Archives: February 2007

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Just when I was beginning to wonder whether another great experience was going to surrender to the short-term gains of operational excellence, Howard Schultz gave me faith. I love this memo to his executive team laying out his concerns that the Starbucks brand is in danger of commoditization. I started noticing this some time ago, and I often mentioned to my colleagues that Starbucks was beginning to feel a lot more like a fast food restaurant than a cool place to hang. I support being a good steward of the business by watching costs, but not at the expense of losing the brand equity gained by being distinctive. Starbucks recently took another hit when the coffee at fast food staple McDonald's won a taste test conducted by Consumer Reports. While I wouldn't argue that the Starbucks brand is in its death knell, I would argue that efficiencies and economies of scale have introduced a virus in need of serious care. And it looks like Howard Schulz just might be the healer they need.

As I make this note, I am sitting in my local coffee shop. The owner told me about a new shipment of Peru Norte Especial beans he just got in and how he had roasted it to City+ to bring out its subtleties. Like an expert sommelier, he described it in wonderfully delicious detail. I can smell the breads baked on site and hear the wonderful hissing of the espresso machines. Howard would like this place. Oh, and by the way, I am sending in this dispatch using the FREE wireless connection from this wonderful coffee shop. Now this feels like a third place! Go get 'em, Howard!

Event: International Paper

The event of the day is International Paper. Tom's speaking to them in Ft. Myers, FL. I wonder if he'll get a chance to see the Red Sox in Spring Training while he's there?

If you attend the event, please let us know your impression in the comments to this blog entry. And if you'd like to download the slides, you can do so here:
International Paper, Ft. Myers, FL
International Paper, Long Version

Reinforcing the Need for a Sense of Personal Urgency

Three Reviews: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9, Strategy + Business Magazine, and Sunday's Academy Awards

NaturallySpeaking 9
strategy + business
Academy Awards

TP Wire Service Staff Update

The TP Wire Service editor and TomWorld denizen, Shelley Dolley, is taking a hiatus. She and her family are expecting a new addition. Shelley will return from maternity leave in a few months. In the meantime, we will continue to bring you the latest news and keep you plugged into the stories we think will interest you most via the TP Wire Service.

Glam vs. Grey

Hollywood has woken up. Women film purchasers over age 35 are BIG business. Check out the nominee list for best actress. Speaking as a Brit—it looks like for the first time in 10 years (I think?) a mature woman (not a silicon enhanced, self-obsessed tissue eater) will win Best Actress. Hooray!!

This is in stark contrast to the stupidity I saw this week in a business. Eighty percent of the sales force are women under 35. (Selling to a predominantly male population—you figure it out!) NONE of the sales managers were female. ALL of the exec population were OWM. And they are asking me why they have such high turnover. They also got upset when I described it as the least of their problems!

Are you/your organisation truly talent focused ... or is memory substituting for thinking? Has anyone got a great example of a maniacal obsession with talent, to the point of being blind to prejudice, in their organisation that can cheer us all up?!

Renewing the Brand Promise

Clearly what happened last week with the JetBlue travelers was not fun. People were stuck, stranded—unable to get answers, to their destinations, or even off the planes! A lot of people were/are angry and upset. I understand all those sentiments. But I tip my hat to David Neeleman, founder and CEO. The letter he published to his flyers was authentic and forthright. I don't know of too many businesses that haven't made mistakes, some bigger than others. JetBlue is admitting their errors, putting in place methods and processes so that this doesn't happen again, and they are trying to do everything to bring their brand promise back to life.

JetBlue understands where they failed, but they are renewing the brand promise and owning the problem of improving the customer experience. I would love to hear your thoughts about this letter.

Can We Handle the Truth?

Our Michigan first gentleman, Dan Mulhern, lit up the pages of the Detroit press when he gave praise to Toyota's culture in recent writings. Daniel Howes, a very good Detroit News columnist, took the Governor's husband to task for "gushing over Toyota's way." He makes the point that the governor's husband is sending the wrong message about Detroit and the auto companies that call it home. Mr. Mulhern wrote that at Toyota the predominant thought is that culture beats strategy every time. As a Michigan resident, and one who has benefited greatly from the auto industry, I question why stating this is being "disloyal." It is the message that Big Detroit Auto has to hear. Loud and often!

Decades of success have deeply rooted a culture of entitlement at the Big Two. However, a culture built in the 60s doesn't fit the business world today. They are talking the right talk about change at GM, Ford, and the UAW, but they may not be willing to abandon the old to make room for the new. GM and Ford executives continue to ask for the government to address trade policies and CAFE restrictions. The UAW has to understand that benefits gained in the glory days can't be paid for in these difficult times. Employees, both blue- and white-collar, must abandon any notion that they are entitled to lifetime employment and lifetime benefits in retirement.

Organizations that have the passion and discipline necessary to change their culture rely on the truth. And they welcome the truth tellers. In today's Detroit News, another fine columnist, Laura Berman, drives home the truth, that we become "enablers" of the current, and ineffective, domestic auto culture. I fear she may have a point.

I grow concerned that a new debate may break out on who is to blame if Ford cannot survive, or GM employment numbers continue to tumble. The question I would pose to our community here is this: Is it possible for large companies with a long history to change their culture? Examples? When people offer criticism are they being disloyal? I do hope we can discuss this without turning it into a "who is to blame" thing. Can the truth set the Big Two free?

Cool Friend: Rod Beckström

How is the power distributed in your org chart? Top-down or spread around evenly? Are you a Spider or a Starfish? Read Rod Beckström's Cool Friends interview to find out. We talk with him about his book, written with Ori Brafman, The Starfish and The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. I think this is one you'll want to read and a book you'll want to own. You can also read more at his website,, or the book's website,

Excellence, 25 and Still Counting!

About three days from now, if history is a teacher, coach Skip Kenney will chalk up his 26th (TWENTY-SIX!) consecutive Pac 10 swimming championship. When he won #14, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden made the presentation—Kenney had broken coach Wooden's Pac 10 consecutive championship record. At 25 in a row, Kenney's feat stands alone in the annals of NCAA records—and the Pac 10 is as competitive-tough a playground (pool) as exists.

The current issue of Stanford's alumni magazine, which tells us that Ronald Reagan was in his first term when the streak started, features Kenney in an article titled "Master Stroke." It more or less begins this way: "The first thing you need to know about Skip Kenney, the 63-year-old coach of the Stanford men's swim team, is that he never swam competitively. Since he arrived at Stanford in 1979, Kenney has won seven NCAA titles, coached 100 different All-Americans, served on three Olympic staffs and won an astonishing 25 Pac-10 titles in a row. A generation-spanning community of swimmers and former swimmers would all 'lie down in traffic for him,' according to one, Adam Messner, class of 2001. But he has never swum a 3000 for time, never churned out 100 kicks on 90-second intervals, never spent so much as an hour with his face in the water, staring at the black line. 'I can't even imagine,' he says."

Kenney's secret, if you must call it that, is turning an individualistic sport into a team sport—no mean feat. Every team member is evaluated first and foremost, the article says, on his special contribution to the team.

Hats off to a performance and a process that defines Excellence—and as a Stanford alum, good luck this weekend!