Three articles, our children, and food for thought

 

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article entitled, Is Your Job About To Disappear?: Quick Take, said this:

“Throughout much of the developed world, gainful employment is seen as almost a fundamental right. But what if, in the not-too-distant future, there won’t be enough jobs to go around? That’s what some economists think will happen as robots and artificial intelligence increasingly become capable of performing human tasks. Of course, past technological upheavals created more jobs than they destroyed. But some labor experts argue that this time could be different: Technology is replacing human brains as well as brawn.”

In his review of “The Golden Passport” in the April 10th New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote, “The book is a richly reported indictment of the [Harvard Business School] as a leading reason that corporate America is disdained by much of the country … Citing a report from the Aspen Institute, [the book’s author Duff] McDonald explains that “when students enter business school, they believe that the purpose of a corporation is to produce goods and services for the benefit of society. When they graduate,” he continued, “they believe that it is to maximize shareholder value.”

The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence appeared on the Opinion page of the New York Times Sunday Review dated June 24, 2017. It was written by Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and chief executive of Sinovation Ventures, a venture capital firm, and the president of its Artificial Intelligence Institute.

Clearly the debate is heating up. At some point, someone or a group of someones will decide the winner, if there is a winner. Others will hand down a verdict on whether or not the Harvard Business School should take the credit or the blame for how enthusiastically business has embraced technology.

Families about to engage with their children in discussions about post-secondary education might want to answer these questions: Will there be 40-hour-a-week jobs with benefits and retirement pensions? Where? What kinds of jobs will they be? What education will it take to qualify for them? It’s a start.

Riding madly off in all directions

If there are days when it feels like the world is riding madly off in all directions, it probably is. Change is the culprit and it’s never happened this fast or in so many places at the same time. Nothing in our experience has equipped us to deal with it.

Parents who are sending their children to university in the current economic and technological climate expect that when their children graduate, the jobs they’ll be applying for will be as traditional and as plentiful as they were in their parents’ day. They may be in for a surprise.

Employment relationships aren’t what they used to be. Corporate tastes in university degrees have changed. We have to factor that into how we think about the role higher education is going to play in the life of our children and what their options are going to be. Change is a fact of life for real companies and organizations with real names. Our kids need to know which companies and organizations they are or are likely to be.

We also have to bear in mind that the cost of tuition has risen 40% in the last 10 years. That will continue. Over 50% of all jobs are now precarious. Over half of those jobs will be automated in the next 10 years. That, too, will continue.

The links in what follows will take you to articles and reports about the current environment and how it will impact on your young people and those of people you know. They feature GE’s Jeff Immelt (#4), MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson (#12), McGill’s Suzanne Fortier (#12) and Google’s Sergey Brin (#16), among others.

  1. September 1969 — The first node of ARPANET installed at UCLA
  2. August 12, 1981 — IBM introduces its first personal computer
  3. July 15, 2014 — Apple and IBM Forge Global Partnership to Transform Enterprise Mobility
  4. August 4, 2016 — LinkedIn interview with GE CEO Jeff Immelt: “Culture is not just apps. It’s a combination of people and technology. If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you’re going to learn to code. It doesn’t matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code. We are also changing the plumbing inside the company to connect everyone and make the culture change possible. This is existential and we’re committed to this.”
  5. September 2016 Deloitte survey “Transitioning to the Future of Work and the Workplace, Embracing Digital Culture, Tools, and Approaches”
  6. October 22, 2016 — Finance Minister Bill Morneau offered this advice at a Liberal Party gathering in Niagara-On-The-Lake: “Get used to the ‘job churn’ of short-term employment and career changes.”
  7. December 17, 2016 — Morneau’s advisory council on economic growth predicts that: Fully half of all jobs will be automated during the next decade, making massive retraining a social and economic necessity.”
  8. January 14, 2017 — “Innovation key to achieving Trudeau’s resourcefulness.’” In order to move Canada’s reputation away from resources to resourcefulness, PM must break the mould of linear thinking.
  9. January 12, 2017 — World Economic Forum report: “The jobless world and its discontents, How can we prepare for a future where drones, 3D printing and automation replace jobs?”
  10. January 14, 2017 — The Economist: “Lifelong learning, How to survive in the age of automation” (Cover story and Special Report)”
  11. January 16, 2017 —As Robots Take Jobs, Europeans Mull Free Money for Al
  12. January 19, 2017 — Davos 2017 – Issue Briefing: Jobs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  13. February 2017 — Maclean’s print edition: “When robots steal your job”, The real driver behind re-shoring is automation. Robotic jobs, not human ones, are coming back.
  14. February 2017 — Automa-nation: Will robots take your job? A new report suggests 42% of the Canadian job market is at risk.
  15. January 17, 2017 — IBM THINK Blog, IBM Cognitive Principles
  16. January 19, 2017 — World Economic Forum, Davos 2017: Google’s Sergey Brin on AI

We’re told that we’re in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We may not know how the story ends, be we do know that it will probably involve some form of advanced education. Our children have to be prepared.

 

 

“Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.” Marshall McLuhan

Due diligence is behaviour designed to ensure before we put our money down that what we intend to buy and what the seller ultimately delivers are one and the same. Some would call that protecting an investment. Others would call it common sense. Personal Due Diligence calls it both.

Decisions about post-secondary education have consequences that involve life, career, family and financial stability. Too many parents believe that graduating from any institution of higher learning, university in particular, is a guarantee of well-paid, secure, predictable work. There are no such guarantees: only enhanced likelihoods. What we do know for sure is that we’re living in a post-industrial economy: yesterday’s manufacturing jobs and the ones that supported them are gone. What happened to blue-collar workers is now happening to white-collar workers. As Wikipedia puts it, “Information, knowledge, and creativity are the new raw materials of such an economy.”

According to the Conference Board of Canada: “The distinction between college and university is less important than the relevance of the discipline to the workplace, since it is relevance—along with supply and demand—that sets the market price for skilled talent.” Degrees in some disciplines are more likely to lead to work than others.

Research done in Alberta in 2005 showed that young people consult their parents in these matters more often than any other group and by a wide margin. But outdated ways of thinking, like old habits, die hard. Decisions based on wishful thinking rather than fact-based understanding of labour market and technological trends are some of the greatest risks our children face. The evidence has been accumulating since 2012 and the trend shows no sign of abating.

For now, the best defense against unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment for our children is due diligence. To quote The Economist, “[the] rise of the on-demand economy poses difficult questions for workers, companies and politicians,” and it comes with a considerable risk of displacement to which very few of us are immune. Due diligence is about minimizing the negative consequences of that risk. Or at the very least, knowing what the risks are and factoring them into the final decision to proceed with a university education. We should be making these decisions more with our eyes wide open and less with our fingers crossed.

In What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message? Mark Federman, Chief Strategist, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology wrote:

“Marshall McLuhan was concerned with the observation that we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. Whenever we create a new innovation—be it an invention or a new idea—many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset. We sometimes call these effects “unintended consequences,” although “unanticipated consequences” might be a more accurate description.

“Many of the unanticipated consequences stem from the fact that there are conditions in our society and culture that we just don’t take into consideration in our planning. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions. All of these dynamic processes that are entirely non-obvious comprise our ground or context. They all work silently to influence the way in which we interact with one another, and with our society at large. In a word (or four), ground comprises everything we don’t notice.

“If one thinks about it, there are far more dynamic processes occurring in the ground than comprise the actions of the figures, or things that we do notice. But when something changes, it often becomes noticeable. And noticing change is the key.

“As McLuhan reminds us, ‘Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.’”

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s not how much you spend on university. It’s how wisely

between friends


Rise of the ‘precariat
,’
the global scourge of precarious jobs

Barely one in four of the global workforce has a stable job, UN reports
– CBC News, World, June 1, 2015

Contract work is here to stay, says Bank of England governor
UK job market has changed permanently due to financial crisis, Mark Carney tells Treasury select committee
– The Guardian, November 25, 2014


In his Nov. 1, 2015, editorial ‘The 21st-Century Club’, Fortune editor Alan Murray said of the 13th Fortune Global Forum:

“We are now in the early stages of the third Industrial Revolution. New corporate behemoths like Google, Facebook and Uber are reaching Fortune 500 size at unprecedented speed. The century will belong to those who master this new model. Economic dynamism will matter more than sheer scale. The invitation-only CEO gathering (Nov. 2-4) will include leaders of many of the largest companies in the world and focus on the challenge of ‘Winning in the Disruptive Century'”. (You can view the agenda of the recently concluded event by clicking here.)

One of the advantages of living in the early 21st century is that all it takes to see how some of the most powerful corporations in the world are going to change the way we live and work is a few keystrokes. What the Forum attendees heard and discussed wasn’t ‘if’: it was when—and when is now.

Those companies will need the help of well-educated young minds and they’re not alone. They’ve declared their intentions publicly which means that the word is out on what kinds of schooling they’ll be looking for. Parents and children who plan to attend university have to read that word, understand it and act on it. We know the names of the people who are shaping the future and the names of the companies they head. The information they’re making available about what they’re thinking is free.

It’s not how much parents are spending on higher education that matters; it’s how wisely they’re spending it. It’s a lot cheaper to avoid making a mistake than it is to correct it. The two articles at the top of this page speak to the consequences. So does this story about the precariat by Joe Fiorito in today’s Toronto Star. How is someone who is just starting out supposed to repay student loans on irregular or inconsistent income? At what point will the rising cost of tuition put post-secondary education out of reach? What will the impact be on the universities themselves?

There’s a glut of degrees on the street. Jobs that used to call for a high school diploma now call for a degree but pay high school wages. Graduates are accepting them even though they aren’t full-time and employers don’t look gift horses in the mouth. Had graduates taken the time to scrutinize the labour market before they put their money down, they might not have run out of options.

We can’t blame all of this on graduates any more than we can blame all of it on universities or governments. But we can blame it on a changing employer-employee social contract that has already cost many parents their job. Why weren’t they and others paying attention?

The environment in which today’s jobs exist is as important as the jobs themselves. Free trade agreements are part of that environment. Compromises were built into every one of them. To get, we gave. And what we gave was often measured in jobs lost. Canada has entered into 44 of those agreements so far and concerns are being expressed about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has yet to be ratified. Politicians and businesspeople love to boast about how many new jobs the agreements they ink will create. What kind of jobs are they? Will they be permanent or precarious? What qualifications will they call for? How much will they pay?

In its Oct. 24th – 30th issue, The Economist published ‘Reinventing the company’. In its Nov. 1st issue, FORTUNE published ‘The 21st Century Corporation: Every aspect of your business is about to change’. This is what Geoff Colvin said in his lead-in:

“Imagine an economy without friction—a new world in which labor, information, and money move easily, cheaply, and almost instantly. Psst—it’s here. Is your company ready?”

Please be sure to read FORTUNE editor Alan Murray’s editorial ‘The 21st-Century Club’. It’s what the C-Suite is reading and it’s already here.

By no means does this apply to all lines of work or to all degrees or all post-secondary diplomas and certificates. But where it does, and if precarious employment is the outcome, how do we calculate the value of higher education? Or the cost? Is it the education, the way it’s chosen, or both?

Even if parents are prepared to borrow money to put their kids through college, someone is going to have to pay it back. In the States, 7 million have defaulted on their loans. The US$1.2 trillion owing isn’t the figment of someone’s imagination: it’s real. In Canada, the number is between C$25 billion and C$50 billion, and one family in 8 is shouldering the burden.

To see the numbers for yourself, go to Google Alerts and set it to deliver links to articles with the words “student debt” in them to your e-mail inbox once a day. You’ll average 10 per day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. I have been since October 2012, and the problem isn’t confined to North America. To see what universities are doing to cope, research the Millennium Project at the University of Michigan.

The world isn’t going through a phase: it’s evolving. We’re experiencing an economic tectonic shift, a “third Industrial Revolution” as FORTUNE puts it. If you want to see what the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014 – 2015 says about how Canada is faring, click here.

The United Negro College Fund has been reminding us for years that: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. So is a university. If we continue to waste either or both, we’ll have no one to blame for the consequences but ourselves.

Technoliteracy is the New Black.

At this point, all public U.S. Corporate Boards have (or can explain why they don’t have) oneblackJPG.jpg or more qualified financial experts on board. This, of course, has been mandated for some time. The logic for having such talent has long predated the SEC and other requirements. Though by now, most boards see the logic for making sure that all their directors are financially literate, whether they sit on the Audit Committee or not. On occasion, we’ve seen this competency ignored. But how can anyone be engaged in and contribute to a board discussion on financial matters, if they are nearly clueless about what’s being discussed or presented? How can a meeting move forward if each financial matter, term, or implication has to be exhaustively explained to someone?  Or even worse, if the director sits quietly and lets the conversation work around him or her, contributing nothing, learning nothing.

Fortunately, basic financial literacy has now pretty much become more than just a standard for a board’s audit committee service. It is now expected of all corporate directors. This is evident in many candidate specs and defining corporate governance documents today. It is a sign of being up-to-date as a director in today’s business environment. And so, it ends there.

Or does it? After all, the times they are (always) achanging. It might be high time to look at another new type of literacy for board service ― technology literacy. For the sake of argument, let’s call it techno-literacy. What do I mean by “techno-literacy?” I like to refer to a popular definition that says to be technology literate one needs to be conversant (well-informed, versed, not expert) in the subject matter.

Now, not all of today’s directors are in the dark when it comes to understanding modern technologies and their real or potential impacts on corporations’ strategies. But in general, what would you estimate the average director’s knowledge to be in this area? I and many others doubt the “average” person of any age understands what is coming, where it will take us, and what it portends.

The point is that boards are NOT comprised of “average” people, and I’ve never met an “average-intelligence” corporate director. As a whole, public company directors represent and are drawn from the best and brightest of the corporate world. A number do, in fact, have a deep understanding or at least a considerable appreciation of how today’s technology can boost a company and industry, or more importantly, destroy it. Sadly, many more directors do not. Despite their “above average” intellects, they run the risk of becoming “out-of date.” So what’s the upshot? Well, it is only a short step away from being “out-of date,” to becoming irrelevant.

Some boards recognizing this, have quickly moved to “plug the dike” by adding one or two experts — some call them “digital directors”, “tech gurus,” what have you. This has come about because of all the buzz around the very real risks of cyber attacks on corporations’ finances, intellectual capital, and in many cases, infrastructure itself. The rise of social media, hyper-fast communications channels that can boost or trash a corporation’s sales, brands, and reputation, demands that boards ramp up quickly, or risk missing precious opportunities, or worse, face other dire consequences.

Having a top notch CIO and tech staff at the company and a tech expert on the board may work well in the short term. But, just like the financially illiterate director, what happens to the technologically-challenged director when more and more board discussions turn towards making key decisions such as adopting or investing in new technologies, and he or she can’t even follow the discussion? Even worse, how do they contribute to or deliberate on whether to make wholesale changes to operations, marketing, and other business strategies, because the entire industry may be going in another direction?

CEOs and board members of large and mid-cap companies shared how they agree about the need for all board members to ramp up their basic understanding of technology.

Brigadier General Dr. Dana Born, former Dean of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and an airforceJPG.jpgIndependent Director at Apollo Education Group told us: “Technology is a key component of conducting board business for the organization I serve. I believe that having a baseline of technology literacy is paramount for directors to support and guide all industries today. Whereas hard copy binders may have been the preferred format in the past, I believe the timeliness, comprehensiveness and portability of information offered by today’s automated tools (laptops, tablets, iPads, etc.) improves board governance and enables directors to better support the organization they serve. Specifically, having access to accurate, real-time information in a business environment of exponentially increasing complexity enables board members and boards to operate more efficiently and effectively.”

Steven Nerayoff, the CEO of Maple Ventures, a venture capital firm, and leader of a sophisticated technology consortium, is addressing the impacts of technology that go well beyond the average corporate directors’ knowledge of social media and cyber intrusions on business. He stated “fear of cyber crime, and the technological risks they can create, can paralyze the mindset of a board. History has shown that public and private corporate directors must learn how to leverage not just the risks, but the opportunities that are and will become available through advancing technology. Just look at the computer, Internet, and now the Bitcoin revolutions and the disruptive effects on the businesses of these companies and the opportunities that were there for the taking if someone on the board had understood them. The ability to think this way takes the board’s role to a new level where, at the very least, a base technology literacy will be an imperative for all directors in the near future. If not now, when?”

Knowing that you don’t know is always a good start, but accepting it as so is not. That said, how does the average director become “techno-literate?” Good question. Let’s start with, “How did you become financially literate?” You worked on it, you built your knowledge up through study and experience over time, until you got there.  It worked.

It won’t work the same way to get you to become “conversant” in modern technologies. Why? Because, even as you’ve been reading this, even newer technologies have come on the scene, and others have gone extinct. To get to where you can intelligently discuss or even just digital-darwin.jpgappreciate those technologies that will affect your company(ies), you need to catch up and stay up on what’s out there and what is realistically on the horizon.

I’m not just talking about cyber-security, cloud computing, customer relations software, and social media (to name only a few). You also need to know how the company is using various systems and technologies, and importantly, those technologies that have built the industries your company(ies) operates within. And whether you enjoy an innovative edge over your competitors, or lag behind then.

You also need to know – and should be asking this of management – how long these technologies will last or take to overcome you. You also need to embrace today’s tools enthusiastically. It’s fascinating to listen to many in the executive management ranks when they talk about their board’s lack of understanding of technology in general. Many, if not most, have given iPads or similar tools to their board members to receive board related information and materials. But getting their directors up to speed on their newly acquired “cool tools” has quite often been slow and somewhat painful. Many directors still report asking their grandchildren for help with their iPads or tablets.  My own father, a Good Photo.jpgwell-known CEO in the Optical Industry and one of the most fearless users of the technology of his time, will not touch a simple PC for fear he’ll break it. My position has always been: You break it? You can always get another! Even better, there are more “techno-geeks” than you can count who are willing – no – anxious to help you learn and overcome your fears. For many, just being able to demonstrate what they know is reward enough for them.

Having started my career in the technology field during the pre dot-com era, I’ve watched, with fascination how easily many executives are attracted to technology like a moth to a flame, and grasp how it can have an impact on their business strategy. On the other hand, I’ve also seen how many people, of various ages, can’t grasp how subtly complex the implications can be to a company’s existence.

If you’re familiar with women’s fashion, you should understand the importance of black. Black is reliable. Black is always up-to-date: It goes and works with everything. In the boardroom, financial literacy means being relevant and up-to-date. It is today’s director’s black. Being technologically literate is THE NEW BLACK.

Nancy May

Customers First, Investors Last: What were they thinking?

For years now, my colleagues and I here at BoardBench, have been saying that Wall Street has it backwards.  In the boardroom, directors have been fed, with a very large spoon, the mantra that they are beholden to the shareholder, that their purpose is to “maximize shareholder value.”  If you asked a large group of directors if this is true, you’d see a lot of bobbleheads in the room.  Many believe this is a legal requirement and in line with good business sense and good corporate governance.  Unfortunately, the concept of “shareholder primacy” is a relatively recent phenomenon.  It is also simplistic (shareholders’ wants are not homogeneous), has no legal basis anywhere (go ahead, try to prove me wrong), and, as many are now pointing out, usually damaging to companies, and the economy as a whole.

What we believe is real, and will eventually be proven again as real to the Street, is that customers, and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  When I say “again” I’m referring to Peter Drucker’s famous quote from decades ago: “the purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.”  So many seem to have forgotten this, or have never even heard of it.

But the basic premise is this: if you take care of your customers, and have great employees who are well supported and appreciated for being curious and excited about what they do such that they will ensure that customers love the products and services that the company offers, the company and shareholders will reap the rewards, too.  Of course other things come into play, like managing R&D investments (with the customer in mind), operations, and supporting a corporate culture that has strong values and morals.  The basic premise may be slightly oversimplified, but it applies, and should resonate with the board.

It appears that I’m finally not standing alone on this either.  In a recent interview, Jack Ma, the world’s newest CEO darling, made two bold public statements.  He basically shunned the current thinking of the Street by stating, on national TV, that “our customers come first, ouJack.jpgr employees second, and our shareholders third.”   He continued: “We aim to be larger than Wal-Mart by 2016, or sooner.”  If – no, when – Jack succeeds, and executes flawlessly on his statement, that customers and employees take a front seat over shareholders/investors, then he’s got an excellent chance of passing Wal-Mart as the world’s largest retailer.  Note, Wal-Mart just slapped some of its employees, who have the most direct relationship with their customers, by cutting their insurance benefits. This was probably done to cut costs, but it will probably also have a long-term impact on their customer relationships, too. But, I digress.

It seems that too many directors, CEOs, and business leaders, have become obsessed with what Wall Street, its analysts, and shareholders think.  Many have learned to play these groups exceptionally well, too. Countless analysts and shareholders have been taken in by companies’ projections, quarterly earnings estimates, and highly creative financial management and reporting.  Don’t get me wrong, the importance of the exchanges and the markets cannot be downplayed, but a balance is needed.  Focusing on Main Street is just as important, if not more so.

If you follow Main Street, you know about big box discount stores. Costco Wholesale Club, founded by Jim Sinegal and Jeffrey Brotman, believe in serving the customer first, and that if employees are treated properly, they will work with, and treat the customer well too.  Jim, the public face, is a “hands on guy” who is known for visiting each individual Costco store.  Jim is also outspoken about his views on Wall Street.  He’s been known to say that he puts his customers and employee needs above “pleasing shareholders.”  This philosophy must be working: Costco’s five year return is +116.73%.  If you bought the stock earlier, your return would be closer to 354%.

American Express is another company known for taking good care of its customer/members.  Personally I’ve been a fan of the company’s customer service representatives over the years, and tell them that every time I’ve called for help.  Don’t get me wrong, working at this company must be tough: when I was younger, AmEx employees were nicknamed The Dragons.  Perhaps because they were seehat2.jpgn as willing to fight for the company and their customers nearly to the end.  By the way, if you invested in American Express five years ago, your return on investment would be up 149.46%.

If you’ve worked with the general retail public, as I did during my college years, then you know just how tough this can be.  Sadly, not everyone who enters a store, calls a helpline, or dines in a restaurant is a kind and thoughtful customer.  Amazon deals with all sorts of customers from nearly every continent in the world, and I’m sure they have some interesting stories to share.  However, the company is noted for being one of the best customer service organizations in the world.  Amazon has more than one customer base, as many do: retail members, and consumers.  Jeff Bezos clearly divided the customer’s connection to Amazon into two categories: the experience and the service.  At this level, he notes that customer service is part of the full customer experience.  If it’s unpleasant, it’s a negative customer experience.  He supports the idea that a positive customer experience creates greater loyalty with Amazon.  If you’ve ever dealt with an Amazon Customer Service rep, you know that they work quickly to resolve your issue, they get the job done for you, and you are nearly always satisfied and left feeling good about your relationship with Amazon.  And, if you invested in Amazon five year ago, your return on investment is now up 236.64%.

While it’s much more pleasant to focus on the “good guys,” there are dark clouds.  Some companies are noted for their poor customer service.  Some survive because there are few alternatives: think of phone companies and cable providers, and some you can name on your own (take a look at their five-year ROIs).  However, when it comes to poor customer experience these days, I think sadly of that American icon Sears.  Whenever I bring them up these days, all I hear is: “Oh my gosh, I could tell you about the time when…”  Sears is a sad story101.jpg about the decline of a once great and loved retail giant.  Many years ago, the Sears catalog used to be called a “wish book.”  Families would anxiously wait for it to arrive in the mail.  It was nearly 5 inches thick. Moms, dads, sisters, and brothers would argue over whose turn it was to browse through and select from among the items they wanted for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and more.  Some people even bought their homes out of the Sears catalog.  But, it has lost its way, and it’s touch with its customers and has already begun its drop down that magical slide once pictured in its own catalog.  The entire company and its hopes for the future look pretty dismal: sell off of units and real estate, store closings, etc.  Sadly, if you invested in Sear’s five years ago, your return on investment would be -58.50% and it’s still falling today.

To sum up and put things into even sharper perspective, I recently spoke with the General Counsel of one of the largest, most recognized corporations in the world.  He told me, succinctly, that the biggest problem with their board is that not one director had any understanding of who their customers were and are or what they want.  I can also assume that they don’t understand their employees either.  So I will watch how this company slides in the next few years (Note: their record has been negative for some time), and report back with an update, unless, that is, they somehow figure it out and turn it around.

Do you need to focus on board improvement: composition, strategy, direction, execution, oversight?  Boards are our specialty. Give us a call.

Nancy May