I had an opportunity this week to participate in a CEO panel discussion called “The Art of Business.” I was one of 4 panelists. While each of us represented different industries, it was clear we that as CEOs we were all dealing with a similar set of issues. In today’s blog, I thought I would share 10 key takeaways from the discussion, many of which have implications for the POP display industry and its customer base.
1. Develop a Results-Oriented Mentality
As a CEO or an aspiring CEO, it is vitally important to have a results orientation. The overwhelming majority of resumes I receive are from people who chew up their resume real estate describing their various jobs and their scope of responsibilities. Rarely do I see resumes of people who are focused on describing the results they generated and the impact they had on the organizations in which they worked. I like to look for things like: increased sales 25%, reduced operating costs by 12%, etc. The same is true for POP displays. Most customers are disinclined to measure the results of their POP displays. As a result, they have no idea about the return on investment that their display may or may not be generating.
2. Focus on Serving Others
The audience was interested in how to become a CEO. My answer to that was focus on serving others. While there are lots of leadership styles, many effective CEOs view themselves as servants. They focus on serving their customers, partnering with their suppliers, and supporting the people within their organization so they can be successful. Rather than focusing on yourself and what you need to do to become a CEO, having a focus on others is a proven way to advance in any organization. This servanthood approach applies to POP display providers as well as any company who has a product and hopes to develop a sustainable customer base.
3. Embrace Globalization
Globalization is here to stay. While there is clearly some support for the “Made in America” campaign, there is really no turning back to a more de-globalized world. Therefore, embracing globalization by developing international supply chains, seeking out emerging market sales opportunities and supporting cultural diversity within your organization makes for good business management. Most POP firms today have at least some global design or manufacturing capabilities either on their own or through partners.
4. Learn How to Sell
Every CEO needs to know how to sell because revenue is imperative for survival in today’s market. Following the Great Recession, the majority of companies in the U.S. had to do some cost cutting. Knowing how to cost cut and how much to cost cut without jeopardizing an organization’s capabilities is something that requires experience and judgment. But, cost cutting can only get you so far. At some point, you have to generate revenue. Revenue covers a host of sins, and it is clear that the market rewards revenue growth. So every CEO needs to know how to generate revenue for his or her enterprise, and that often involves knowing how to sell.
5. Continue to Learn
Every CEO on the panel spoke to the importance of continuing to learn, adapt, and be flexible. Business is messy and unpredictable, and most CEOs find themselves in a situation where they are constantly trying to figure things out. Being intellectually curious and engaging in lifelong learning is a survival skill for almost any CEO.
6. Identify and Select Growth Industries/Niches
Let’s face it, being in a stagnant of declining industry is tough. Being selective about which industries or niches to participate in is essential. It’s like having good shot selection for a basketball player. Growth industries are often more competitive since the inherent growth nature of an industry will inevitably attract more industry players. However, competition can help your organization become better, and you are likely to be able to capture at least some of the benefit of the growth the industry is experiencing. In contrast, a stagnant or declining industry generally has a set of unattractive structural characteristics like intensifying price competition, consolidation, and other things you typically find in mature industries.
7. Take Advantage of Setbacks
When dealing with setbacks, some people have a tendency to quit and crawl into a fetal position. But, seasoned CEOs are used to setbacks, and they understand it is part of the normal business process. Setbacks are good opportunities for learning and reflection. They are nature’s way of hitting the “pause” button and getting us to rethink the way we do things. They can be painful, but they also can provide the insights and the motivation to reinvent your company or take a new direction.
8. Determine How to Compete and Align Economics
A CEO with whom I spoke recently talked about how he built his very successful cosmetics business by creating products that retailed for $.99. The gross margin contribution of a product that retails for $.99 is obviously low so it becomes a volume game. But, he was smart by keeping his overhead low and not buying a brand new BMW every few years. The important point here is deciding where you will compete and how you will compete. This particular CEO decided that there was a viable competitive path at the low end of the cosmetics market so he developed an economy line and built his entire business around a lean manufacturing, sourcing, and overhead model.
9. Create Your Own Opportunity
One of the audience members asked what advice the CEO panelist would give to women who are aspiring CEOs. Since all the panelists were males, that part of the discussion was a little soft. However, the consensus among panelists seemed to be that focusing on results and gaining respect within an organization for having an impact is likely to be necessary but perhaps not sufficient in a woman’s quest to be a CEO. And, if a woman is feeling like she is hitting the ceiling in her organization, then panelists pointed out the path of creating your own opportunity. That might mean leaving the comforts of corporate America and striking out as an entrepreneur, but a path of unbridled independence can often allow a person to create her own destiny.
10. Begin Team Building by Making the Right Hires
A number of questions from the audience were about the team building process within an organization. All the panelists agreed that team building really starts with the hiring process. Identifying, recruiting and retaining employees who are team-oriented and fit within the company’s culture is job #1 in the team building process. In addition, having a unifying and compelling mission along with a clear set of organizational and team goals is also an essential part of creating high-performance teams. Panelists agreed that having an organization populated by non-collegial congressmen would be a death sentence for most organizations.