MVP2004

For 10 years I wrote a syndicated column, with the Chicago Tribune as my flagship paper. My favorite annual column was my yearend "MVP" awards. Blogging now presents the same opportunity. So ... here goes:

MVP/Biz. Cirque du Soleil takes this one. "The product" of course defines WOW! and "experience." But most everything else tops the charts as well—from huge R&D investments to mastery at strategic alliances (in the likes of Las Vegas) and damn sound financials.

Runners up: Another Canadian entry, British Columbia-based London Drugs, is my retail pick. Incredible distribution, superb design-merchandising, a brilliantly trained staff and "go for it" top management are all part of a very pretty picture.

Financial services get three honorable mentions, all fit for the #1 slot: An amazing group of Washington DC-area investment bankers, FBR/Friedman Billings Ramsey, have a Unique Selling Proposition in a me-too world, an entrepreneurial-unconventional staff—and the pleasure of being hundreds of miles from New York. NJ's Commerce Bank is eating up the East Coast with Cirque du Soleil-level "experience" provision in retail banking—all sung to their favorite tune of "WOW!" (Oh yes, and numbers to die for!) Progressive insurance CEO Peter Lewis almost attained a dead heat with George Soros in the political donations race. He backed a loser, it turns out ... but most everything else came up roses for Lewis and Progressive. A terrific talent pool, a bias for action, and IS-IT driven fanaticism for speed are among star traits.

The fifth and last runner-up slot goes to South Bend's Memorial Hospital & Health System; while I've ranted and raged about acute-care centers, Memorial is inventive & caring & very quality conscious. Hats off to CEO Phil Newbold and his stellar team!

MVP/Chief. Co-winners here. From education, Dennis Littky, boss of Big Picture schools and creator of Providence RI's Met school. This is education as it might be! Kids at Big Picture's 24 public high schools, from disadvantaged neighborhoods, are deeply engaged in sophisticated projects of their own making—and the anchor school in RI has, no bull, a 100% college acceptance rate among the 75% of kids who apply; moreover, almost all stay the advanced-education course.

The co-recipient is Narayana Murthy, founder and Chairman of India's peerless IS superstar ... Infosys. Infosys is growing like topsy, competing effectively against the IBMs and Accentures ... and Murthy's vision is no less than that of global architect of game-changing industry transformations. Once more: WOW!

Perpetual honorable mention: Richard Branson. Now he's off to outer space! If this be business, I'm all for it!

MVP/CIO. Hats off to Dave Holland of Genesys Regional Medical Center. No set of CIOs are more important than those in healthcare. They can save more lives than docs! Dave is! (Though he's the first to acknowledge he's only scratched the surface. Hey, keep on scratchin' Dave!)

MVP/Winning "Experience." The opened envelope reveals the winner as Maxine Clark's Build-A-Bear. The company, which just successfully went public, provides scintillating experiences for kids by the tens of thousands. Maxine's Build-A-Bear Website is also a/the Top Pick in my book (or, rather, Blog).

MVP/BigIdea. Ideas move mountains, especially in turbulent times. And my kudo for 2004 goes in a flash to Lovemarks, the product of the fertile-iconoclast mind of Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide. Roberts argues vociferously ... and with a ton of data to support him ... that traditional branding practices have become stultified. What's needed are customer love affairs, iPod or Harley style. Roberts lays out his grand scheme for Mystery, Magic, Sensuality, and the like in his gloriously designed book ... Lovemarks.

MVP/TransformationalTool. What else ... Blogging! It's changed my life in 2004. Not to mention Howard Dean's! The Dean campaign, though ultimately unsuccessful, clearly altered politics forever, and in a fundamental way. "Only Connect!"/"Conversation Rules!" is/are the rallying cries in most every sphere of life ... courtesy Bloggers of every description.

MVP/Department-of-I-Told-You-So! eBay. Amazon. Google. Et al. The Web Rules! We champions-from-the-90s-of-the-New-Economy chortle each & every day! Yo, like we said ... it's WebWorld!! (On the Crass & Crude & Capitalist side, see Holiday Web sales stats. Another BigWow!)

MVP/BizGuru. Winner, in a runaway ... Martha Barletta. Marti is the most vociferous and accomplished spokesperson-presenter in the mega-opportunity-world of Marketing to Women. If I know anything, it is a masterful presentation! (Masterful = Compelling Idea, Mountains of Persuasive Data, Brilliant Delivery.) Again: WOW!

MVP/Book. My top pick for 2004 is Crucial Confrontations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. In my forward, I said "If you read but one business book this year ..." I meant it! The authors, I contended/contend, have discovered the Double Helix of organizational effectiveness. My runner up choices are: James Suroweicki's thought-provoking The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations. And David Wolfe and Robert Snyder's Ageless Marketing—by far the most persuasive book yet about the stupendous Boomer-Geezer market opportunity.

MVP/Cool. iPod. Obvious? Sure. But what else?

MVP/Winning Streak. Steve Jobs. Who else? (Even his losses, like Lisa, have been wins.) (Jobs retires this award!)

MVP/Drop-dead Gorgeous. As an (old) Civil Engineer, I marvel-drool at the beauty of France's Millau bridge over the Tarn River, opened this Tuesday! Huzzahs to British architect Norman Foster and, of course, the French.

MVP/Country-on-the-Move, Country-on-the-Make. China. Appropriate phrase: Ye gads! Next up: More "Ye gads!" Has a day passed of late without a breaking & big China story?

MVP/Regions. Red States. And ... Blue States. Both are full-scale partners in the amazingly diverse & resilient experiment called the United States of America!

Goats. (1) Health"care" quality in acute-care centers. (2) Overly restrictive visa policies that are turning the day-after-tomorrow's winning entrepreneurs & Nobel Laureates away from our universities & labs & shores. Fixing this will not compromise our security. (2A) America's dimming reputation, however necessary our aggressive actions may be, which could stunt or even reverse our world leadership in the long-ish haul. (3) The Total Lack of Fiscal Discipline within the Borders of the District of Columbia. (4) CEOs who don't "bet the farm" on New Technology, and seek but incremental change—bad "legacy" move!

Your nickel, please. Catcalls. Alternate nominations. Additional categories & winners. I'll Blog a "Best of" Your Winners & Goats around the end of the year.