Leaders, Don’t Expect Everyone to LIKE You

Listening to the radio news this week, I heard again that President Obama’s approval rating is continuing to drop. Whether it is his handling of economic issues, healthcare, congress, or a post Labor Day address to school children, we are a nation divided.  Some people love him, some people don’t, and many are stuck somewhere in between.

Now, the purpose of this note is not to open a discussion on whether President Obama is worthy of approval or not.  We’re going in a different direction.  We’re exploring what to expect as a leader in the business world.

I have been through my share of leadership training throughout my career, and there is one thing they rarely if ever tell you.

When you are a leader driving change or making tough decisions – there may be people who will REALLY not like you.

It does not matter how great you are as a speaker, how authentic you are as a person, how charismatic a leader you are, or even how solid your strategy is.

Eventually you will bring about a change that threatens someone’s sense of balance, personal well being, or sense of security through your decisions, and they will make their displeasure known – LOUD AND CLEAR.

Sometimes you can predict and plan for it, and sometimes you can’t.  Blow ups can occur over major issues and decisions or the seemingly trivial.

But be prepared – sooner or later is bound to happen!

This illustration from Pollster.com really helps put things in perspective.  The President’s approval rating hit its peak after the election but before he was actually making any true presidential decisions.    Once his decisions.

This challenge is not unique to Presidential Leadership.

All Summer, legislative leaders across the country have struggled with tough decisions on budgets that won’t balance, whether to raise taxes or not, and where and how much to cut in programs that directly effect no win issues like education, social services, and hampering economic recovery by a heavy tax burden – remember – no economic recovery – no job recovery!

Difficult decisions and cuts lead to public outcries from all sides, as exemplified in this July 25th article and video from CNN.Money.com.

And, as soon as they think they have the problem solved, new gaps open or new conflicts arise, including Gubernatorial Vetoes.

Today’s environment is definitely not a pleasant one for political leaders at any level.

Shifting to Business

As business leaders, we deal with our own sets of issues and decisions every day.

Some are large and some are small, but at any level of authority we often have to make tough decisions that will not be viewed positively by everyone.

Here are some lessons I have learned along my leadership journey:

The higher up you are on the leadership ladder, the broader the reach and scope of your decisions and the more people you affect positively and negatively.

The closer an unfavorable action get’s to an individual’s personal life, the more vocal the dislike can become.

Listen to your detractors – sometimes they are voicing something you need to hear that your friends and supporters are not telling you.

Deal with detractors respectfully, even if they do not return the courtesy.

You can’t take it personally – even if their attacks turn personal.

Logic rarely trumps emotion when change hits close to home for people.  Especially when that emotion is concern or fear.

While you may try to work with your detractors, you have to eventually to move on.  To paraphrase President Harry Truman, as a leader, the buck will stop with you and you will need to do what you think is best.  And then, you live with it.

Luckily, most leaders will have more supporters than not.  But eventually, somewhere along the way – you will find those few that will not come around.  And when you do, just remember, you are not alone.

Most of us have been there at one time or another.  It comes with the territory.

Thanks for stopping by.   Stay Tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker

Missing the Innovation Train

Innovation – doing something in a new way to make life better for the people who matter – is a wonderful thing – unless you happen to be the one who missed the train when it pulled out from the station.

KOERBERThat’s what happened to a once great family business, Koerber’s Beer.

Hey – you may be thinking – that name sounds familiar.  Yes, Koerber’s was once our family business run by my grandfather William G. (Bill) Koerber and his brothers.

Koerber’s Beer and the other brands, including Friar’s Ale and later a new innovation, Malt Liquor led the brand portfolio.

Grandpa’s brother, Clarence “Click” Koerber, invented malt liquor and began production at the Grand Valley Brewing Company in Ionia, Michigan some time around 1937. Great  Uncle Click named his magic brew Clix Malt Liquor.

The family business managed to survive through two World Wars, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.  Instead, it was an innovation in the brew master’s art that led to it’s demise.

That change was the imagepractice of increasing the preservative content in beer and ale.  By adding additional preservatives, competing breweries were able to ship their beers for greater distances, store the product for longer periods of time, and increase shelf life for distributors and retailers taking advantage of major economies of scale.

There was only one problem, it affected the taste of the beer.  Koerber’s brand was associated with Age, Strength, and Purity.  Grandpa, as brew master was sure that no one would buy let alone want to drink the lesser product.   And Grandpa was wrong!

By 1949, the last bottle of Koerber’s beer was crated and shipped from the plant in  Toledo, Ohio.  The factory was closed.  What today we would call a series of micro breweries, Koerber’s, and it’s sister company Grand Valley Brewing could not compete with the mega brewers who had emerged.

By the time I came along, in 1960, the only Koerber’s beer that was still in production came from the mini brewery that was hidden behind the secret wall in the Dutch Room off the boat well in Grandpa’s home at Grayhaven on the Detroit River. But that’s a story for another day.

So when you hear the whistle blow and see the innovation train pull into the  station, be sure to have your ticket ready so you can board.  You don’t want to be left behind!

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Do you know my name?

If you passed me on the street, would you know my name? Would you call me by it? If you needed what I had to offer, would my company name be one that came to mind?

clip_image002[4]There are few things more powerful than a name. It links to our actions, our reputation and to the history of who we are. In days of old, continuation of the family name was a key goal of lord and serf alike. It was all they had to guarantee they would be remembered after they were gone. Today, both individuals and companies focus on a name as a brand, hoping to link what they stand for and what they do to the name they carry.

Our name connects us to others.

Many companies have recognized the power of the sharing of names between employees and customers. Last week I had lunch at the Macaroni Grill. Our server came over to the table and introduced himself, saying “Hello, my name is David” as he pulled out a crayon and scrawled his name right on the table. He went on to welcome us, ask what we would like and assure us that he wanted us to have a good time today and to call for him by NAME if we needed anything at all. Other businesses, including Sam’s Club and Safeway have taken the practice one step further. Each employee has a name tag which allows us to call them by name. They use technology and our name on membership cards to thank us by name for coming to their store. The Safeway at Chandler and 40th Street has been where I do my weekly shopping since we moved to the Valley of the Sun in 1992. Through familiarity and the regular exchange of names, we have come to know each other.

Al is always available with a smile to help me find a special ingredient or item. Linda has been ringing up my orders for years.  If I see her behind one of the registers, that is the direction my cart veers – even if the line is shorter on row over.  Steven is often there to help me take my overloaded basked to the car and fills me in on the things he has been doing or how his family is getting along.

Within a short drive from my home, there are six supermarkets within a very small radius, including another Safeway. They all have coupons, bargains and specials. But I always go back to the same one. Not because it is closest or cheapest, but because we are on a first name basis and I know that I can get what I need there. It is not just store policy, or a marketing gimmick. It’s a connection.

What’s in a name?

When I launched my own business in 2002, I had to answer a lot of questions. The most important being…what was our reason for being in business? This broke down further to… what would we offer, who we would serve and how we best serve them.?

My personal passion was innovation, doing something in a new way to make life better for the people who matter. Helping other organizations create innovative ways to achieve their business goals became the central focus of our company – our core purpose.

When I started to research possible names, it all came back to who and what we were. We had a strong, motivating drive to our core purpose. We helped others discover and capitalize on their core purpose in innovative ways. We became CorePurpose, Inc.

Today, companies come to us to help them refocus, to grow, to make the most of what they have, or find the things they need to realize their own core purpose. We get calls from around the country and around the world asking about what we do and how we do it.

Our name and our reputation brings customers to our door.  The work we do brings them back.  ~ Joan Koerber-Walker

What about your business? What does your name say about you? What do people think of when they hear it?

If you do not know, there is a simple test.   Ask the question! Most people will be happy to tell you what they think and are pleased to be asked. You might be surprised what you hear. What your customers tell you is what they perceive your purpose and value to be.

What they think of when they hear your name matters the most. Their perception of your business and the value it brings when linked to your name becomes your brand. If you like what you hear, maximize the message in the marketplace. If you are not hearing what you want – you may have some work to do.

Just as a business brand links your name to what the markets perceives you to be, you have a personal brand that links your name to how those around you see you. What you do and how you do it becomes tied to your name. Your personal brand may change depending where you are. In my case, when I am around the school or at the hockey rink, I am well known as Chris Walker or Nick Walker’s Mom. My brand is directly linked to theirs. My claim to fame is directly linked to what they do and who they know. In the business and philanthropic community, my brand is more closely linked to the personal values I exhibit in my work with customers, organizations I volunteer with, or associations I belong to. In the case of my personal brand, what they see is what I get. What I do becomes what my personal brand is perceived to be.

Ask yourself – what is my personal brand? Ask your friends. You might be surprised by what you hear.  If you like the answers you get, build on it. If you don’t like the answers, get to work.

So, do you know my name? Will I know yours? Whether you look at this question personally or in terms of your business, the answer may be one of the most important ones you ever hear.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

The End of the One Way Street

For those of you that have been following my Little Life Stories blog over the past week, you know that I have had quite a bit of windshield time as my son and I drove the 2500 miles from Phoenix, Arizona to Brookfield, Connecticut.  Over 40 hours in the car equated to that much time off-line.  You should try it some time.  Disengaging and taking the time to think without the constant demands of meetings, phone, or computer.

One WayNow traveling down highways is the ultimate One Way Street.  If someone decides to travel in the wrong direction – it’s a recipe for disaster. 

But for most other areas of our life and business – traveling down the one way street is a very short sighted solution.   

A very wise friend of mine taught me long ago that by extending yourself, engaging, and helping others there is a karmic affect.  What you give comes back to you.  This video tells the story… 


A recent blog post and developing exchange with Gloria Feldt on her blog “Speaking Up” under the category of Courageous Leadership really helped me bring my thoughts into focus in terms of social media interactions and my social media tool kit as a leader.

How does social media fit in my leadership tool kit?

I loved that Gloria started off by recognizing that social media is a tool for leaders and not a strategy. Social Media – interactive websites, blogs, Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, and more are each separate tools that can be used separately and on concert to 1) deliver information and 2) interact with your audience, employees, customers, and community in general.   These actions are the components of our strategy.  The tools simply enable us to act more effectively.

The days of one-way communication are coming to a close.

With the development of new social media platforms, we have entered into a new era of two-way communication that will allow us, as leaders, to develop stronger relationships, enhance communications, share ideas, and collaborate.

I am just learning to use these new tools to facilitate these interactions. The more I learn, the better a communicator and ultimately a leader I can become.

Here is a short story to illustrate what effectively using social media tools can do.

Gloria and I met at an ASU Women in Philanthropy event in 2002. Since then we exchanged holiday cards, read an occasional newsletter or email, and were loosely connected. As we both began to use the newer social media tools, we began to more actively interact, follow each others projects, and introduce each other to friends with shared goals.  Ultimately these conversations can lead to collaborations in the future. Basically, our communication has become a two-way street.

Are you still stuck on the one way street?

Not everyone is taking advantage of this opportunity.  Often I continue to  come across others in the social media and business worlds who are still stuck on that “one-way street” mode of communicating.  They continue to PUSH information out while failing to take advantage of the opportunity to PULL information in by engaging with their social media communities.  Until they do, they will run the risk of missing out on great new ideas, critical information, or opportunities to collaborate, and make a difference in their businesses, their personal interactions, and their communities – where ever they may be.

It’s kind of sad – I hate to see anyone miss opportunities – but in the end, that is their choice.  Their decision just creates more available opportunities for those of us choosing to travel down “two way streets”.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker

Turning Things Around in 2009

What was your New Year’s resolution?  Mine was to talk to at least two different people every day about what’s happening in our economy and to explore opportunities. 

It had gotten to the point where I was afraid to turn on the radio, TV, or open the paper.  The news was just too depressing.  So I resolved to reach out into my community and observe things first hand.

Since January 1st,  I have met with and spoken to a lot of people in Arizona, across the US, and even abroad.  And what I am hearing is encouraging.  Yes, times are tough, but people are moving forward, innovations are happening, businesses are making changes to speed their recoveries, and investors are looking to invest in solid business plans.  As I meet with friends and business colleagues, they in turn have introduced me to their friends…and I have returned the favor.

Here are just a few of the wonderful things I have uncovered in my search for opportunities…

  • One of my friends was working with a company with a great new product and service concept.  They were getting ready to reach out to investors and showed me their developing plan.  I even got to make some suggestions.  Hopefully, they will help this company raise their next round of funding.  They have a great concept. 
  • I spent time with two executives in Detroit.  One from GM and one from Ford.  Some of the stories they shared were sad, but there were glimmers of hope as they talked about new developments and what those companies were doing to turn things around.
  • A biotech researcher in San Diego was bubbling over with excitement when she shared news about a new development in the lab that could improve an long-standing medical process and ultimately save thousands of lives when it is brought to market.  I told anther friend about it and he introduced me to the person I needed to meet to move the process along.
  • A manufacturer in Arizona has created a new system to help restaurants be more competitive, improve processes, and save energy.  Their business is growing by leaps and bounds.
  • An architectural  glass distributor in Michigan has taken their business global and not only grown substantially but has won high honors and awards along the way.
  • Over the last weeks I have met with people looking to buy businesses and re-capitalize them, not just saving jobs, but with future growth… creating them.  Oh, and they are finding the money for it too!
  • Meetings have brought me in contact with incredibly talented CEO’s and executives who are looking for their next big project.  They were not sitting at home or hitting the links.  They were out there just like me, sharing their expertise, serving on boards of directors, mentoring others, and helping to get things moving forward again.

With all of these encouraging stories bolstering my courage, I was brave enough to open the newspaper again. And what did I find?  Well yes, there was news of layoffs and filings for Chapter 11 BUT there were also NINE full pages dedicated to positive stories just like mine.  Stories of business owners and individuals sharing how they too are staying ahead of the downturn. 

I’ve made it though seven months of keeping my New Year’s resolution.  I think I’ll stick with it.  Wouldn’t you?

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay  Tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker

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Heading Back to School

It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating high school graduations, ramping up for fun in the sun, and celebrating not having to make an early morning run to the bank or Safeway at the crack of dawn for the weekly lunch money! But before too long, it will be time to head back to school.

back to schoolWhether you are sending your first grader off to his first big adventure, sending out a senior with dreams of diplomas dancing in her head, or making the journey yourself, the first day of school is a big deal. Heading back to school brings changes – new experiences and friends, new challenges and successes. How you achieve success is up to you – a little planning can make all the difference. Are you ready?

So as you prepare for the 2009/2010 school year, here are 7 tips to help you through whether you are a parent coaching a first grader, a seasoned veteran of the homework wars, or a returning life long learner:

1. Set a goal

Ask yourself or your student – “What do you want to get out of school this year?” This gives you a ruler you can use to measure your success. A friend of mine likes to say that “What gets measured gets done.” Good grades of course are a common goal, but that is not all you might shoot for. Get creative with your goals – something like – “learn something new every day” – keep it in a journal so you can look back at it at the end of the year. Another goal might be to get involved in a club, a sport, or a study group so that you add a little spice to your regular learning diet. .

2. Create a system

The next step in making the most of your back to school adventure is to create a system to help you achieve your goals. It would be nice if all we had to do was dream it and it was so, but usually it takes a little more than that. Even Itzhak Perlman, one of the greatest violinists of our time still has to practice – carefully – everyday. Being great takes more than just luck or talent, it takes planning and hard work. Ask yourself…

3. “Who do I want to be at the end of this journey and who can help me get there?

Will you be a scholar – embracing knowledge for the love of it – or perhaps, you wish to be a teacher or tutor, sharing your knowledge with other students.- or maybe your goal is just to get through – gaining enough knowledge to meet the requirements for moving on to the next level while you focus your energies in other areas. It could be all of the above, or none of the above, the choice is up to you. The trick is – make it part of your goal and your plan to choose.

4. “What tools can I use to achieve my goals?”

There are many tools you can use to help you achieve your learning goals. Some are simple – a notebook, a pencil, a compass, or perhaps an eraser. (Nobody’s perfect.) Perhaps your phone can be a tool. Use a smart phone like the Motorola Q® or a Blackberry or PDA to manage your schedule of assignments or even use your camera phone to capture a blackboard full of notes. Phones today have everything from the cameras to calendars, and calculators to the Internet.

Fill a backpack with the tools you need, from snacks to keep up your energy, to reference books, or a planner if you choose a lower tech solution to keep things organized. But beware the bottomless back pack. It’s the nemesis of every helpful parent and erstwhile student. Bottomless backpacks eat notes and assignments. Backpacks are useful for carrying things, but if it all goes in – to never again see the light of day – they can be more hindrance than help! Use your tools wisely along your journey.

5. “Where will I go to focus?”

Get the lay of the land. Find your learning place. When I went back to get my MBA after 20 years, I knew that my study skills and lifestyle had changed. Now I had so many distractions – work, family, dumb things I needed to do. I needed a place where I could focus without any distractions. I tried setting up a place at home, but that did not work and even if I went into the office early – the day to day distractions followed me there. Finally I found a Burger King® around the corner from my office. They opened at 5 AM and were more than happy to let me study at a corner table. I had my breakfast and did my school work until 7AM before packing up and heading to work. The staff all thought it was funny and even became part of the plan – bringing me refills as I worked through my text books and even flowers when I finally graduated! Where will your learning place be? Find a quiet corner in your home, at the library, or anyplace where you can set yourself up, stay quiet and focus on what you need to do to learn. If you are a parent working with a young student – help them set aside their special place. Let them know that it is their little corner of the world. You are just around the corner if they need you, but it is their place!

6. “How will I focus in on achieving my goals?”

How we get in focus works differently for everyone. Some of us may use music to tune out the rest of the world’s distractions, others may need perfect quiet. If you are a fan of The Secret set up a Vision Board to help keep the positive thoughts around your learning goals in focus. A vision board is a simple tool. It can be a framed collage of the positive things you want to achieve – a picture of a report card will high marks, a diploma, or the college you want to go… Perhaps on your vision board you also have a picture of what you will do after school is through – a dream job or a get away location. If your learning place is outside of your home, use the front of your notebook or binder to make a portable Vision Board you can carry with you. Look at your Vision Board every day – see yourself achieving your goals, then buckle down and do what you need to do to get there.

7. “Whose job is my success?”

The answer is you. Each student must accept responsibility for achieving their goals. It is not the teacher’s job or a parent’s role force study or get necessary assignments in on time. YOU must make the commitment to your learning and to your goals. If you are coaching your children through the learning process, help them understand why what they are doing is important for them – not for you. “Do it because I said so” is not a learning motivator. Help them understand how what they are learning will help them get what THEY want. The job of a parent as learning coach then gets 100 times easier! Never nag a child about homework – it turns learning into a chore and defeats the purpose. You get frustrated, they get frustrated and you head into the homework death spiral. Instead – create a No Nag Contract with your student (or yourself). Come to an agreement where if “A”, “B” and “C” get done correctly and on time – then NO Nagging! This gives your student a chance to control their destiny and makes your home life a whole lot more pleasant!

Celebrate Success

Last but not least – as you are learning and achieving you goals – take time out to celebrate your little successes along the way. What is the point if you are not having some fun as part of the process? Reward yourself or your student with a movie, a walk in the mountains, or even a hot fudge sundae (my personal favorite!) Interim goals and the small successes that you celebrate generate the energy you need to succeed in making your long term learning goals a reality. So take a minute – chill out – look at your vision board – or just imagine what it will be like next May – when summer vacation rolls around again.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Healthcare: A Perfect Problem with No Perfect Solution

In the United States, we have two “perfect problems”: our Healthcare system and our Taxation system. What makes these problems perfect is their absolute complexity and an almost universal agreement that a problem exists.

The focus of this article is on healthcare.  I’ll leave taxation for another day – even though eventually our country will not be able to truly address one without the other.


Up until December of 2006, I did not think a lot about healthcare.  It was something I had, something I paid for, and with the exception of annual check ups for my family, something that I rarely had to use.  I knew it was a problem, but it was not necessarily mine. That changed December 21, 2006 when I became the CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association, and had to answer to and speak on behalf of our 3,000 business members and through them over 200,000 employees. 

The more I researched, surveyed, and listened; the bigger the problem became.  And I was just looking at one state, and within that, only one subset of the population, small business owners and their employees.  Yet both in our state and on a nationwide basis estimates from both the Federal government and independent agencies estimated that of the 45 million people plus who lacked health insurance, approximately 60% of them either owned or worked in a small business.   The constantly rising cost of health care was a burden these businesses were struggling to battle.  Others were starting to give up hope that anything could be done.


Source: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007, p.69

hc-numbers-chtThe chart at right shows the estimated U.S. population (as of 2007) and the breakdown of the insured/uninsured and where the insurance comes from.

But as we all know, there have been some pretty significant economic factors since 2007 that probably shift these numbers upward in the areas of both government provided program and the uninsured due to the significant change in the unemployment rate (4.7% in June of 2007 vs. 9.7% in June 2009) and the continuing economic pressures on businesses of every size.

With a problem this large, it’s hard to have any impact.  Especially when it’s also highly complex and politically charged.  At the state level we had various mandates, imposed and proposed, that were continually driving the costs up.  A state provided program for small business had serious limitations and flaws not to to mention a serious deficit that threatened its sustainability.  The whole thing was a mess. 

I had learned a long time ago that it is almost impossible to tackle a really big complex problem – but that if you break it into little ones and tackle them one at a time, you can make headway.  So that is what we did.

First we framed the problem with a set of goals.  Our conditions for success were the following:

  1. It had to be available to any business of any size (even groups of 1) without limitation.
  2. It had to cover the entire state AND provide coverage for employees out of state.
  3. It had to provide the same level of quality care and service that was available to employees in a Fortune 500 company.
  4. Coverage had to be guaranteed issue with no pre-existing conditions limitations as long as there had been prior qualified coverage and pricing and eligibility would NOT be determined by health status of the employees.
  5. It had to be reasonably affordable and competitive.

The next step was to look at what resources we had to work with and to identify potential partners.  We reached out to corporate partners, legislators, the Governor’s office, and national organizations to see what was available, what we could work with or what we could change.  Through a combination of negotiations, partnerships, and collaborations, we were able to design a plan that met all five of our defined goals and launched it 10 months after we started the process.  To see the full details of the program, visit the ASBA website

Now, this program did not solve the national problem, but it did provide a solution/option for the community we served across the state of Arizona. AND, it did so without a single taxpayer dollar.  Best of all,  from 2007 to 2009 the gross increase in premium was a total of THREE percent while at the same time the program benefits were enhanced – not reduced.

So my question is this.  Perhaps, while they battle in Washington tackle the perfect problem of Healthcare Reform – and fight over every sacred cow.  Maybe, just maybe, individuals like you and me, in our little corners of the country can build viable solutions by breaking the problem down to smaller more manageable chunks and tackling them one at a time.  That way WE can solve the problem and THEY can keep on talking.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

P.S. While I no longer serve as the CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association, my time there taught me something very important.  There is very little that can not be accomplished by American small business with a little hard work. collaboration, and ingenuity.  If we focus on the challenge, frame it properly and get down to work the results can be pretty incredible. 

What DO you do?

Friday I got a tweet very early in the morning, just as I was heading out to a 7 AM meeting across town.  It said simply “What Do you do?” I sent of a quick note explaining with a link to my website and my number so the person could call me later if they wished.  Grabbing my purse, I headed out to the car.  As I was driving to my meeting with The Shea Group that question stayed on my mind.

Silver_Bullet_GripsThe Shea Group is a collection of executives and business owners who understand that learning and career development is a lifelong process.  Each time the group meets, a speaker shares their experience as part of the session.  This time it was Jack W. Milligan of Leathers Milligan & Associates a long time veteran in the area of human resources and executive career management.  Jack told us a story that really resonated with me.  It went like this…

“This is a secret that only human resource professionals know.  Hidden deep in every company, there is a special closet where they keep the silver bullets.  On the day that you start, they will engrave your name on one.  On the day that you leave you will get it back.  They may shoot you with it, or they may hand it to you as they once did an engraved gold watch.  But, that bullet is there and it has your name on it.  It is up to you to be prepared.”  Jack W. Milligan

Jack went on to share tips and techniques that every executive should be employing to manage their career both during employment and during the transition process that is sure to come at one time or another. 

So today I decided to give some real thought to answering the question – What Do you do?  Not just based on what someone might find on my resume or bio – which shows what I have done, but in  terms of what I actively do and engage in and what I hope to bring to the next growing company I have the opportunity to lead.

My “What I do list”

  • Engage employees and partners in our organization’s vision and with them develop a plan that delivers tangible results.
  • Lead throughout the execution process by example.  Never ask another to do something that I personally am not willing to do.
  • Communicate openly and often on what is working, what needs work, and what is yet to be done. Use every appropriate platform – from public speaking,  to writing, to informal chats to deliver the message.
  • Listen to what our customers and our market has to say, learn from them, and put those lessons to work.
  • Take forgotten or underutilized resources and redeploy them for added results
  • Reach out to our community to offer assistance, share ideas, and keep our organization connected, engaged, and respected.
  • Develop and mentor the people around me so that when my silver bullet comes, they can continue on the journey to find even greater success.

What’s on YOUR “What I do list”.  It’s a great exercise – try it and see.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Looking back at a Perfect Storm

During the downturn that shook the foundations of the technology industry after the dot.com implosion, I wrote and article about the Perfect Storm that hit the industry.  In that article I suggested that there are Seven Deadly Sins that can challenge the stability of the supply chain and our overall economy.  This was written in July 2002.

Reading it now, seven years later, it is amazing how we have seen the storm hit once again – this time in the construction and finance industries.  Hopefully someday we will learn our lessons.

bigwave2The Perfect Storm:
What happened to the Supply Chain in 2000/2001
and could it happen again?

July 3,  2002.

In November of 2000, Roy Vallee, Chairman of the Board of Avnet, Inc., the worlds largest electronics distributor, announced, at the Avnet, Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting, that Avnet was seeing indicators that the Technology Boom of 2000 may not be sustainable.

This unleashed a storm of protest from analysts, investors and supply chain participants. While today we all know that those indications were all too true, with hindsight, we, as an industry, only wish he had been wrong. As the technology sector slowly begins the climb out of the most dramatic downturn in its history, the question asked repeatedly is… “How did this happen? & “Will it happen again?”

Many hypotheses have been put forward in the last year as to what happened and why it was so extreme. Some attribute the cause to:

  • The external environment – globalization, industry consolidation, Y2K, or the dot.com implosion and resulting telecom plunge;
  • Industry cyclicality – sharper and more dramatic cycles as the size of the industry and key sectors within it grow disproportionately;
  • Technology – our sophisticated IT systems let us down. The forecasts were all wrong;
  • An increasingly complex supply chain;
  • Wall Street – pressure for growth driving unrealistic forecasts; or
    All of the above – a Perfect Storm!

Pick any of the above and you can find people to agree with you as to what was responsible.

Interestingly, each of these factors is a “thing” we can point to. We do not have to take personal responsibility because it was an external economic effect, an industry group or corporation at fault, not us.

Organizations and IT systems do not make the decisions that drive the supply chain, people do. Each one of us represents a link in the supply chain and it is the choices we make every day that drive the outcome. Until each of us within the industry chooses to accept this responsibility, we are doomed to face similar extreme business cycles in the future.

So, if human beings are the key factors that control the supply chain, what are the human conditions that drive our supply chain behaviors?

The Seven Deadly Supply Chain Sins

The Path of Least Resistance: In our increasingly busy roles, seeking the path of least resistance comes naturally. Whether as engineers, we design with parts we have always used it the past (designing in parts at the end of their product life cycle or missing out on possible benefits procurement or manufacturing may gain with a more commonly available part) or as procurement and materials professionals we do not make the effort to establish part numbering standards so we truly know what we have and what we need. At one time or another, in good times and bad, we have all fallen into the trap of viewing the old ways as “good enough” rather than making the extra effort to optimize our systems and our processes.

Self Preservation: From birth, self-preservation is the most basic human instinct. Each of has a natural inclination to protect ourselves, our jobs, and our companies. In times of allocation or constraint, a buyer may double order or increase forecast requirements to ensure his company gets what it needs to keep the production lines going. In isolation this may be a small thing, but across an industry, this can create a groundswell of demand that may be unrealized as capacity is increased and product frees up. Within our organizations we use this nature of self-interest by creating incentive programs to drive certain behaviors. Unfortunately, these often conflict from department to department. Thus, our materials team must keep inventory low to earn their incentive and the sales team needs product on hand so they can get the sales level they need to make their sales goals. These conflicting interests lead to distrust and ultimately to breakdowns in communication or even distorted information as each individual protects his or her own interests. If our lines of communication break down within our own companies, how can we provide accurate information to our partners across the supply chain?   

Risk Avoidance: If as human beings we have a natural inclination to protect our selves, the next logical progression is to shy away from risk or find ways to shift the risk from ourselves to another. In the supply chain this manifests itself in many ways. In our contracts and legal forms we add penalty clauses and loop holes to shift the risk of doing business from us to another. Whether it’s the quality of imperfect forecasts, the liability for service or product failures, or artificial or often unnecessary restrictions on date codes, we often spend much more time and effort constructing rules and systems to shift risk to another than we do investing together to improve processes and systems to identify and mitigate the real risks we face. 

Fallibility: “Nothing and no one is perfect. There is always a margin for mistakes. But naturally the other guy will let us down more often then we will err. We must protect our selves from his failures.” This is the thinking that leads us to greater supply chain inefficiencies – bonded inventories, excessive buffers, padded forecasts, and ultimately inventory gluts. It is often easier to assume our supply chain partner will let us down than it is to pick the RIGHT partner and work closely with that them to develop strategy and process so both of us will be successful. 

Distrust: If everyone else is driven by self-interest, risk averse and fallible, no wonder we find it so hard to develop the levels of trust we need to share good information and partner effectively. When we do not trust our suppliers to deliver, we compensate in the supply chain. When we do not trust the product groups to have enough inventories, we pad the sales forecast. When we do not trust the MRP system we tinker with it. When numbers don’t give us the answers we need, we “adjust” them until they do. With everyone doing what comes naturally, it’s a wonder we get any good information across the supply chain at all. 

Greed: Whether you believe that “Greed is Good” or greed is bad, the interesting thing we often forget is that greed is not just about money. Greed is getting your “unfair share” of money, market position, market power, attention, and information. Interestingly if you take the word greed out of the description, it reads like the objectives of many of our companies. 

Increase Revenue & Profits
Increase Brand Position
Increase Market Share
Increase Market Intelligence

It is when greed gets out of control that we get into trouble. At the peak for the last technology wave, that is what happened. As investors we got caught up in escalating stock prices based on company projections that had little basis in financial reality or business basics. This influx of capital created a flurry of investment in telecom systems, IT infrastructure, and other products creating a groundswell of demand. As demand increased and supply became constrained, as buyers, we compensated within our supply chain to ensure we got our “unfair share” of what we needed. As sellers, we raced to capture orders and market share to get our “unfair share” of this inflated demand. And as an industry, we reeled in shock as the whole thing imploded. And then we started looking for someone to blame.   

Denial: When we refuse to acknowledge the truth, we are in denial. Another way to look at denial, one we got caught up in this last time around, is getting caught up in a wave of unrealistic optimism that approaches euphoria. Things were so great in our industry and we were so proud of our strategies, our growth, and our success, that we failed to look closely at the business basics our companies were founded on. Not only do we need to be aware of our own tendencies to get caught up in unrealistic optimism, but we must also be aware of the affect of those around us. When our biggest customer doubles his forecast, we double ours, plus a little extra just to be safe. So does his next supply chain partner and the next one. Soon the forecast has grown beyond anything sustainable, even assuming that the first projection of double growth was correct. At an industry or market level it is even more complicated. Here, when the analysts predict the market will grow by X%, each market participant projects that they will capture their unfair share. If you go back and add each company’s projection up, the aggregate often exceeds the level of projected growth. These are some of the storm clouds on the horizon that signal rough weather ahead.

Are We Doomed?

So with all of our faults, is it hopeless? Are we doomed to ever increasing and sharper cycles? NO! Each of us, at each level of our organizations has the power to drive change in the performance of the supply chain.

Looking at the bigger picture: Whether we call it a supply chain or a supply network, the reality is that the choices, decisions, and actions of each of us, individually, link to others within our companies and across the supply chain. If we are to truly develop the level of quality information needed to drive to success, we need to recognize the linkages to internal customers, partners, and external customers and ensure that we are sharing the highest quality information available at all times if we are to be successful in reaching optimal levels of performance.

Each of us must Dare to Innovate – Design for Supply Chain Information – Providing the design engineers with not only easy access to technical information, but also information on the product life cycle of the components, their availability over time, and parts that are most commonly used within their company and within their industry to reduce the potential for stock outs in time of constraint and liability inventory in times of excess. 

Materials Management and Procurement – Investing in resources, tools and partnerships to create solutions for standardization of part numbers and sharing that information between departments (like engineering) and other manufacturing sites around the world.
Manufacturing – exploring systems, tools and processes that add visibility into inventory activity at the point- of use and relaying it back through the supply chain to support lean manufacturing for lower manufacturing costs and greater inventory trend data to support improved forecasting within the materials management function.
Operations – establishing systems and processes to link global operations and create inventory and supply chain visibility. (This is especially challenging for international companies running on disparate computer systems.)  

Channels To Market – Ensuring that we have the right channels mix to match our products and services to the needs of our customers. Then, ensuring that the right information and support systems to support those channels are put in place to get maximum return on the Sales and Marketing efforts across the direct, representative, distribution, and self -service channels. 

Be generous with your supply chain partners: The opposite of self-preservation and self-interest is generosity. This willing ness to give and share freely is the key to our success as partners in the complex supply chain. Generosity manifests itself in the willingness to share complete and accurate information to partners, not just that portion that supports what you need right now. It also extends to the willingness to pay for the value a supply chain partner provides, and the openness to share what portions of the partners’ value proposition truly adds value. In today’s tight financial times, neither buyers nor sellers can afford services that do not add measurable value to the supply chain process. 

Understand Risks and create process improvements to mitigate them – Accept responsibility: No business relationship is without risk, especially as you move across a complex supply chain. The key is to mapping the process to identify the potential for problems and establishing service recovery systems to address them. In recent years the trend has been not to manage risk, but to try to shift it across the supply chain from the OEM to the CM to the distributor or Manufacturer of the component. For the supply chain to work effectively and for the participants to openly share information, each supply chain partner must accept responsibility for that part of the supply chain information and risk that belongs to them. Otherwise, innovation and trust between partners becomes impossible. 

Dare to Trust/Share REAL information: The key to being able to trust your supply chain partners is to pick the RIGHT partner, then give them complete and accurate information, set reasonable allocations of risk based on accountability for the supply chain information each generates, and then let them do their job. Choose the right partner based on their ability to get the job done, their track record within the supply chain and the innovations they can bring to your processes that add value and help you realize your goals. 

Greed is not all bad, but blind greed is dangerous: Wanting to get your “unfair share” is what business is all about. However, when we blindly pursue market-share, revenue, or other business metrics beyond what the marketplace can support, we all ultimately suffer. New innovations and businesses are developing to help us look at excess inventories across the supply chain. Identifying these excesses and redirecting them inside our businesses, channels, industry groups or the marketplace allows us to circumvent the build-ups of inventory that ultimately lead to gluts and market declines. As an industry we must enter into new types of relationships with our supply chain partners to add greater transparency to not only the product we need for the future, but also the residual inventory that is left sitting across the supply chain. By increasing this visibility, we get a better picture of what is needed, what is left over. We then have the opportunity to shift the resources back through the chain and put those assets to work for us rather than pushing them off to a partner as a liability. 

Temper Optimism with Realism: At the height of the boom, optimism was at its highest point. The cyclicality of the technology industry was “a thing of the past” and business was continually headed up and to the right. As the market drastically corrected, reality set in and we all scurried for cover, drastically cutting back on our product requirements, canceling orders and pushing as much liability away from our selves and back towards our supply chain partners. In the darkest days of the downturn, we lost our optimism and trust in each other, cut our costs wherever we could and battened down the hatches to ride out the storm. Looking around us, we hoped that we would make it through and knew that some others may not.

Today the storm clouds are beginning to dissipate and many analysts predict that we are starting a slow recovery from the Perfect Storm that started in 2000/2001. As we move towards recovery, there are lessons we have learned that point us towards smoother sailing in the future if we choose to heed them and learn from the painful times we have been through. We must hold on to the optimism that better times are ahead, and invest accordingly, but we must also temper that optimism with a never ending awareness of the market forces swirling around us and not be afraid to raise the storm flags when optimism conflicts with market reality. 

So, to answer the questions we started with: How did this happen?
Because we let it.

Will it happen again? By the nature of technology, there will always be a measure of cyclicality in our industry, but the shape of those cycles is up to all of us based on our supply chain behaviors. Eventually, there will be other storms in the high tech industry. It is our choice if we sail right into them, as we did this time, or if we plot a new course, one marked by the sharing of accurate and complete supply chain information between partners, a willingness to be held accountable for our supply chain information and decisions, and a willingness to take the time to find the RIGHT partners and then give them what they need to support us across the supply chain.

How will you chart your course?

(This article was originally published in the CorePurpose Executive Brief,  July 2002)

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay  Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Creative Excellence

This weekend, it has been hard to go anywhere without hearing talk about the life and death of Michael Jackson. While driving in the car listening to KTAR yesterday I heard two radio personalities, who had met, him recapping his life.  They told a story that all of us can take heed of – whether you are a Michael Jackson fan or not.

Thriller cover

The story went like this…

During the production of Thriller, Jackson’s sixth album and the best-selling album of all time,  Jackson had just finished recording the ninth and final song.  The record’s producer, Quincy Jones, reportedly asked Michael this question.

Of all the songs, which  are your least favorite three?

Jackson told him three songs and Quincy Jones replied –

“Let’s re-do them. ”

and they did.  That album made recording history.  In today’s age of iTunes and downloads, it is unlikely it will ever lose its place as the top selling album of all time.

What an incredibly valuable lesson.  How often have we embarked on a project and judged it finished without taking one last objective look at what we have created.  Do we make the time to move forward towards creative perfection?

I think, the next time I have an important project finished, I will remember this story and follow Quincy Jones’ advice. 

How about you?

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker