Did someone really say that?

The holiday period is time for me to clear the decks ready for the next 12 months. It's a time when the piles of press releases, videos, CDs and brochures have to be scanned for relevancy, predictions and outlandish comments before they're shredded.

This past year's euphoria over dot-coms and telcos made it extremely hard to say what constituted rumours and what constituted incorrect facts. In the one corner we had the incumbents, in the other a crowd of upstarts hoping that the new technologies would allow them to attack the incumbents' positions.

Campaigns, conferences, road shows and the Olympic Games brought a steady flow of visiting executives from their ivory towers to our fair shores, many of them on their first visit Down Under. Their quotes on the status of the marketplace ranged from excitement to despair, and to new careers for many we hope! Cutting through the noise can be a daunting chore.

Try this.

"Our reputation, damaged by the corporation's poor results can be repaired. I've met hundreds of our customers and felt enormous strength from them. I think we can provide value they can't find elsewhere." He has since departed.

"Do you need to put a fresh face on the company?" I asked another. "Absolutely, if customers believe we are trying to recreate the old company that's a mistake. We're going to be faster, more flexible and more of an industry leader. I will be first to admit we don't have that image now. But we'll chance that by performing and delivering and having a dialogue with customers on our new concepts and products."

"We think we'll be the fastest turnaround in 2001."

Survival tactics

"What must you do to break even?"

"Just continue what we're doing. Our plan for break even is based on no revenue growth, taking 25 per cent out of expenses and getting our margins up a few percentage points." Sounds like a lot of excitement!

Another recently appointed CEO, when asked if he planned to orchestrate a cultural change in the company said, "Yes, there are some cultural changes required. I'm not by nature a high spender at all. I've been raised in a hard-margin business."

"Why would you want to take over as captain of what many are calling a sinking ship?"

"I don't think we have the life rafts out yet. Any player in this industry can be in a bad situation at a moment's notice. It is not an environment that allows you to venture off course anymore." Sounds like the Titanic.

Sizing up the competition

"They are the kind of company that you want an alternative to, because the more market share they get the worse they treat their customers."

What do you really want to achieve? "Dominance, you may joke about it, but if you ask me what we're trying to achieve, that's what I think about every day of week, every night I think about growing faster than the competition. But first we have to get the company back on course."

"What I have to do is provide direction and a plan going forward that all our people have faith in. If I do that coupled with leadership and some cultural changes, people will find it is a great place to work. Ultimately people want to win and I have to present a clear winning formula and then execute on that."

On shipments

How many have you shipped? "I don't think we'll announce those details. But if we did, I don't think we'd disappoint anybody." Great news!

"I can't comment on actual numbers. We definitely have some orders. I'd say the orders are right now in line with our expectations." Well, that's confidence for you!

"It's the classic software pickle. We can wait until tomorrow to deliver higher-quality programs or ship potentially bug-ridden software today. The former means lost revenue. The latter angers customers and can be costly in the long run." Pick the winner!

On mergers and acquisitions

"We are trying to find a common vocabulary, to mean the same thing. What does service mean in ours versus theirs?"

"It's always been my life's ambition to have more than one career and I now look forward to new opportunities."

Cliches galore

"As we have more components the more the chance of failure. It's a statistical fact." Beware!

"If you build it, they will come, then maybe they will buy."

"A firm with no references would scare me there is just too much room for miscommunication."

"We don't tend to breakdown our spending on marketing. It is such a large part of our overall expenditures. We don't have an exact number, but this a big campaign."

Why have you decided to advertise on prime time television? "First of all our target market is the executive crowd. Our research into what these people watch shows, they watch a lot of golf, they also watch news and things like that. One of the most important things to recognise is that people live a lot of different lives and do lots of different kinds of things in their spare time - they just don't read business magazines."

Grand plans

Well there you are, some quotes of note!!!

Do you get the message that some of these executives may, if they make it back to Australia, announce their grand plans, but then, on second thoughts they wouldn't be able to tell us! It is all made to seem as though they have something up their sleeve for their next big trip Down Under. Could you please be more specific?

"No, I can't just right now, but we are in the process of reassessing all that." I guess we'll just have to watch this space.

Can Australia be saved from the ravages of these pseudo experts opinonising? The life and career of every regional and/or country manger is affected by wave after wave of highly priced, business class travellers, who are frequently wrong and rarely produce any value-producing "expert" opinion or guidance.

The industry's pace of change, combined with corporate America's reduced headcount (ie fewer heads to figure out the worldwide business implications of discontinuous technological developments) is somewhat similar to Columbus' voyages of discovery and conquest to the New World. Columbus, of course did not reach his intended goal of the riches of the east, and he underestimated the costs and length of the journey, too. Also, his subsequent failure to deliver substantive and measurable benefits to the bottom line ultimately led to his incarceration.

In a similar fashion, the failure of contemporary international executives to create rational expectations, deliver measurable benefits and derive value from the international markets is reducing the average duration of career tenure.

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