean locking the company into long-term contracts. Pre-emptive moves are also inherently short-term. Competi­ tors will respond; industry conditions evolve. A company should undertake the pre­ emptive move with one goal in mind: re-empting enough prime positions to alter the structure of the industry to the firms advantage. The-move need not rebuff all business rivals. But it should effectively reposition the pre-empting firm in the mind of its customers, distributors, suppliers and/or unions. Competitors will then be at a double disadvantage -- competing among themselves for lesser positions and less able to compete with the pre-empting company's expanded revenue base.

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