Now is the time to invest in green energy

This post was published in the Rochester Business Journal on July 17, 2020.

Carbon-neutral green retro style grunge seal - Vector Illustration

The pandemic has knocked a surging economy flat on its back.  Predictions on its recovery range from the V-shaped curve we’d all like to see to the forecast by the Congressional Budget Office that implies it will take a decade to return to our former glory.  Many, including Wall Street Journal columnist John Stoll suggest we put our green dreams on hold saying, “businesses that were trying to save the world are now simply trying to save themselves.”  It’s a fair point.  But it ignores some fundamental principles of how we should analyze our businesses at the bottom of the cycle and make strategic investment decisions.

Guiding a company out of distress into a stable and competitive future is no small task.  Survivors will have spent time reevaluating their companies with an eye toward eliminating unproductive activities and unprofitable products and services.  The outcome for those who succeed will no doubt be a leaner, more efficient enterprise.  A disciplined approach to restructuring balance sheets and operations will yield an opportunity to develop new strategies for the future.  And, those new strategies should include green energy and carbon neutrality.

We all know the big picture.  Nicely summarized by the Trump administration’s National Climate Assessment, “Human-induced climate change means much more than just hotter weather… These changes… [will] affect human health, water supply, agriculture, Continue reading “Now is the time to invest in green energy”

Mission vs. purpose: the what and why of doing what we do

mission1Have you ever repeated a phrase so often that you find you’ve forgotten what it means?  In a group meeting this week, I referred to a company’s “mission” using a phrase that I’ve repeated for years.  A new member of the group challenged me and threw me off balance.  What I was really referring to was the company’s purpose.

Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why” and a speaker whose TED talk is among the most watched in history (over 41 million views), Continue reading “Mission vs. purpose: the what and why of doing what we do”

The management guru that time forgot

TQM - White Word on Red Puzzles.

The effort to help Japan rebuild after World War II included sending leading American management guru, W. Edwards Deming, to embed his Total Quality Management (TQM) ethic into that country’s manufacturing industries. Perhaps if Detroit’s Big 3 had simultaneously embraced Deming, we would see more Chevys and fewer Toyotas on our highways today.

TQM is based upon the idea that the performance of workers is dependent upon the system within which they work. Deming believed that managers apply all the wrong Continue reading “The management guru that time forgot”

So, What’s Your Story?

zoom_double_751659The mission of my first assignment in the corner office was to turn the business around. Bleeding cash, lacking sustainable IT and other infrastructure, and having suffered through a bad leadership episode, the company was teetering on the brink of failure. My first impression as CEO of the company (Lifewatch, then called Cardiolife) was that there were some quality people on the management team who lacked a sense of direction. Most odd was that the hallways were plastered with motivational quotes – framed posters of great photographs adorned with lofty phrases about teamwork or exhorting people to “Make It Happen.”

When I asked people about them, they all shrugged and said my predecessor had hung them to motivate the staff. It was clear that their presence was widely viewed as a joke. So, I removed them. A big part of my job was to change the culture. Lofty phrases not Continue reading “So, What’s Your Story?”

Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul (Part 4)

The following are the author’s remarks at the Financial Leader of the Year (FLY) awards dinner on October 4, 2017, sponsored by the McCracken Institute and Rollins College.  This is Part 4 of 4. 

To read Part 1, click here.

To read Part 2, click here.

To Read Part 3, click here.

But suppose you’re not a Millennial with the inclination to travel to Outer Mongolia to do business directly with goat herders. (I can tell you that’s not on my bucket list.) Suppose you work for a big company. Let’s say a global corporation… like Nestlé.

Nestlé is an $89 Billion food and beverage company. The company’s mission statement is “Good Food, Good Life.” If you’re an espresso drinker, you may be familiar with one of their products: Nespresso. Perhaps you’ve seen a TV ad that features these guys:

ClooneyDevito

Nespresso follows the old Gillette razor blade business model. Nestle doesn’t exactly give away Nespresso machines like Gillette gave away razors. However, selling coffee in little pods is a very profitable business for them. And, it enjoyed 30% annual growth in its first decade on the market. It’s fair to say that Nespresso expanded the market for premium coffee and, simultaneously created a huge problem for Nestle:

Where would they obtain a reliable source of coffee to feed the demand they had created?

The traditional playbook for procurement managers is to commoditize the supply and Continue reading “Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul (Part 4)”

Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul (Part 2)

UntitledThe following are the author’s remarks at the Financial Leader of the Year (FLY) awards dinner on October 4, 2017, sponsored by the McCracken Institute and Rollins College.  This is Part 2 of 4. 

To read Part 1, click here

Now, you might say that pursuing such a virtuous course is a bit easier when you start with the end in mind. The founders’ firm belief that great damage is caused by burning fossil fuels is the driving force behind the creation of this great company.

But, what if you’re part of an organization whose original purpose was not so high minded. An organization like – oh, I don’t know – an accounting firm.

What would that look like?

Perhaps you’ve heard how KPMG recast its culture to reach new levels of engagement by Continue reading “Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul (Part 2)”

Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul (Part 1)

The following are the author’s remarks at the Financial Leader of the Year (FLY) awards dinner on October 4, 2017, sponsored by the McCracken Institute and Rollins College.  This is Part 1 of 4. 

Our prosperity is like oxygen.solarfield

Every moment, we breathe in and we breathe out. We never think about it. We simply take it for granted that each breath will allow us to keep living.

Yet, if we were to be deprived of it – oxygen, that is – oxygen would be all we could think about. We’d be gasping for our next breath.

Our prosperity is like that too. American prosperity, that is. We take it for granted. We expect that our infrastructure will support a healthy lifestyle, that our military and Continue reading “Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul (Part 1)”

What businesses can do about poverty

First published in Rochester’s daily newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle, on September 5. Click here.

On the heels of the release of a landmark report on poverty by ACT Rochester and the Rochester Area Community Foundation, I wrote an essay for this paper titled ‘Just Tell Me What to Do About Poverty.’ In it, I expressed my frustration at, yet, another report decrying the depth and breadth of poverty in our community without offering a prescription for what we, as a community, can do about it.

As it turns out, the response to my complaint is right here in our own backyard. The Democrat & Chronicle’s Patti Singer reported last week on four companies that are actively addressing Rochester’s greatest challenge. The companies – TruForm Manufacturing, ENEROC, Genesee Brewery, and Green Visions – are piloting programs to hire and train less fortunate members of our community. Tyrone Reaves, owner of TruForm, has gone an extra step, founding and managing a non-profit to train people on both the job skills and the social skills to succeed in the workplace.

helpSolutions such as these address local challenges in the context of a global economy. The Wall Street Journal story on September’s monthly unemployment report outlined the Continue reading “What businesses can do about poverty”

Millennials: the next greatest generation

GGcandoitNeil Howe has a theory about generations. The founder and president of LifeCourse Associates has been studying them for most of his adult life. Each era of about 80 years has four generations that repeat themselves cyclically, according to Howe.

Baby-boomers are an ‘Idealist’ generation, much as their great-grandparents, the Missionary Generation, were at the beginning of the last era. They rebelled against Victorian values at the dawn of the industrial revolution. They fought for protections for women and children working in harsh factory conditions and for women’s suffrage. Boomers, for their part, fought for the end of the military draft and for civil rights.

Idealist generations are followed by ‘Reactives’. Generation X mirrors the Silent Generation. They are, by nature, rebellious and cynical.

In Howe’s model, Millennials would follow the same script as The Greatest Generation (as Tom Brokaw dubbed them in his wonderful, eponymous book). They are a ‘Civic’ Continue reading “Millennials: the next greatest generation”

If it were supposed to be fun, they wouldn’t call it work

hard-laborBusiness owners wear many hats. When they are just getting started, they are not only management but also labor. Their responsibilities are not just marketing, finance and customer service. They also include emptying the trash and cleaning the toilets. And, of course, they do everything in between. There is a huge spectrum between strategy and toilets that has to be covered.

If you are fortunate enough to be hired by a small business owner, with your freshly inked degree in hand, it is likely that your job will involve activities closer to the toilet end of the spectrum than the strategy end.

I’ve lived at both ends during my career and at just about every stop along the way. I am now at the stage of observer and coach (a nice place to be). Yet, I am also still a student.

So, here’s a semi-educated observation: the premise from which all job descriptions start is that we – human beings, that is – are, at our core, lazy. Adam Smith initially set out this Continue reading “If it were supposed to be fun, they wouldn’t call it work”