Posts Tagged ‘Prioritising Investment’

RPM II: The Cornerstone Client Walks

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

picjumbo.com_HNCK8984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the second in our weekly series of Resilient People & Momentum (“RPM”), James discusses how to lessen the impact of a key client exit on the firm’s profitable growth plans. No seriously, clients aren’t for life!

Situational Overview: The Cornerstone Client Walks – you have done a fabulous job. It is not personal but the buyer has decided that they can live without your product, service and relationship. You have a cashflow problem. You have a potential reputation problem within (direct reports and peers) and outside the firm (customers and business partners). You have a potential employee problem (productivity and morale). You have a potential investor problem (earnings and value). Is your first thought to seek blame or come up with a great response? I’d say in 80% of these situations I have been privy to the former explodes virally.

Resilient People & Momentum Mindset: I subconsciously expect this to happen in a growing business when I least expect it. How I respond is more important than what has happened. I earn others respect by displaying the right mix of skills, behaviour and expertise. I am willing to be intellectually honest about my own performance. I will listen to and respond sensibly to solicited feedback while ignoring unsolicited feedback that is largely for the other party’s benefit.

Resilient People & Momentum Questions:

  1. Cashflow: where can we create more short-term revenue, not where can we take money from?
  2. Reputation: where can we earn more respect (new ideas, reciprocal opportunities, return the favour), not how can I save face or pass the blame?
  3. Employees: where can we more productively deploy and offer more gratifying work to our employees, not who needs to be harangued or worse, fired?
  4. Investors: where can we display and exude greater confidence in our talent and judgement to investors such that a short-term set back, is just that, a blip on a road to riches, not a mind numbing defeat that forces investors to thrown their hands up in the air?
  5. Development: what can I learn from the treasured client’s reasons for the decision to walk away that I can apply for the future benefit of the firm (better client communication), its’ existing clients (prioritising investment) and our prospects (market positioning)?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Inside The Executive Office: Compelling Stories

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

I have spoken to in excess of 750 customers of financial services, insurance and business services advisory and brokerage firms globally over the past 12 months. Hear are the 3 most important questions your clients want to know:

  • Your ability to fix a human problem
  • Your ability to satisfy a human need
  • Your ability to ignite the human spirit

5% of customers report firms providing “absolute clarity/absolute conviction” to all three questions, 55% report firms providing answers that are “opaque/self-doubt” and 40% of responses that are “totally unclear/disingenuous”. If you are an executive in the last two groups (the overwhelming majority), you have a lot of work to do, fast, to change your customer’s perception of your business, your people and the perceived value.

Look at your marketing collaterals, exhibits, media comments, speeches, client and prospect conversations and ask

  1. Internally and externally (clients, business partners, media partners), where can we improve in 1 week?
  2. What needs to change first? (priorities, quick wins)
  3. How will we know we are successful? (what ideally do you want to see, hear and feel)
  4. How can we sustain that level of improvement? (better accountability, enhanced performance, changes to feedback and rewards system)

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Behind The First Meeting: The Activist Investor Within

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

I detest the way the debate about activist investors and their motives has descended into a force for good or evil. It is corporate pantomime. A round of boos please after the activist has said their lines. Cheers and name calling after the “innocent” CEO or Board Chair rebuttal. AIG, Sothebys, P&G, Yahoo, and the list goes on. The myth is that the activist investor has an agenda and management and the Board don’t. Sparks fly at the first meeting because that is what the activist wants to see happen. This is rubbish and not supported by hard evidence in many situations. In a lively debate on CFO.com this week, titled, When The Activists Attack  here is a perspective I shared from my first hand experiences with businesses and management brought to book by activist investors:

When the Activists Attack

Tell The Truth: You Don’t Know Your Clients Well

Monday, February 15th, 2016

We think we know our clients but many of us are kidding ourselves or unwilling to be intellectually honest. If the objective is to profitably grow our business, we can help ourselves by having a finer understanding of the logic and emotion that drives our clients’ decision-making. I am talking about the individuals with the ability to approve, fund, veto or set major strategic initiatives for their organisations and the tactics to implement it.

You don’t accomplish that in a mid or large client organisation by placing yourself in a subservient position to a Risk Manager, an HR Director or a mid level banker. When did they last sit in, and contribute to, the firm’s strategy meeting? How would they be privy to the inner most thoughts of the firm’s top management, the Board and its’ owners? How would they be in a position to influence those individuals’ decisions?

If you must exclusively hang out with these shared service experts or mid-level managers consider the risks. You are placing your future well-being and financial condition at the behest of individuals, who rarely get “air time” with the ultimate decision-maker(s). They have a vague understanding of the competing priorities in the executive office. You are left to sort through the information they wish to share with you, their interpretation of events and their biases. So what is the alternative?

Shoot For The Top.

A senior figure at a Big Four consulting practice admitted to me “I sit across the table from C-level execs all the time but I don’t really know them.” Another, Vice-Chair of a market-leading brokerage and advisory firm, revealed how distant he and his colleagues are from the strategic decision-making process at major European insurance companies, yet they have billion dollar trading relationship. Faced with increased competitive threats, both individuals talked about the increasingly precarious position their organisations are in. In both cases, the businesses haven’t placed sufficient accountability on key people to build relationships with the right people and provide them with immediate and impressive value. Rather they have stayed in the transactional layer of the firm, cultivating relationships with mid level managers, convincing themselves that getting closer to these individuals will enhance their well-being (improved top line revenue, happier clients, stronger brand).

Getting There Fast.

Here is what my best clients do,

  1. Identify who those key people are in Board, ownership and management positions that you ideally need a relationship with to exploit exciting and anticipated needs?
  2. Who do they hang out with? (peers, friends, acquaintances, media and so forth)
  3. Where and with whom do they like to be seen? (professional, personal interests, charity etc.)
  4. Where do they speak, publish and support events?
  5. What are they passionate about? (hobbies, innovation, people and so forth)
  6. How might you meet them and increase your prospects of establishing a peer level relationship? (referral, charitable or professional association boards, shared experiences etc.)
  7. How might you provide immediate value? (a name, an idea, a sponsor, a success practice and so forth)
  8. How might you parlay that into a continuous conversation with reciprocal value? (each time you meet, you both leave with exciting ideas and impressive value, looking ahead to the next social or business gathering)

I find there are a great many people who “get” and studiously study the logic. However they fail due to poor credibility (entry path, lack of substance), an inability to build a rapport (intellect, social skills and chemistry weak) or a lack of trust in themselves (blow up the relationship with their transactional buyer). They can be coached or mentored but many are reluctant or their boss doesn’t see it as a priority. Lo and behold the organisation will forever be at risk to client strategic decisions that it has zero control over and an unwillingness to influence.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

Your Contacts Are Running On Empty

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Most of us, particularly those entering into or in the second half of their careers are increasingly in peril because our personal and professional networks are not strong enough or sufficiently relevant for the challenges that lie ahead. If the objective is to transition seamlessly, you dramatically increase the odds by identifying, cultivating and nurturing the right relationships now.  You don’t accomplish this by relying on a burgeoning contacts folder, LinkedIn database or Twitter account made up of people, who have long past their usefulness to you or random names.

Who are the five most influential people in your personal and professional life today? Who are likely to be the five most influential people in your future personal and professional life? What needs to change in how you establish, build and leverage your key relationships?

I ask this question because in profitably growing and expanding a business, our networks and the utility of those relationships are fiercely tested. Whether it is launching successfully into a new market or the speed and quality of an organisation’s reinvention it is heavily dependent on your lists, databases and the warmth of your relationships. Who you know is as important as what you know? How you have been providing immediate value is as important as how you resolve the client’s problem or improve their condition? Time, skills, volition and technology are the key enablers.

  1. Personal Time – how much time in a week is spent renewing relationships and cultivating new ones that discernibly help you with BOTH current and potential future needs? You are all almost certainly spending too much time with people who cannot help you in future. You are doing so because it is easy or safe. You must be concious of the return on your time invested.
  2. Skills Deficit – do you possess the skills, strategically, to decide who you need to cultivate to accomplish your goals and tactically, how to ask for the introduction, how to best present it in their self-interest and how to elicit your desired response? If you don’t get professional help.
  3. Volition – are you maintaining the right mindset? Where do you currently sit on the spectrum, the “Know It All, Know Everyone” (no need to learn new ideas from new people) or the “Intellectually Curious” (drawn to meeting new and impressive people with thoughts on what the future will resemble)? Do you feel comfortable in all social and business settings approaching others, who you may not know and seeking to establish a relationship? Are your best efforts de-railed by “fear” (being made a fool, rejection, in the specific setting)? The latter is a common occurrence even in successful mid-level managers. Conquering it is essential for career progression.
  4. Technology – are your efforts to cultivate new relationships and renew existing relationships with the help of technology having a dramatically positive, negligible or negative impact on both your short and long-term goals? Where is the hard evidence? Where do you need forward-looking help to enhance your personal productivity? To whom are you turning for “qualified” advice? A huge number of executives and managers have allowed their lives to conform to their firm’s technology, in so doing, they are working extreme hours to stay on top of client email, return prospects calls and nurture effective relationships. That doesn’t have to be the case if they are willing collectively to intellectually examine whether there is a better alternative to conform technology to their clients changing needs.

“Your contacts are your lifeblood” one of my first bosses said to me. What I have observed working with some outstanding peers, business partners and clients, is that they need constant attention, cleansing, and good nutrients. If left to their own devices, they will coagulate in ways that are not good for my future health and well-being.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

Corporate Innovation Comedy

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

There are certain fashion or fad trends which when worn by 60 year old men, skinny jeans come to mind, are just plain wrong unless you are Mick Jagger. In all the buzz about innovation, reinvention and disruption it is comedic watching the attempts of some corporate organisations in finance, banking and insurance to embrace it effectively.

The CEO stands up and says

1. “Innovation is the new normal”: err, innovation is not a rheostat with an on/off switch in outstanding innovative companies such as 3M, Merck, Apple etc.

2. “When I was at Google….”: err, you met with a middle manager or silo function (risk management) that is not even situated in the Corporate HQ. Ssh, the guy is an ex employee of ours suffering a mid life crisis but it sounds cool?

3. “We are on the side of the disruptive businesses…”: really, where is the hard evidence? Ah you have put in an order for the Tesla when the lease on the Merc expires.

4. “Let me tell you about our work with [Uber, Airbnb]…..”: your “credentials” are killing me, how are a series of actions unique to one firm now a hot trend?

5. “We took our Leadership Team to Silicon Valley….”: so you flew into San Jose on the Gulfstream, spoke to a few random clients and friends and are now immersed with ground-breaking ideas, really? Ever tried the pilgrimage to Lourdes? Thought not.

6. “I was speaking at a Tech investors event in Silicon Valley…”: you are now on first name terms with Marc Andreesen and Fred Wilson. Keep that one for the next earnings call.

7. “We are passionate about the future. We are announcing a new corporate venturing team with a $100 million of capital”: wow, so third rate entrepreneurs line up outside our headquarters. After all why would a stack of cash and a conservative reputation not appeal to serious tech entrepreneurs? Oh, nevermind.

8. “I am really excited by the power of blockchain as a powerful asset”: half the audience look blankly. The venerable City reinsurance broker or Wall Street banker racks his brain “watch chain?”, as the CEO fumbles like an adolescent boy trying to unhook the girl’s bra, in explaining blockchain’s virtues and his excitement.

9. “I have asked our Divisional Heads to set up an offsite meeting on Innovation and Disruption….”: yay, a chance to invite Wired’s David Rowan to talk to us about 10 transformative technologies. Oh hell, which futurologist should we invite? No giggling or fumbling for the iPhone and that important email when he or she stands up.

10. “It is time for the results of our Annual Report on Megatrends, we spoke to our global community of risk managers…..”: ah, that is the fella situated down the end of the first floor corridor with an actuarial background and a handful of junior direct reports. I don’t remember seeing his face in the Corporate Strategy meeting, perhaps he was at his daughter’s soccer game.

I kid you not, these are all genuine one-liners. Sorry I am bent double admiring the CEO’s shiny white teeth and folksy humour. Nice touch.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

Profiting From Control

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Your clients need you but not in the way they think they do, or in the way you insist on telling them they do.

A prospective client stopped me in the middle of a conversation about his plans to integrate a newly acquired $750 million financial services business. “What I want is a spy, do you think you could play that role? My fear is the newly acquired executive team are feigning interest in their future within our firm beyond collecting their retention bonuses.”

When I responded by asking him why are you asking me, why now and why with the suggested role, he expressed surprise. The mere thought of “push back” from me stunned him (he was used to hiring acquiescent people) but it had the desired effect. We swiftly moved on from his random suggestion to examining our shared perspectives (business outcomes), our shared abilities to “control” the future (alternatives, risks and rewards) and his need for my help (ideal action).

Look at the transactional clients of advisory firms in the global financial services sectors. There are thousands of clients, shareholders and business partners daily wanting greater control in an increasingly ambiguous economy.

  1. A great many wealth managers, asset managers and brokers are so immersed in “selling” to the masses, they are disregarding their unique perspective to bring greater control to their ideal clients’ future (greater trust, higher margins, happier clients).
  2. A great many clients’ current perspectives are informed through an increasingly narrow prism (past experiences, market chatter and gut instinct). The “open-minded” clients (the more cerebral and secure) willingly let in and accept challenging points of view. The “close-minded” clients (often the more strident and insecure), put up the barricades and shut out views that deflect from their own viewpoint.
  3. I can make a powerful case in almost every sub-sector that a client’s actual “control” (or the lack of it) is directly correlated to their diversity of learning sources and their volition to apply the learning without fear of failure.

We have had the “sharing” economy, the future is about the “control” economy.

Transactional advisory firms have choices about what perspectives they share, when they do so, why and how to mutually-benefit from doing so (greater client control for a more profitable and rewarding client-adviser relationship).

If you do nothing else, ask yourself and your colleagues:

  1. What “unique” perspective (past experience, insight, contacts) can we bring to our ideal clients’ situation that will demonstrably enhance his or her immediate control (speed and quality of resolving a problem, making a decision, assembling a plan)?
  2. How do we best articulate it? (ideal manner, ideal time, ideal location, ideal conditions)
  3. How do we know if and when we are successful? (what should we listen out for or expect to see)
  4. Should we be minded to, how do we best transition from sharing the perspective to providing formal help? (ideal follow up response, ideal next step, ideal time/date/venue)

“CCAG”: As a catalyst for giving your clients greater “control”, you create greater client “confidence” to reinvest (repeat business), you create greater client “aptitude” to experiment (innovation) and you create greater probability of meeting or exceeding the firm’s “growth” expectations (increased profit, more referrals, stronger brand).

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Competitors Leaving Christmas Presents

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

One of the joys of autumn in England is escaping to the countryside at the weekend and taking a lazy walk that often ends up at a friendly watering hole. On many of those walks at this time of the year, you pass bushes laden with ripe blackberries and horse chestnut trees laden with conkers. Inevitably, you are not the first to spot them and indeed, many of the obvious places have been stripped bare. On occasion, where the light has created a shadow or stinging nettles have made it difficult to reach them, a plentiful supply of “virgin” berries and conkers sit waiting to be picked with a little ingenuity.

I see the very same situation with many of my best clients. They have an uncanny knack of looking where their competitors have partially or fully withdrawn and spotting difficulties their competitors face that hide profitable growth opportunities for them. What they are skilled at is deciding whether their competitor’s growth difficulties are important. If they are, they dig to find the cause, what are the business fundamentals (market demand, marketing, sales, delivery etc), what has changed in one of those fundamentals to turn the competitor negative on the opportunity and what would we need to do to profit from their difficulties.

When you receive feedback from your sales team, your clients, your prospects, analysts and media reports, can you spot profit in your competitor’s growth difficulties? If so, jump on it immediately. Christmas has arrived early.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Inside The Executive Office I – Instant Value Creation

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

In a new series, Inside The Executive Office, James provides a series of quick fire techniques, powerful lessons and ideas set in real world examples for executives, managers, Board members and shareholders to rapidly apply in their own business.

In the first outtake from a recent executive discussion on integrating two multi-million dollar insurance businesses, James explains that the business integration process requires a process of its’ own. In a rush to integrate, whether it is a traditional takeover (the smaller business being fully integrated), a merger of equals (largely a mirage to save face for executives who won’t admit it is a takeover, in everything but name) or a financial acquisition (intent to allow the businesses to operate as two separate entities in the same ownership), way too many businesses start at the wrong point (action).

James points out that there is a necessity to consider first (in this order): business outcomes, integration alternatives, and the related risks and rewards of each BEFORE determining action. Otherwise “action” is largely driven by planning rather than strategy. An extrapolation of the present to determine the short-term future of the two combined or separate businesses rather than a picture of the desired future and the steps back to today. An excessive focus of executives’ and managers’ knowledge and time spent on “easy to implement” or “hygiene” tasks rather than performance-based priorities consistent with the deal thesis.

The effect with the former is 6 months post-acquisition  a combined business that has made a swathe of largely cosmetic changes (new titles, new policies and procedures, new reporting forms) but very few profound changes (significant synergies captured, greater capital efficiency, stronger brands, increased productivity). It may operate marginally better than before the deal, at best but it is not “fit” to profitably grow and expand, at least at a pace commensurate with the competition. Indeed, it may very well be worse off, where the management distraction has resulted in missed opportunities in existing markets or the prospects for those existing markets have deteriorated at a fast pace than originally presumed.

The litmus test is “would your ideal customers and the competition honestly state that your “new” business is a more powerful/about the same/less powerful competitor in your highest potential growth markets?” The faster you can demonstrate increased power, the greater the level of value creation. Conversely, the longer it takes to get there (delays, procrastination, avoidance of disruption), the probable lower the value creation or even value dilution (management distraction in existing businesses).

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

Willis Towers Watson Uncovered

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

A few weeks after my recent blog post http://www.jamesberkeley.com/business-transformation/the-best-re-inventor-award low and behold Willis and Towers Watson surprise the market this morning. Occasionally you see a deal announced and your first reaction is to re-read the headline making sure what you think you have read is in fact true. Uhm, a “merger of equals”, really?

On the surface the logic would be obvious, Willis’s immediate competitors, AON and Marsh both own substantial professional services firms, Hewitt and Oliver Wyman. The future is largely being shaped by high-value advisory services and low-cost transactional broking and administrative services. That is where the easy comparisons stop.

Oliver Wyman largely operates as a separate “silo” with its’ own brand focus, leadership, culture and resources inside MMC. Collaboration is limited to a small number of “joint” client assignments.

Hewitt has been absorbed more comprehensively into AON’s brand offering, leadership and culture. The healthcare consulting has largely been transferred to AON’s transactional healthcare broking business. The Hewitt outsourcing business has undergone extensive changes. What exists of “Old Hewitt” today is largely a talent, rewards, retirement and investment consulting business.

Twinkle Eyes

Willis and Towers Watson had the advantage of getting know each other last year in the due diligence phase of the sale of Towers Watson’s reinsurance broking business (ultimately sold to JLT). At the time, JLT trumpeted a future collaboration with Towers Watson. Are we to presume that the JLT/TW collaboration has really proved underwhelming or were there hidden attractions for a Willis/TW merger that few in the public domain spotted? While surely welcome, the mention that ValueCapital, Willis’s activist shareholder, is supportive of the transaction, could be interpreted to mean that Willis was under pressure to consummate a deal with organic growth prospects hardly setting the pulse racing?

The Challenges Ahead

A “merger of equals” is the hardest type of deal to pull off. The first requirement to a successful merger is everybody is open to change. Yet both firms would be characterised by conservative leadership teams and cultures that more often than not have rejected change or accepted it with some reluctance, particularly in the era of Joe Plumeri.

Here are some fundamental questions that investors and analysts need to ask:

  1. Would Willis Towers Watson be willing to abandon, for example, default labels such as investment consultant, treaty broker and political risk broker? The world is looking for expertise, it is not looking for a client issue to be wrapped in a broking, consulting or investment solution with the inevitable internal competition that does nothing to help the client. Would they be willing to rip up widely held beliefs about fee-setting (scrapping unethical hourly billed fees, a relic of audit firms) or contingent commissions?
  2. What do the people within the new firm need to thrive? (very light on detail)
  3. What are the benefits of this union to the customer? (very light in today’s announcement)
  4. Do the leaders and people within each of the businesses truly believe in those benefits? (Fostering compliance or commitment to the “cause”)
  5. Do they have people with the skills and volition in the real world to leverage Willis’s global distribution platform or articulate TW’s consulting proposition in the cherished mid-market? Are we going to see a TW expert called in by a Willis broker and vice-versa? (The unwelcome legacy of Willis’s foray into the US – HRH acquisition – has been a high dependency on the local broker’s trusting relationship and very rich producer incentive plans that do little for margin improvement)
  6. To what extent is each firm’s current structure fundamental to the new firm’s profitable growth and success? (Abandon existing structure or selective tinkering. For example, TW’s prized asset Liazon is dependent on 640 indepdendent brokers who cannot reasonably expect to standby and hand opportunities to a competitor)

My experience and observation is that the combined firm will have some of the brightest and best people working in their respective fields (reinsurance, political/credit risk, capital markets, insurance consulting). They have thrived because they have had strong leaders willing to cut through the institutional bureaucracy and it has been in their self-interest to do so. On top of the Miller-Willis liaison, this is a high-risk foray and investors would be wise to ask the right questions of senior management.

As a footnote, the departure of Steve Hearn, Willis Deputy CEO, yesterday is incidental to the firm’s announcement today. It almost certainly has more to do with Hearn returning to his passion (wholesale broking) in a business where he can have a greater impact on its’ future.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.