Posts Tagged ‘reinvention’

Escaping The Bubble

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Escaping The Bubble     

Are you aware of the “bubble” that you live in and the consequences of staying exclusively in it? (beliefs, attitudes, behaviours)

If you are aware, what “checks and balances” do you have in place to help you appreciate the lives that others lead and the views that they hold that don’t conform to your own? (diverse experiences, travel, sources of advice, learning)

If you are not, what are you going to do tomorrow to help yourself? (speak to peers, identify sources and opportunities for diverse learning and development).

Some of the most successful people I meet (executives, entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists, creative types) make demands of others or hold views that defy common sense. My observation is that they have long insisted on hanging out with a crowd, who are a mirror-image of themselves (clubs, parties, events). They refuse to put themselves in other’s shoes and when they do, they end up with “warped reality” (global perspective).   

Transformation of Sports Betting

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

A recent conversation with one of the most colourful characters in global sports betting, Harry Findlay, reminded me how rarely most entrepreneurs have a truly transformative idea.

The advent of betting exchanges, in particular Betfair, has had a 3-dimensional impact on European bookmakers (margins – the profit on every transaction; velocity – the speed at which they collect cash; volumes – traded bets).

Today’s sports betting business resembles a fraying rope, at one end, the commodity or mass market giants, Bet365 and Paddy Power Betfair dominate with huge marketing budgets driving increasing mobile betting volumes amongst the £5-£10 recreational players. At the other lie a small number of “premium” boutiques and large international (Asia) betting firms, competing on differentiated service and a volition to “lay” a £1,000+ bet.

Mass-market sports betting is akin to retail supermarkets. High volume, low margin and viciously cut throat competition will prevail over the next 3 years.

The “premium” player end is no less competitive. The need for scale, a powerful brand, the passion and competency to deliver a high-touch premium customer experience and a competitive balance sheet will defeat many of today’s incumbents. Too small, too niche, too busy prioritising commodity players and too weak.

Yet the sports betting industry despite increased regulatory pressure, changes in societal mores and disruptive technology, doesn’t lack for wannnabe entrepreneurs. Most though never end up with anything more than a small business. There is a pressing need today to think bigger.

The big opportunity in sports betting is not in isolation, a rival trading platform to Betfair. The transformative idea is a business that is able to transform the market size exponentially, professionalise it and turn it into an institutional quality, alternative investment class. That’s why businesses such as Stratagem, Smartodds and Starlizard are an object of serious interest to investors, outside the confines of the professional gambler’s lair.

The naysayers decry the randomness of sports results, to support their argument that this will never happen. What is not random about catastrophic Gulf hurricanes, Mexican earthquakes and California wildfires?

Parallels can be found with the way that insurance risk was “trapped” amongst insurance and reinsurance players upto the late 1990s. Offering non-correlated risk to professional investors and healthy yields, today close to 20% of the total pie is now diverted to the capital markets via insurance linked securities. Why should sports betting risk be “trapped” amongst existing incumbents with relatively small balance sheets?

Just as with insurance risk, the evolution requires a business with

  1. Discernible and practical value. Superior data and analytics to turn data into information, information into knowledge and ultimately, knowledge into wisdom consistent with the investor’s strategic goals.
  2. A clear, accurate idea of the professional investors of today and tomorrow?
  3. The intellectual firepower to attract and retain professional players and investors (structuring and matching capital with risk)
  4. Intelligent pricing skills and judgement (quantitative and qualitative).
  5. Commitment to constant innovation and reinvention (new products, new markets, new technology and new relationships)

Perhaps that is one of the above businesses or an entrepreneur quietly making waves but yet to attract the glare of media attention. Either way, the sports betting industry is primed for dramatic reinvention just not in the manner most market observers have presumed.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

New Balls, Please

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Today’s Wimbledon: strawberries and cream. White tennis gear. Polite ticket queues. Live streaming. Rafa, Roger, Andy, Novak, Serena and co. The sliding roof.

Days of old: more strawberries and cream. Wooden rackets. Bjorn, Jimmy, BigMac, Pete, Andre, Rod, BillyJean, Monika, Martina, Steffi. Intermittent rain delays. Images that are indelibly linked in our minds to a time and place. Yet a (sporting) institution and participants that has successfully embraced reinvention.

When you look at your own personal and business reinvention, what are the strongest images in the minds of your key constituents (clients, investors, employees, business partners and so forth)? Does it say more about your “past” value, your “present” value or your “future” value? Perception is reality. What are you doing regularly to adjust others perception of you? (new interests, new relationships, new ideas, new surroundings, new images etc.) Is it bold enough for your current and future circumstances? (changes in technology, competition, market needs, client experience, and so forth)

Why wait for the umpire’s cry of “new balls, please”, when you can better control your own destiny?

© James Berkeley 2017.


Just An Illusion

Thursday, March 24th, 2016









Is this a shot from your evening last night, soon to be posted on your instaGLAM account? Today a great many executives, managers, investors and board members are busy trying to be someone that they are not. Fact. They are instantly recognisable by the disparity between the image that they project and what others see.

At a small intimate event last night in London with David Nish, the past CEO of Standard Life and this week appointed as a Non-Executive Director at  HSBC, we discussed the dynamics and consequences of this behaviour.

The dynamics and behaviour are largely the same in businesses of every size. Individuals are prone to projecting views without hard evidence or strong anecdotal information (shout loudest). They are poor listeners (routinely ignore vital feedback). They lack sufficient self-worth in their own talent and judgement (resort to bolstering their credentials with references to famous names). They have a poor level of self-esteem (they are dismissive of others success). They are prone to passive aggressive behaviour to project superiority (constant one-upmanship). They are prone to excessive exaggeration or downright lies about their own success (false claims in bios, CV’s/Resumes). We’ve all met them at various points in our career.

The consequences differ based on the size, priorities and complexity of the organisation. Here are some observations from my own experiences:

An inability to effect a management buyout of a small or family business, where the Founder’s behaviour results in management never acquiring the skills, traits or expertise to run the business in his or her absence.

A loss of respect for a private investor’s judgement amongst their peers and future co-investment opportunities when they make wild, unfounded claims to be invested in the “next unicorn“. Ridiculous, of course but sadly all too often true.

Raging management distrust in the Board when a non-executive director relays unsubstantiated “insider” claims from a key client, institutional investor or employees about the manager’s negative performance without hard evidence or strong anecdotal information.

A destruction of goodwill amongst analysts and the media when the newly appointed CEO of an investment bank, self-invested with “superman” powers, promises near instant changes to the business model that his predecessors have taken decades to create.

The world is littered with people trying to be someone that they are not. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter couldn’t survive if that human need dissipated. We all have a reputation that precedes us in the hyper-connected world we live in. Reinvention, acquiring new skills and educating others is something that we must constantly commit to but without absolute credibility (tangible results and visible behaviour), it is just an illusion.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Classic Reinvention

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Gucci Classic Loafer1







It is over 60 years since Gucci first launched their classic loafer. Yet the almond shaped loafer remains timeless. Each generation has seen the snafflebit shoe undergo reinvention and adaption to the contemporary tastes of new and existing buyers, sales and pricing are higher than at any point in the product’s history. .

On Wall Street, Leadenhall Street and Queen’s Road bankers, brokers and investment managers, some of the brand’s most fervent fans, are immersed in urgently re-casting and re-inventing their own “classics”. Products and services that have been a cash cow for the firms’ success (fixed income instruments, catastrophe reinsurance and ETF’s) are at risk falling out of fashion, indeed in some cases obsolescence. Accelerants such as new sources of capital, new technologies and new regulations loom large in the rear view mirror. New products and services offering more impressive outcomes flirt and seek to lure loyal fans and their money. How do firms respond quickly and effectively? How do they ensure that their classics remain relevant for a new and “old” buyers alike? Here is the jump off point:

1. What is the ultimate result our ideal buyers want to achieve today and in future? (capital preservation, capital growth, financial security)

2. What alternatives exist with our existing product or service to meet this goal? (unbundle, re-package, re-cast)

3. What alternatives can we create with our existing product or service that better meets those goals? (new markets, new modes of distribution, new ways to integrate new technologies, capital and regulation)

4. What are the risks and rewards attached to each alternative?

5. How do we best minimise or control the risk and maximise the rewards?

6. How much risk is the organisation willing to accept in return for an appropriate level of reward?

To paraphrase, Albert Einstein, we cannot solve our clients problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.  In much the same way we need to first change our thinking about our clients needs and the utility of our best selling products and services to solve them.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.




The Best Re-Inventor Award

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

In Oscar week when you think of truly great film stars (Bergman, Olivier, Brando), not just the celebrities the glossy magazines salivate over, arguably their greatest skill is their ability to career reinvention. They escape the routine typecasting, which leaves some actors and actresses careers “beached” in the minds of their audience  (Hugh Grant, Dudley Moore, Eddie Murphy). Much the same danger lurks in advisory or brokerage businesses with alarming consequences. Firms, particularly those with a strong brand earned in the “cut and thrust” of transactional deal making, inherently find that their clients form a visceral connection with their brand. That bond is the “glue” that creates loyal and “permanent” clients, management and employees. In so doing, maximising the value of the franchise.

Here is the rub, when those firms seek to reinvent themselves with higher-margin, higher value advisory services, particularly around strategic not tactical issues (growth and expansion), they often come across resistance in two forms, personal and business:


1. Buyer’s Self-Worth – the cherished transactional buyer within a key client thinks they “own” the relationship with the advisory firm and its’ key people. They are reluctant to promote an advisory firm’s expertise (strategic), in areas outside their own expertise and experience (tactical). They “fear” that in making the introduction to the “strategic” buyer or worse,the results that arise from the relationship may reflect negatively on their own judgement, repute and reward. While they may respect and like their adviser, they don’t see clearly what’s in it for them (financial gain, increased repute, future career opportunities etc.).

2. Adviser’s Self-Worth – the key point person in the advisory firm is reluctant to promote his or her colleagues strategic expertise (no trust). There is a perceived and sometimes actual “fear” (risk of destabilising or destroying the transactional relationship). There is no personal non-monetary (promotion, repute) or monetary incentive to do so. Indeed, the relationship is akin to the adviser’s “pension”, why put it at risk for little or no visible benefit?


3.  Client Credibility – the advisory firm’s brand attributes and specialised transactional expertise are etched in the mind of the transactional buyer and their peers. Their key people are less well known or unfamiliar with the buyer(s) of strategic expertise. They might not  be seen as “peer” of the transactional buyer. Finally, there may be perceived or actual conflicts with the firm’s transactional work.

4. Adviser Credibility – the leadership of the advisory firm don’t see themselves as “peers” of the strategic buyer or other strategic advisers, sometimes with good reason (don’t hang out with the strategic crowd). Their beliefs inform the behaviour and attitudes of their subordinates. When pressured by the client to include strategic expertise in the client offering, the transactional advisers use leverage to throw strategic expertise in for “free” and fear pushing back (loss of a key transactional client relationship). They don’t actively promote the expertise to clients and new prospects, rather it is “a bunch of guys with MBAs sitting in expensive offices at the end of the corridor, who never seem to make us any money”.

Leaders have three options: accept the “status quo”, circumnavigate it or blow right throw it. First, let’s take a step back and answer some essential questions that will enable us to find the shortest, quickest path  to our goal:

1. Why are we intent on reinventing our firm in this direction (future health and well-being of the firm)?

2. What is the ideal result we want to accomplish (stronger brand, happier clients, more valuable firm)?

3. What options exist that can meet this goal (triage existing client relationships; prudently expand the firm’s transactional offering in concert with existing clients’ internal expertise; introduce new strategic relationships to existing transactional clients; leverage referrals)?

4. What options can we create that meet this goal (hire in qualified expertise; leverage new strategic alliances with external experts; create new value propositions; new strategic products and services for existing transactional clients and strategic prospects;  create new strategic intellectual property; build and lead new communities)?

5. What perceived, actual or catastrophic risks are attached to each of these options?

6. What preventative or contingent action could we apply to avoid or evade these risks?

7. How do the risks and rewards of each option stack up?

8. What is the firm’s propensity to take risk in relation to reward?

Armed with this knowledge, the advisory firm’s leadership can make wise decisions consistent with the firm’s strategic direction.  Firms such as IBM, Blackstone, EY and others have successfully created, built, leveraged and exited strategic advisory businesses as their strategic direction has evolved.

In my experience, too often leaders in advisory firms fail to apply this level of rigour and focus. Their aspirations to re-invent or recast the firm’s value proposition are just that aspirations that never become a reality. Powerful voices within the advisory firm project biases that has little do with what is in the firm or its’ clients’ best interests (ego, self-serving). The best laid plans sit in three ring binders, blown off course by a leaders who absent themselves from leading the process of change. Yet reinvent, we must constantly do if we are to increase our learning, attract smarter employees and reduce the level of uncertainty and competitive threats to our firm’s future.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.