Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Follow Through

As a young kid growing up in a small town, one of the very few things to do was join a bowling league.  My father, who has been bowling his entire life, used to coach me about the importance of following through your shot.  In a nutshell, the idea is that you aren't finished once you let go of the bowling ball and it's the act of continuing with the swing of your arm that increases the consistency of the shot and ultimately the score of your game.

Professionally, the same is true.  Recently, I met the EVP of Corporate Strategy for CA Technologies, Jacob Lamm, for the first time in an executive briefing for one of our customers.  I introduced myself, and we chatted briefly.  In essence, I let go of the proverbial bowling ball.  And, following my father's advice, I sent him an email the moment he finished speaking and left the room.  In that email I described how I had been recommended by another executive for a position in his organization recently and, if he had a few moments, I'd love to sit down with him over coffee or tea to just chat. Because I had just met him, he remembered me easily and replied the following morning with an offer to do just that.  I now have a 30 minute timeslot in mid-October to talk with him.

(Incidentally, I met the other executive in much the same way.  He was conducting an internal webinar; I asked a question during the Q&A that resulted in some good discussion; and I followed through with an email as soon as the call was finished.)

Will I "just chat?"  Last month, there was a great article in Business Insider about an intern who scored a meeting with CEO Jeff Weiner.  As the story goes, VP Steve Johnson had said in a speaker series to a group of interns that you need to be prepared with a question you'd like a CEO to answer in the event that you ever get a meeting.  Similarly, I intend to be prepared before I walk in Jacob's office.  I will be reaching out to the other executive that I named in that email to see if Jacob reached out to him.  I will be looking into his background to see where my experience and skills mesh with his.  If I cannot find some overlap in our professional backgrounds or some similar reason to want to speak with him then those 30 minutes will be quite awkward.

This same type of activity applies whether you are simply trying to expand your network or doing other things like look for a new job.  I introduced a friend of mine, recently unemployed due to a Reduction In Force at her previous job that resulted in several management positions (including hers) being eliminated, to several executives that would benefit from having a conversation with her at the very least.  To her credit, she did not want to pester them by emailing them just because they didn't respond immediately.  I had to point out, however, that executives are busy and if you do not follow through then you run the risk of either that introduction getting lost in the busy-ness of each day or they would think you weren't interested.

In the interest of contrast (and at the risk of sounding condescending, which is quite the opposite of my intention), I received my first job out of college in the most prestigious place to work at that time for Computer Science graduates (according to a poll of graduate students at the top Computer Science school in the country at that time, Carnegie Mellon University) because of follow through.  As it happens, I was looking for a place to work while at college in SC and reached out to my future boss (based in NY).  His intention was to fly me up for an interview to see if I would be a good fit, but after several emails back and forth he told me that his request for expense reimbursement to pay for the trip was finally rejected.

However, he said that he was quite impressed with my determination and my refusal to let something go on its own and offered me the job anyway.  That is why I mentioned the ranking of that IBM location - getting a job there should have been impossible but you can make the impossible possible!  (To this day, he still says that my tenacity and intention to follow through to completion is the quality that he remembers most.)

People remember you for the impression you leave.  If that impression is that you left no impression, people will forget or, worse, remember that you left no impression.  "Luck favors the prepared," it is true, but if you don't have a reason to be prepared in the first place then there's no luck to be found.  Instead, you have to make your own luck by seizing opportunities as they present themselves even if they don't appear to be an opportunity to begin with.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Reign of Mayer

This is a short entry, written simply because I feel a need to document this beyond the 140 character limit on Twitter.

Marissa Mayer is great at being a reactionary leader.  She's stirred things up a bit, to be sure, but the vast majority of her work has revolved around correcting problems at Yahoo.  I am fairly certain you'll arrive at a similar conclusion after reading the very detailed and in depth history about her that was published by Business Insider a few weeks ago. 

Immediately after reading that, however, I wanted to author this but it slipped through the cracks.  This may have been to my benefit, though, given the brouhaha that has sprung up over the choice of a new company logo. Let's face it, folks:  this is a logo consisting of a five letter word followed by an exclamation point.  The most interesting thing about it is the color purple.  Why is so much attention being given to this when there isn't much difference between the proposed new logos and the existing logo?

The answer, described in the article, is that she's ultimately a researcher type.  She thrives on details, data, and the smallest minutiae.  I know the type well since I am the same type of thinker.  When I started my career at the awesome T. J. Watson Research Center I was encouraged to think outside the box but to be sure to always tie my work back to some business initiative, and that required approaching my work from every possible angle to ensure it was justified and had a high probability of generating revenue.  It's taken me a long time and a lot of effort to overcome this in order to allow me to view things from the perspective of having a longer timeline to acquire a return on whatever it is I am investing in.

So my question posed to my hypothetical audience of the Yahoo board is this:  why did you hire a COO when a CEO is needed?  I understand that Yahoo was in extraordinarily bad shape at the time and that good execution trumps a great plan, but sooner or later you will run out of things to correct and will have to demonstrate thought leadership if you want to regain the glory from days of old.  This is where I think your plan will fail, Yahoo.  With all due respect to what she's managed to accomplish in her relatively short tenure at the helm, the day is rapidly approaching when your shareholders are going to demand a greater ROE that is unattainable by correcting operational problems, and it'll be very evident on your Income Statement. 

Is this, perhaps, some conspiracy plot to correct things in the short term only to jettison her when a more strategic plan of action is ready to be started?  Who knows, but time will reveal the answer.

Thoughts?  Comments?