Most Valuable Players, 1993

Tom Peters

The year’s end brings my ninth annual Most Valuable Player Awards:

1. Looking forward. My top business award goes to politicians. To Bill Clinton for ignoring the old definition of Democrat and fighting for NAFTA with animal energy. To combative Newt Gingrich for lining up 131 fellow Republicans to support the other party’s president. To the 102 Democrats in the House who risked the ire and PAC dollars of labor (and others trying to repeal the 21st century) to vote “yea.”

2. Visionary CEO. Bob Buckman of the specialty chemicals firm Buckman Labs, of Memphis, Tenn., has vigorously embraced the future—and understands that competitive advantage comes from quickly and effectively adding value for customers, by getting the far-flung members of his company to create and swap knowledge. He’s investing like crazy in his own 70-country information highway and is working equally hard to create a corporate culture that heaps honors upon those who share rather than horde information.

3. Tomorrow’s company. The plaudit goes to VeriFone a Redwood City, Calif., firm that owns 60 percent of the U.S. market for credit-card authorization systems. All VeriFone employees (and many employees’ families) are on the Internet. VeriFone project teams routinely pass their work, at the speed of light, to other teams scattered around the world—thus getting a big jump on more traditional competitors. And everyone has ready access to information about everything. Descriptions of this electronic floating crap game scare the devil out of participants at my seminars. But like it or not, is the look of the future.

4. Chutzpah I. Hats off to Ray Smith of Bell Atlantic for taking a giant step down the information highway for planning to merge with cable monster TCI. Smith’s plan for wedging his way into our living rooms may or may not pan out. But the sheer audacity of his move is in keeping with the feisty spirit of American enterprise that has kept us at the top of the global heap for so many years.

5. Chutzpah II. Former GM exec Inaki Lopez love him or hate him, has precisely the kind of boldness (bordering on rashness, and crossing the border occasionally) that’s called for these days. Maybe Lopez swiped GM’s secrets and will end up in the clink. So be it. Fact is, his unorthodox ways (not least his renowned warrior diet!) have stirred two of the planet’s sleepiest companies—General Motors and Volkswagen.

6. Visionary boss. ABB Asea Brown Boveri chief Percy Barnevik has gotten lots of attention from me in the past. He’ll keep getting it. Barnevik makes a mockery of other hierarchy flatteners. “The Barnevik Test” of genuine corporate transformation is one that few big firm CEOs can pass.

7. Stay the course. I love running into someone from 3M as I did recently on a flight from Chicago to Minneapolis. They are unpretentious. They don’t speak biz babble. They just do it. 3M’s markets rise and fall, but this exceptionally entrepreneurial giant keeps inventing its way forward.

8. Spunk. The British marketing services firm Imagination is a kick to visit. Hiring only the slightly kinky, founder Gary Withers has produced a nonstop series of programs and projects that have shaken up the stodgiest of his big clients. Withers denies even having a management style, simply saying he expects the impossible from everyone as a matter of course. Guileless or
Machiavellian, Withers’ no-approach approach works wonders.

9. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Jay and Terri Hathaway of Peltier’s market in Dorset, Vt., aren’t. The small country store in the boondocks brings the gourmet best (and more) from local entrepreneurs, New York, Boston and the world to their customers. From behind the counter, the Hathaways also anchor a
nonstop chat show. While nearby chain stores come and go, Peltier’s recently celebrated its 175th anniversary!

10. Book of the year. My 1993 pick is The One-to-One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. The authors advise creating a “customer management firm” in place of the traditional “product management firm”—that is, organizing your entire business around
different classes of customers (with varying potential), rather than by type of product or service. It’s a revolutionary prescription for putting customers first that makes my “close to the customer” axiom from In Search of Excellence pale by comparison.

This is, as Peppers and Rogers dub it, “Society at Light Speed.” Each of this year’s winners understands that. Far too few of the rest of us do.

(C) 1993 TPG Communications.

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