Executive Times

Volume 8, Issue 4

April 2006


 2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Many effective executives pay close attention to resistance, and act quickly to overcome the obstacles that can impede progress in an organization. When the resistance is self-imposed, the removal of obstacles can be slower, especially among stubborn executives. In this issue, we explore some aspects of change, especially from the perspective of impediments. As you read the stories we’ve selected, think about your own approach to rapid recognition of what you and others need to be doing today and tomorrow to achieve the results you want. Decide how to recognize resistance in yourself and others, and commit to finding ways to overcome the obstacles you encounter.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. Nine books received three-star ratings, five are mildly recommended with two-star ratings, and one book earned a one-star rating. Visit our 2006 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2006books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 190 books we’re reading or considering so far this year, including 25 that we added to the list in March. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering or if there’s a book lingering on the Shelf of Possibility that you think we should read and review sooner rather than later, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com. As an added benefit to Executive Times readers, we’ve put all the books we’ve ever listed on one web page at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/All Books.html.


Few executives admit that they subscribe to the advice from the Scarlett O’Hara School of Management: “I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.” Most executives acknowledge that after procrastinating on a decision, they regret not having acted sooner. There’s always a good reason (or rationalization) for deferral. One of the best confessions in this year’s Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter (http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2005ltr.pdf) from Warren Buffett is: “The hard fact is that I have cost you a lot of money by not moving immediately to close down Gen Re’s trading operation. Both Charlie and I knew at the time of the Gen Re purchase that it was a problem and told its management that we wanted to exit the business. It was my responsibility to make sure that happened. Rather than address the situation head on, however, I wasted several years while we attempted to sell the operation. That was a doomed endeavor because no realistic solution could have extricated us from the maze of liabilities that was going to exist for decades. Our obligations were particularly worrisome because their potential to explode could not be measured. Moreover, if severe trouble occurred, we knew it was likely to correlate with problems elsewhere in financial markets. So I failed in my attempt to exit painlessly, and in the meantime more trades were put on the books. Fault me for dithering. (Charlie calls it thumb-sucking.) When a problem exists, whether in personnel or in business operations, the time to act is now.” Resistance to act now often comes from the expectation that one way or another the problem will get smaller tomorrow. Experience usually reinforces that problems grow over time, they don’t shrink.


What problems are you avoiding right now? Are you aware of your own thumb-sucking, or that of those who report to you? Have others procrastinated in telling you about problems? Do you communicate in one form or another that you’d rather not know? Is your confidence that conditions will be better tomorrow well-placed?


There are many executives who practice the art of political lobbying with great success, but there are few business leaders who take positions on social policy, sometimes out of fear of making enemies. We read two interesting articles about executive involvement in this area. As part of its 10th anniversary celebration, Fast Company asked past contributors to comment in the March 2006 issue (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/103/fast-talk.html) about the biggest change facing business in the next ten years. Malcolm Gladwell’s comment caught our interest: Business has to find its national voice. It has to be engaged in the politics of this country in a way it's not accustomed to. Right now, executives are very good at saying, Cut our taxes, cut our regulations.’ And they're really terrible at making far more important and substantive arguments about social policy. It's time they stopped banging this one-note drum and started saying that a lot of the things that have been relegated to ideology are, in fact, matters of fundamental international competitiveness for this country.For those skeptical about whether Gladwell’s advice is worth following, it may be useful to read an article in the 2006 Number 2 issue of McKinsey Quarterly, titled “When Social Issues Become Strategic.” (http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_page.aspx?ar=1763&L2=21&L3=114). According to the authors,Although lobbying—often behind closed doors—is as old as business itself, high-level and concerted corporate activism in the social and political arena has been conspicuous by its absence. That deficiency, executives tell us, is the result of short-term financial pressures, a lack of familiarity with the issues, and the sense that specialists in the public-affairs and legal departments handle this sort of thing. Such thinking, we believe, is dangerous and wrong headed. Business leaders must become involved in sociopolitical debate not only because their companies have so much to add but also because they have a strategic interest in doing so. Social and political forces, after all, can alter an industry's strategic landscape fundamentally; they can torpedo the reputations of businesses that have been caught unawares and are seen as being culpable; and they can create valuable market opportunities by highlighting unmet social needs and new consumer preferences. The challenge is to find a way for companies to incorporate an awareness of sociopolitical issues more systematically into their core strategic decision-making processes. Companies must see the social and political dimensions not just as risks—areas for damage limitation—but also as opportunities. They should scan the horizon for emerging trends and integrate their responses across the organization, so that the resulting initiatives are coherent rather than piecemeal.”


Is there a contribution for you to make in the arena of social and political activism? What do you and others in your organization have to add to the policy debates that can affect your stakeholders? How have you incorporated sociopolitical issues in your decision making? What resistance will you face if you speak with a national voice? Are there fundamental obstacles to your organization’s competitiveness that lead you to thinking about greater political involvement? Have you or others imposed a barrier that has defined political activism as off-limits?



One of the obstacles to change in some organizations is that all potential change agents are looking for a signal from the top of the organization that change is ok. IBM takes a biennial survey of CEOs and governmental leaders and some of the results are reported in the April 3 issue of Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_14/b3978073.htm) in the form of an interview with IBM Chairman Samuel Palmisano. When it comes to innovation, Palmisano said, “The CEO has to give permission to the organization to have it happen. If the CEO doesn't give people permission to go change behavior and to collaborate, then it's not going to happen. Everybody is looking for the signal. They want to know whether things are really changing fundamentally.” One interesting finding from the survey is that executives of top performing organizations are worrying about changing their business models. “The holy grail of strategic thinking is, how do you come up with a business model that differentiates you and that creates value for your customers, and, by doing that, puts you in a unique position in your industry? Why is business-model innovation so much harder to achieve than product innovation? It's because organizations have inherent resistance to change.”


Are you giving and getting signals that change needs to occur in your organization? If not, what makes you immune to the changes going on around you? Has your organization attained a unique position that creates value for your customers? What signal are you waiting for? What signal are you intending to send?



All executives face distractions, and most find effective ways to minimize them. The cover story of the March 20 issue of Fortune was titled “How I Work,” and had many useful ideas on this topic, and some might be applicable to your situation. We found these five simple, but helpful, rules from Ellen McGirt (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/03/20/8371814/index.htm) for remaining sane and getting out from under a distracting overload of work:
“1. Keep your meetings rare. Surveys show that most people find meetings a major time waster. Use them sparingly, keep to an agenda, start and end on time. And unless someone is expecting a baby, or using technology is a key part of the meeting, turn off all cellphones and BlackBerries. No passing digital notes.

2. Show your technology who's boss. Most of today's devices and software actually can be set to be less intrusive. You just need to learn how: Switch off the ping that heralds the arrival of an e-mail, create folders into which incoming messages are automatically shunted. When busy, let outgoing messages alert others to when they might reasonably expect to hear back from you.

3. Give yourself a time-out. Devote an hour to uninterrupted thinking and planning every day. First thing in the morning is safest, but anytime is good. No calls, no e-mail, no chitchat. ‘If there's an emergency, someone will come get you,’ says organization expert Julie Morgenstern. ‘Use this time to think strategically about your work.’

4. Say no. ‘Sorry’ isn't the hardest word—‘no’ is. But not saying it to desperate colleagues or harried bosses is the quickest way to overload your schedule and muck up more important goals. Focus first on meeting your stated objectives. Also, consider family and personal time when filling your calendar: Work-centric employees are more likely to report feeling overloaded than those who plan for their personal lives.

5. Delete. Surveys show we waste 20% of our day on nonproductive activities. Cut out or delegate anything on your to-do list that doesn't have long-term consequences for your work. Be ruthless. And while you're at it, don't let a stuffed e-mail in-box sap your will to live. When reviewing each e-mail, make an on-the-spot call to delete, file, or reply to each one--even if the response is, ‘I'll get back to you on this later.’”


Are your methods of working helping or hurting your contributions to achieving results? Are distractions manageable or infuriating? What are your rules for working effectively, and how do those mesh with those with whom you work? Who’s distracting you, and what are you doing about it? Do you know the individuals you are distracting?



Here are selected updates on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:

Ø      We last called attention to J. P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in the February 2004 issue of Executive Times when we noted that he claimed he has nothing to prove and didn’t need to return to New York. We opined as we had in our August 2002 issue that one strategy that usually succeeds is to bet on the jockey, not the race, and that Dimon is worth betting on. Dimon’s face is on the cover of Fortune’s April 3 issue for the story titled, “The Toughest Guy on Wall Street.” (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/04/03/8373068/index.htm) Here’s one interesting excerpt: ‘“Jamie's strength is that he's a leader, not a classic manager,’ says Charlie Scharf, who started with Dimon at Commercial Credit in the 1980s and is now head of retail banking at J.P. Morgan. ‘He can't help himself,’ adds Heidi Miller, chief of treasury and securities services at J.P. Morgan. ‘He can be a total pain, overdemanding, but you'd trust your life to him.’” Read the article, and find out what he’s done to garner this praise, and to continue to be a jockey well worth betting on.

Ø      We haven’t checked in on Boeing since we fessed up in the April 2005 issue of Executive Times that we were wrong in thinking that former CEO Harry Stonecipher wasn’t part of that company’s ethical problems. Business Week reported in its March 13 issue (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_11/b3975088.htm) that new CEO James McNerney has gotten off to a fast start in improving the company. “Having spent his first six months on the job in a ‘deep dive’ learning about the company, McNerney believes that internal rivalry not only is at the root of the company's ethical scandals but also has prevented managers from cutting costs and sharing good ideas effectively. His prescription includes some predictable elements, including exerting more effective central leadership over Boeing's three divisions, changing the way executives are paid, and encouraging managers to exploit the giant manufacturer's cost-cutting leverage. But it also includes some unusual ones, such as encouraging managers to talk more openly about Boeing's severe ethical lapses.”




For some college basketball fans, March Madness became March Sadness when they learned that former DePaul University coach Ray Meyer died on March 18 at age 92. Meyer loved winning, and through forty seasons at DePaul he led teams to twenty-one post-season appearances, and an overall record of 724 wins and 354 losses, currently the sixth best college basketball coaching record. Named “Coach of the Year” four times, he was asked why he didn’t accept offers to coach at other, larger schools, including his alma mater Notre Dame. Meyer answered, “I hate change.” He learned to change over his coaching career, as his approach needed to adapt to the needs of new players. His emotional reactions during games were never muted. Every player knew he wanted their best performance, and more importantly, he wanted them to understand what was important in life. Part of the example Meyer provided was the way in which he treated everyone the same, with no regard to their stature. Meyer talked about basketball to anyone and everyone. He yelled at players, and they knew he loved them. In the days before his death, he was plotting with some friends on how to get out of the nursing home and to Indianapolis for the final four. He thought he could do it. For many, he did.


Latest Books Read and Reviewed:

 (Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com.  When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com.  Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2006 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2006books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


Never Have Your Dog Stuffed

Alda, Alan


Sentimental. Gentle and funny memoir tells many family stories well, and minimizes the ego-centrism typical of Hollywood lives.

The Brooklyn Follies

Auster, Paul


Ordinary. The novel’s narrator, Nathan Glass, says he returns to Brooklyn to die, but instead makes a fresh start as Everyman, and thrives. Fine writing, good characters and dialogue.

At Canaan’s Edge

Branch, Taylor


Conclusive. Final installment of the trilogy of the story of America during the life and times of Martin Luther King, Jr. The best and worst of characters are revealed by Branch by showing their actions.

The Bill From My Father

Cooper, Bernard


Approval. No matter what relationship you have had with your own father, this memoir will tell you about unusual lives and extraordinary behavior that would never be believed in a novel.

Twilight of the Superheroes

Eisenberg, Deborah


Kapow! Six short stories by one of the best contemporary writers of the genre transport readers into entrancing lives and situations. Adroit writing, vivid images, memorable characters and settings.


King, Stephen


Pulse. Gory, fast-paced, improbable and engrossing entertainment from the master of this form. Cell phones turn into weapons of mass destruction.

The Good Life

McInerney, Jay


Transformations. Simple love story about two Manhattan couples and their lives shortly before and after 9/11. Their search for meaning in life changes when the towers fall.

The Whale Caller

Mda, Zakes


Fishy. May be the most unusual novel of the year: a story of a love triangle between a whale, the man who plays tunes to her on a kelp horn, and the town drunk. Set on the west coast of South Africa. Memorable and strange.

Sea Change

Parker, Robert B.


Tawdry. Police chief Jesse Stone works methodically to solve a murder that seems to involve loveless sex. Witty dialogue, interesting plot twists, and effective character development.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Perkins, John


Regrets. An unusual account of the author’s regrets for his participation in a corrupt system of business and political practices around the world.

Blood Hunt

Rankin, Ian


Revenge. After protagonist Gordon Reeve gets on the trail of his brother’s killers, he finds a former Special Forces mate with whom he has a major score to settle. Fast-paced suspense.

Carnivore Diet

Slavin, Julia


Imaginative. Unusual debut novel, set in Washington, D.C., that’s alternately funny and serious. A beast called a chagwa terrorizes the community and the reactions unfold human nature’s bounty.

The Best People in the World

Tussing, Justin


Hollow. Debut novel set in the 1970s full of beautiful prose, especially place descriptions, but with characters who fail to attract empathy.

Self-Made Man

Vincent, Norah


Anthropologist. Lesbian journalist disguises herself as a man, embeds herself in all-male settings, and tries to see men as they see themselves.

A Left-Hand Turn Around the World

Wolman, David


Special. Left-handers aren’t sinister, just special. Proves that a book can be written about anything, and there are scientists out there studying just about everything.


ã 2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 723 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Subscription rate for first class mail delivery of the print version is $60.00 per year (12 issues). Web version subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 web. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to executivetimes@hopkinsandcompany.com, call (708) 466-4650, or fax to (708) 386-8687. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (708) 466-4650 or e-mail to reprints@hopkinsandcompany.com. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 

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