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Inside Man. Outside Man. Successful Transitions.

Last few days has seen the return of two former leaders.

AG Lafley returned to take over from Bob McDonald as head of P&G.Image

NR Narayanamurthy returned to lead Infosys. Image

As I read the backstories I was reminded of a book I read a long long time ago by Harvey Mackay, called Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. Image

Among many things he suggests that successful companies must have 2 leaders with clearly defined roles.

One is the outside man. He is the face of the company, he, or she, paints the vision, Is the Pied Piper.

The other is the inside man. He is the oil that keeps the machine ticking. He makes things happen. Converts vision to reality.

I don’t know that there is need for two people, but I do know that these are two distinct roles and sometimes you do need two different people. Sometimes people are blessed to be able to do both. But for starters it is important that these two roles are recognised.

Let’s look at the most successful company of recent times. Apple. Jobs was the outside man. Cook was the inside man.

At P&G too from what I understand Lafley was the outside man, McDonald was the inside man.

At Infosys too Narayanamurthy was the outside man, while Nilekani was the inside man.

Simple so far?

The challenge is when the Outside Man moves on and the Inside Man becomes the outside man.(Usually Outside Men tend to be chairmen, CEOs etc while Inside Men tend to be COOs, Directors, VPs etc.)

Sometimes Inside Men become good Outside Men. Nandan Nilekani is a great example.

Larry Page seems to be doing well, taking over from Schmidt.

Companies that transition at the top could struggle for one of three reasons.

  1. The Inside Man is not a good Outside Man. Cook at Apple is struggling big time. He is not an Outside Man sort of guy. That affects the brand and share price in the short term, and the company’s future itself in the long term.
  2. There is no new Inside Man. When the Inside Man becomes the Outside Man, he needs to ensure he has a good Inside Man making him look good. I believe Brin is doing that job at Google.
  3. The Inside Man continues to behave like an Inside Man and meddles with the company operations and loses sight of the bigger picture and takes his hand off the wheel. I have worked with such people!!

Now looking at the companies that I started with : P&G and Infosys, I wonder if McDonald had a new wingman who was his Inside Man making his vision come true. Or if McDonald was just a poor Outside Man.

In the case of Infosys when Narayanamurthy was around he had some very good Inside Men, led my Nandan Nilekani. When Nilekani became the Outside Man, he still had Pai, Kris and Shibulal. But as that lot left, Shibulal was left to his own devices. He is not an Outside Man sort of guy. I don’t believe he had a good Inside Man either.

So as Lafley and Narayanamurthy come back they would do well to remember that they need to ensure that they transition to not just a great Outside Man, but also make sure that that person has a great Inside Man. That is the secret of a successful transition.

As I end this I am reminded of a great political Inside/Outside pair. Blair and Gordon.

 

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Branding in China

Here’s a rather educative article about China’s branding challenge. But reaches some odd conclusions.

Firstly let’s look at what it says.

Using Huawei’s example it talks about China has companies that have significant market share in the category in which they operate. But they are not well known to the consumer.

A couple of reasons it mentions include

1. Intense competition at home and weak IP protection means that there are low/no margins to invest in brand building

2. The Chinese companies are focused on b2b ie they sell to other businesses

The article references marketing razzle dazzle like those of Nike and Google.

And that is kind of where I believe the article loses its plot and is stuck in archaic thinking.

Firstly if a company like Huawei sells to other businesses and all those companies know of and regard it well then it is achieving its purpose. It doesn’t need Nike style campaigns talking to me. They may be smart in focusing their attention on the people who really need to know and think highly of them.

Secondly Google’s razzle dazzle is quite different from Nike’s. Nike’s was ‘top-down’. Make a product that is not uniquely differentiated and imbue it with great brand values and back it with a superlative campaign consistently.

Google started with a great product. And they built their brand bottom up. I don’t recall any great ads from Google, save some clever recruitment ads. Their brand was built through Word of Mouth and PR.

Which leads me across the Himalayas to India. Another great factory. But of services. It is an identical situation as China. Large companies facing intense competition at home engaged in services to other large companies.

Yet we know Infosys, Tata and Wipro as big brands. No marketing razzle dazzle.

High quality service with outstanding use of PR and Word of Mouth.

Many years ago I was having a chat with Nandan Nilekani (yes name dropping!!) when he was at Infosys and I at Ogilvy. He sneered, and he can sneer well, at the old fashioned way of building brands through ads. He told me then, that Infosys didn’t believe in advertising as the route to build brands. Fast forward and anyone in the IT services business knows that Infosys is one of the most powerful brands in that market place.

Jump across to Acer. After years of being a supplier to other PC manufacturers, Acer decided to go out on its own. Today it is the No 2 PC manufacturer in the world. Again no marketing razzle dazzle. Good product. great distribution. Low prices and huge dollops of PR.

The point of this post, and yes there is one, is my angst that there is such a wide spread belief that the way to build a strong brand is through some fantastic advertising campaign. That is so passe.

Brands like Acer, Infosys, Google and I would say Huawei are striking examples of bringing new thinking to this space.

And China is getting there. Slowly. But they are.

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