Monday Mornings with Madison

The Evolution of Business Role Models – Part 1

Practically every industry these days has icons. It is no longer just about actors and musicians. From inventors to scientists and from business leaders to politicians, every field has its share of celebrities, living and gone. In the world of science, they include Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Jane Goodall, Alfred Nobel, Edwin Hubble and Stephen Hawking. Technology has heroes of its own including Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web), Sergei Brinn, Larry Page, Dave Packard, Bill Hewett, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Even the world of real estate has icons including Donald Bren, Stephen Ross, Jerry Speyer, Sam Zell, Steve Schwartzman, and, of course, Presidential candidate Donald Trump. And in the category of “captains of industry” are some of the most respected names in business including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Rupert Murdoch, Jack Welch, Michael Eisner, Lloyd Blankfein, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name just a few.

To some extent, these idols share many traits and talents that propelled them into prominence. But, in recent years, there has been a fundamental shift in the makeup of these renowned individuals, particularly in the world of business. Qualities and skills once considered exemplary have become passé. Corporate tycoons like Rupert Murdoch and Lloyd Blankfein are giving way to new titans of industry such as Brad Smith, Chairman of the Board of Intuit.  Why?

The Evolution of the Business Icon

Today’s business role models are different from their more conservative, blue chip predecessors. To understand the reason for the shift, we must understand the history. As consumers and markets changed over the last 50 years, so did companies.  The pace of change accelerated. While the world became more diverse, more informed, and more connected, companies had to adapt or perish. Smart companies adapted.  This necessitated fundamental changes both within and outside the organization, and it started at the top.
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The relentless pace of change in the business environment forced companies to become agile and adaptable.  Books like “it’s not the BIG that eat the SMALL …. It’s the FAST that eat the SLOW” by Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton and “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne reflected the growing need for businesses to innovate or die. Customers began demanding how, when, and where they consumed goods and services.  By creating “customer experiences” and de-emphasizing “product function and features,” companies began tapping into a whole new world of opportunity.

Amidst the chaos, a new type of leadership model emerged. These icons were the antithesis of the “Yes-Man.” They did not take a by-the-numbers, buttoned-down, authoritative top-down approach. These business leaders viewed the world differently.  They were about collaboration and creativity rather than control. They sought rather than avoided. They leapt into the unknown, asking questions later.  They were mavericks and mavens, not conformists. They became the business icons of the 21st century.

Take, for example, Brad Smith at Intuit. During his 13 years at Intuit (2003-2016), including serving as CEO and now Chairman for the last eight years, Smith has cultivated an agile, innovative culture and led initiatives to re-imagine and reinvent Intuit. Under his leadership, Intuit has harnessed emerging technology and trends, continuing to improve the financial lives of its customers around the world.

In an interview with Forbes in June 2012, Smith was asked by David K. Williams “What entrepreneurial traits of your own and of your company have most influenced your company’s path?” Smith replied, “I’ve always valued and encouraged teamwork, and that collaborative spirit of “we” versus “I” is core to Intuit’s success. Innovation has been part of Intuit’s DNA for nearly 30 years. We pride ourselves on two core capabilities that differentiate us and allow us to deliver solutions that truly change people’s financial lives. The first is customer-driven innovation, a mindset and methodology that helps us uncover important, unsolved problems. Customers are at the heart of everything we do. We conduct nearly 10,000 hours of follow me homes a year where we observe customers where they live, work and do business – from home offices and coffee shops to rural farms in India…..

“The second process, Design for Delight, enables us to create better ways to deliver what’s most important for customers.  Design for Delight is grounded in deep customer empathy, going broad with ideas then narrowing with possible solutions and finally, rapid experimentation with customers. These principles were integral in a product we recently launched called Snap Payroll, a free, mobile application that allows small businesses on the go to calculate paychecks in minutes and determine how much to set aside for taxes.”

In the information age, new forms of leadership are taking hold spurred by a challenging economic environment and international competition. Companies are seeking new paths to growth. Workers are seeking more autonomy and engagement in their daily work. The new model of leadership addresses concerns both at the corporate and individual level and collaborates to develop solutions that result in increased business opportunities, personal and professional satisfaction for employees and innovation leading to growth for the corporate bottom-line.

Quote of the Week
“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”
John Maxwell

© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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