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The Big Picture: Lessons From Business Masters

Do you know what to do and when to do it? Do you listen and hear?

I had the absolute pleasure of attending the World Business Forum in Chicago last month, where world and business leaders such as Jack Welch, Larry Bossidy, Gary Hamel, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Peters, Bill George, Madeleine Albright, and others spoke about their experiences and offered advice to managers and executives on strategy, leadership, execution, collaboration, and employee development. Below are a few quotes and thoughts shared by these leaders that shook me by the neck and may help you reflect on your role and responsibilities in moving your own organization forward.

On the topic of organizational culture: George, the former CEO of medical-technology company Medtronic, stated, "Are you transacting or transforming?" That's an essential question to ask ourselves as business finds a better balance between cost efficiency and revenue growth. Are you focused just on the short term, or can you ensure that you meet short-term expectations while planning for the long-term viability for your business? As Hamel--a consultant and visiting professor at the London Business School, and author of Leading The Revolution (Harvard Business School Press, 2002)--advised, "Turnaround is transformation tragically late."

On the subject of mergers and acquisitions, Hamel used this metaphor when asked about his opinion of the Sears-Kmart merger: "When dinosaurs mate, they seldom give birth to gazelles." That sounds like a perfect metaphor for some of the merger activity happening in the high-tech industry. It's hard to imagine that when two very large companies merge, they can be nimble enough to adapt to changing business conditions and customer demands.

On the subject of innovation: Hamel noted that just as W. Edwards Deming says quality should be part of everyone's job, so should innovation.

On the subject of change: Hamel added that companies need to build organizations "that are as nimble as change itself. Is your business changing as fast as the world around you?"

On the characteristics of great leaders, Bossidy--former chairman of Honeywell and co-author of Execution: The Discipline Of Getting Things Done (Crown, 2002)--asked: "Do you deliver simplicity from complexity? When promoted, do you grow or swell? Do you not only have a high energy level but also energize the people around you? Do you know the difference between knowing what to do and when to do it? Do you listen or hear?" These are wonderful and simple questions that all business leaders should reflect upon.

On the topic of globalization, several speakers noted that in today's world the business should be defined by opportunity, not geography. Welch, former chairman of General Electric, captured the moment powerfully when he shouted, "China is going to make Japan look like a water-pistol fight." Welch also stated that he's now hearing more about real business benefits from doing business in China and not about the country's potential.

These invaluable thoughts, questions, and perspectives are truly inspirational and help us focus on issues that affect growth and excellence in business. I just wish the process were as easy as it sounds.

On a separate note, the rest of InformationWeek and I want to extend to you and your families a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Michael Friedenberg, VP and Publisher (

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