MVPs, 2007

For what it's worth, my heroes (& goats) of 2007

CEO: Carly Fiorina. HP, not IBM, became the first $100 billion infotech company this year. Primary reason? The highly contentious, and surprisingly successful, Compaq acquisition and integration. (And, God knows, I don't ordinarily cheer such acquisitions—though I did, in this case, from the start.) Tenacious champion? Carly Fiorina! HP is now seen as a "consumer powerhouse." Laughable idea a few years ago. Transformation agent: Ms Fiorina. HP is "cool" with scintillating designs. Laughable idea just a few years ago. Transformation agent? Carly. New and not so nerdy "culture." Architect? Carly Fiorina. (And said cultural transformation, frankly, makes Welch's work at GE and Gerstner's at IBM a cakewalk by comparison.)

Do I give Ms Fiorina uniformly high marks? No. Does her successor, Mark Hurd, get significant credit? Absolutely. But make no mistake, Mr Hurd is executing Ms Fiorina's bold strategy and working with her altered culture. Period.

CEO: Arnold Schwarzenegger. President Schwarzenegger has made a miracle in my beloved California Republic. Not only has he done "great stuff"—he's retrieved California's swagger and indomitable spirit. Go, Guvenator!

Company: Basement Systems Inc. Love it when there is a superstar performer in a mundane business. Founder-CEO Larry Janesky has built a $50 million ++, fast-growing enterprise in the biz of providing dry basements—that are free of nasty mold and available as another (big) room in one's home. (Also see Larry's bestselling Dry Basement Science.)

Company: Jim's Group of Australia. Ditto. (You can see my biases here.) Jim Penman has 2,500+ franchises worldwide, doin' the stuff that busy working families don't have time to do—such as walkin' and washin' the family dog! (Also see, downloadable at Jim's website, What Will They Franchise Next? The Story of Jim's Group.)

Companies: Germany's Mittelstand—middle-sized firms. These high-value-added, niche superstars make Germany the world's #1 exporter! (The hell with the Giants.)

Companies and People: Private firms, Millionaires next door. The "gurus" never talk about the private firms—that constitute over half the enormous U.S. economy, and outperform the Monsters in the process. Our "gurus" ("our" includes me!) likewise never talk about that ordinary fellow-CEO up the hill running a biz that does uncool things, dressing in uncool garb, going to Disneyworld on holiday—and sporting a bank account to die for.

Person: Muhammad Yunus. Okay, I'm late to the party, but I didn't do MVPs last year, when Mr Yunus and his Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing and executing the practice of micro-lending. More cheers still to the 94% women entrepreneur-borrowers (and payers back!).

Market: Me! Boomers. Geezers. By the tens upon tens of millions. Money at the ready. (Lots and lots of. And time to spend it.) And insanely underserved by one and almost all. Here's how I put it in my presentations: "We are the Aussies & Kiwis & Americans & Canadians. We are the Western Europeans & Japanese. We are the fastest growing, the biggest, the wealthiest, the boldest, the most (yes) ambitious, the most experimental & exploratory, the most different, the most indulgent, the most difficult & demanding, the most service & experience obsessed, the most vigorous, (the least vigorous,) the most health conscious, the most female, the most profoundly important commercial market in the history of the world—and we will be the Center of your universe for the next twenty-five years. We have arrived!"

Message: Wise up! Wake up! Get rich!

Goats: Bill Sharpe et other "quants." The super-sophisticated mathematically marvelous quants with their derivatives of derivatives of derivatives promised us the end of systemic economic risk. Whoops—they gave us sleepwalkers just the opposite. When a couple of folks in Podunk missed a mortgage payment, the skyscraper of cards imploded. Bill Sharpe was among the Nobel-winning economists who took us down this prickly primrose path. May the milk in their Christmas puddings be curdled.

Hero: Warren Buffett. Mr Basics wondered about the value of the dull & dreary underlying asset (Mo and Maureen of Podunk's capacity to pay down their "cutrate" mortgage), and warned us about the freaky financial instruments that sat atop such "assets." Chalk another one up for Mr Buffett.

Chief Imagineer: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai. Just returned from Dubai. In my seminars I call its stunning development, on a desert flyspeck, the "single greatest act of human imagination in my lifetime." Congratulations to Sheikh Mohammed and his late father, Sheikh Maktoum.

Process & Simplicity: Checklists!! Complexifiers often rule—in part the byproduct of far too many "consultants" in the world, determined to demonstrate the fact that their IQs are higher than yours or mine. Enter Johns Hopkins' Dr Peter Pronovost. Dr P was appalled by the fact that 50% of folks in ICUs (90,000 at any point—in the U.S. alone) develop serious complications as a result of their stay in the ICU, per se. He also discovered that there were 179 steps, on average, required to sustain an ICU patient every day. His answer: Dr P "invented" the ... ta-da ... checklist! With the religious use of simple paper lists, prevalent ICU "line infection" errors at Hopkins dropped from 11% to zero—and stay-length was halved. (Results have been consistently replicated, from the likes of Hopkins to inner-city ERs.) "[Dr Pronovost] is focused on work that is not normally considered a significant contribution in academic medicine," Dr Atul Gawande, wrote in "The Checklist" (New Yorker, 1210.07). "As a result, few others are venturing to extend his achievements. Yet his work has already saved more lives than that of any laboratory scientist in the last decade." (I've attached a "Special Presentation" on this topic.)

Healthcare Providers: Planetree Alliance Members. The "Planetree Model" of "patient-centric" (ugly word, that) healthcare is the Real Deal. Asked to comment on the Planetree Alliance earlier this year, here's what I said:

"All sane persons agree that 'healthcare needs an overhaul.' And that's where the agreement stops. Healthcare issues are thorny, and system panaceas are about as likely as the sun rising in the West. But there is good news here and there—and great news courtesy the Planetree Model.

"In the midst of ceaseless gnashing of teeth over 'healthcare issues,' the patient and frontline staff often get lost in the shuffle. Enter Planetree. While oceanic systemic solutions remain out of reach, Planetree provides a remarkable demonstration of what healthcare—with the patient at the center—can be all about; and is all about, among Planetree Alliance members.

"I know this may sound ridiculous, but everything about the 'model' works. It is great for patients and their families—and is truly about humanity and healing and health and longterm wellness, not just a 'fix' for today's problem. It is great for staff—Planetree-Griffin is rightly near the top of the 'best places to work in America' list, year in and year out. And Planetree also works as a 'business model'—any effectiveness measure you can name is in the Green Zone at Griffin.

"For 25 years my 'gig' has been 'excellence.' Put simply, there is no better exemplar of customer-centered, employee-friendly excellence, in any industry, than Griffin-Planetree. The Planetree model works—and, in my extensive work in the health sector, I 'sell' it shamelessly, and pray that my clients are taking it all in."

(I meant it—every word.) (See "Special Presentation" attached.)

Healthcare Heroes: Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Dear God, what a history. As I said to the dean while visiting to make a presentation, "To make the alumni honor role, it seems, you must have saved a million lives or so"—and I'm not sure I was exaggerating. I'd add that the talk was my favorite of the year—I've never seen so many idealists under one roof! (Students, faculty, others.) By the by, hats waaaaaay off to Mike Bloomberg for his astounding support!)

Book: How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules of Business Success, by Margaret Heffernan. America's 10 million++ women business owners and their impact on the economy remains our most under-reported business story. As Ms Heffernan puts it: "The growth and success of women-owned businesses is one of the most profound changes taking place in the business world today." Congrats to these gutsy heroes—by the million.

Book: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. We all can acquire literally millions of "business partners" with imaginative use of the Web. Collaboration on an almost infinite scale has arrived, for the wise.

Book, Instant Classic: The Black Swan: Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan told us about the likes of the sub-prime mess long before it happened. Most variation in outcomes (e.g., longterm profit or loss) is the product of a tiny handful of weird (outlier) events. NNT provides example after compelling example—and also illustrates the total impotence of traditional planning methods to cope with black swans.

That's it.