Calade Partners – Insights and Reflections On Our Six Month Birthday

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June 1 marks the start of our second six months in existence as Calade Partners.  After literally growing up at FedEx, making the break to start our own business was exciting and very different.

“We” refers to my two business partners, Karen Rogers and Debbie Newport. We worked together in corporate marketing leadership at FedEx, managing some of the smartest, most highly motivated team members imaginable. Our peers and executive team were also world class.

We enjoyed prestige and respect as a result of our positions at one of the world’s most admired companies and had resources to deploy to ensure FedEx’s brand was known and respected throughout the world. The idea of starting our own business was exciting and very different.

On December 1, we launched our marketing and strategy consultancy, Calade Partners.  “Calade” is a French word for a cobblestone road.  We were embarking upon a road that would be an adventure.  We packed our boxes and said our goodbye’s to our team, office, routine, and identity.  We stepped onto the calade with our new computers (goodbye technical support), email address, phone number, business cards and anticipation for the future.

After six months, by definition, we are successful.  We have already earned back our investment capital, have a small profit in the bank, have signed our third client, and love our work!  We have had some struggles, but none that ever came close to a regret.  What have we learned?  Here are the surprises and insights that you may also experience should you choose to change your calade:

1.  Be ready to recreate your identity.  As a senior vice president at FedEx, there was an automatic respect that came with the title.  The first time my partners and I introduced ourselves in a meeting with a global brand agency, there were blanks stares.  We found ourselves explaining, telling them who we “were.”  Head nodding and recognition relieved us that we still had our credibility intact.  Months later, we are much more comfortable in our entrepreneurial skin!  We still refer to our years of experience at a major corporation, but now lead with our Calade Partner capabilities and value proposition.  There’s a whole new prestige and respect attributable to being business founders, and we like it.

2.  You are now a jack of all trades.  No, there is no one to get the work done, but you.  I still chuckle as I think about our first proposal and the three of us combining our knowledge of Powerpoint and Excel.  Or, who would have thought that our first challenge would be establishing our new email environment?  We had some starts and stops, learned where to find support, and got used to using Gmail and Google Calendar.  Several times in the early months, I had calendar snafus when I thought I had put a meeting on my calendar, but had not.  We really depend on each other and stay on top of our calendars.  When you no longer have teams of people to delegate to, you have to share the workload and take advantage of each other’s strong suit.

3.  We are partners.  At FedEx, all three of us were quite comfortable being the boss.  I love leading, generating ideas, delegating.  Now, as I fall back into my old role as boss and idea-a-minute generator, I remind myself, delegation will be directed to myself!  We cannot do it all.  And as partners, we have to share the work load.  Fortunately, we had years of working together, and we respect what each of us brings to the table.  There is no room for disagreement.  Our success depends on using our collective knowledge and skills to create value for our clients.

4.  Freedom is having 100% authority and accountability.  In corporate life, you may be one of the top executives in the company and have years of experience and credibility, but your ability to decide direction or change is limited by so many factors — budget, support from peer organizations, alignment to corporate objectives, legal approval, etc.  In our new world, the decision about what to work on, who to work with, and how much risk to take is totally ours.  We decide, and now we live with the outcomes.  I could never go back to a corporate structure.  I am enjoying this freedom too much!

5.  The ticker tape is turned off.  Because I worked at FedEx my entire career, “normal” was a ticker running constantly in my mind:  next meeting, next business trip, next problem to be resolved, challenges with people, budgets, schedules, etc.  I believe I was thinking about work 24/7, yes, even when dreaming.  Several weeks after leaving FedEx, I realized the ticker had turned off.  What an amazing feeling!  I haven’t missed it at all, and our new roles provide just the right amount of opportunity to invent, create and problem solve with outcomes that we have so much more control over.

6.  The future is so bright!  Everything is new.  We are meeting new people, and learning something new everyday.  FedEx is one of the world’s most admired companies because of strong leaders, a people-oriented culture, customer focus, and a commitment to shareholder returns.  We had tremendous careers there, and now we are able to take this experience to the marketplace.

What will the next six months bring?  Not knowing just adds to our excitement over the future!

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Save Me, Strategy

Save me!  Nothing could be more terrifying in business than to see green turn to red, sales slipping, best employees resigning, and investors threatening to take action.  We read about companies that were once high growth and well-respected who are filing for Chapter 11 or are under attack by activist investors.

Why companies go into decline or fail range from being a victim of the economy, to technological obsolescence, to out of control costs due to new government regulations.  In hindsight, CEO’s who are honest with themselves will be able to pinpoint where a different decision might have changed the outcome.

How do you ensure that your company makes the right decisions and moves to stay competitive and growing in your market or industry? The answer is simply to develop a complete strategic plan, ensure the leadership team has goals, metrics and tactics aligned to the plan, and review the plan annually.  Yes, a simple formula that not only hedges your company against failure, but sets the course for continued growth and profitability.

If strategy is so important, and the answer is so simple, why do companies continue to go into decline or fail?

The strategy must be right.

Yes, there had to be a catch!  How do I know if my strategy is right?

1.  It must be anchored in a fact base.

This means studying the economic outlook and how it impacts your product or service.  How did your firm’s growth track to GDP in the past?  Are there industry growth indicators to which it correlates more precisely?  What other external factors impact your company’s growth?

What about your competitors?  Can you articulate their business strategies?  What do they know that you don’t?  Are there gaps in your product or service portfolio compared to your strongest competitors?  Are there adjacent services or products that threaten your space?

And your customers…how are their needs and demands changing?  Do you have an opportunity to expand your market size by taking your products to new customer segments?  Are there new geographies where you should consider expanding?

How is technology, social media, e-commerce and shifts in distribution and mobility impacting your products and/or services?

2.  The outcome of a deep dive into a fact base results in new insights and hypotheses that must be considered and tested.

This is the fatal step.  A fact base will undoubtedly reveal new information that disrupts previous thinking.  If it doesn’t, the fact base is weak.  What management does with new knowledge ultimately determines the future.  For instance, if economic indicators predict a multi-year recession, and customers are shifting to a competitor’s lower cost product, ignoring this “fact” and hoping that “a miracle happens,” will be disastrous.  The right response is to develop a plan that will either make your product more competitive, lower the cost or enter new markets.

3.  A responsive, comprehensive strategic plan is developed that includes new product/service development, customer segmentation and marketing, operational execution and customer experience excellence, and financial planning that has multiple scenarios based on various possible outcomes.

4.  The organization aligns behind execution of the strategic plan.  

While the temptation is to keep the strategic plan confidential because contained within are most important plans and moves your company will make, the strategic plan must be shared.  Each functional and operational leader has to know his/her part in the execution of the plan.  The leadership team should understand what and why with goals that stretch the team to overachieve the plan.

5.  The fact base and strategic plan must be reviewed annually.  Never let a market shift or competitive move catch you by surprise.  

Future blogs will speak to many of the specifics of execution of strategy.  At Calade Partners, we have a combined 50+ years of managing at one of the most respected Fortune 100 companies in the world.  Our experience in sales, marketing, technology, operations, and finance will allow us to help your company grow your top and bottom line.  Contact us and let us help you.

 

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Strategy, Simply Put

The fourth post in the Series.

Core to running your business is your strategy.  The word is often used synonymously with mission, vision or plan.  However, the strategy is not the same as a mission, vision or plan.

–  Vision is necessary as it imagines a future for the business which, if well stated, provides inspiration and aspiration for the team.

–  Mission is what a company stands for, its purpose for existing.  The plan is about execution, tactics and specific initiatives to achieve specific goals.

–  Strategy is imperative to long term success because it defines what makes your company distinct, why customers would buy from it, and what is required to maintain that distinctiveness over time.

Strategy has to be well thought out — how a company sustains itself in its marketplace or how it makes strategic moves into new markets, or introduces new products/services, or takes existing products to new customer segments.

Michael Porter states, in his famous “What is Strategy?” paper for Harvard Business Review in 1996, “Strategy renders choices about what not to do as important as choices about what to do.”

Once it is clearly articulated, a strategy stays relatively constant unless there is major change going on in the company’s industry.

The intention of strategy development is to clarify the unique position of the company compared to competitors and to articulate the moves the company should make over time to ensure their unique value is kept distinct.  Porter emphasizes that it is not enough to know what your customers want and meet that need.

If meeting customers’ needs were enough for long term success, your competitors would simply ask your customers what they want and offer the same product or service as your company.  

A strategy has to define the best set of activities to delight customers but it must also be different.  Strategy is about choice…choosing what you will do, building operational plans to achieve the strategy, and not chasing every competitor or customer need.

All companies are resource-contrained.  Thus, applying your resources to the most important activities to achieve your strategic goals requires discipline.  The strategy should be laid out in a clear, actionable, detailed document that can be shared and acted upon by the various functional and operational groups in the company.  A strategy is worthless if it cannot be shared and understood by the team who must execute it.

In our next post, I will consider a company who is challenged.  Their growth has slowed down and their competitive position has weakened to a point that the future is in doubt.

If you would like to learn more about how Calade Partners can help your company articulate its strategy, feel free to contact us by clicking here.

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What Is Strategy and Why Do I Need One?

In the last post, I explained that a strategy was a set of objectives, a plan that could be distilled down into executable tactics for each operating unit of the company.

But, let’s go a little deeper.  There are characteristics of a “strategic plan” that make it unique from, say, a business plan.

A strategic plan has a longer term horizon – at least three to five years.  The key characteristic of a strategic plan is that it lays out a plan for your company’s success in its market, defines what makes it distinctive from its competitors, and what tactics you will deploy to ensure that you win!

A strategic plan is different from an operational plan in that it specifies what customers must be targeted and secured, what products or services must be developed or expanded, and what geographies to target for expansion.  An operational plan provides tactics for running the company.  The strategy articulates how your company does this better and differently than your competitors.

According to Michael Porter in his infamous dissertation in Harvard Business Review in December 1996 called “What is Strategy?,” he states that, “A company can outperform rivals only if it can establish a difference that is can preserve.”

Stated more plainly, a main component of a strategy is to provide sustainable competitive differentiation from your rivals.  And herein lies the key challenge to strategy development…to understand how your company competes now and in the future to ensure that growth and profitability can be sustained.

This may seem very esoteric and theoretical.  But, at Calade Partners, we have the experience to guide you through very disciplined steps to develop your company’s strategy.  To succeed in the future and ensure continued top and bottom-line growth, a clear, precise strategy is required.

In my next post, I will discuss some of the steps to strategy development.  If you would like more information about Calade Partners, click here.

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So I need a strategy? What exactly does that mean?

Good question!  Many business people won’t ask the question out loud because they are too embarrassed to admit that they aren’t sure what it means.

The logic goes like this:  “Having a strategy is very important, so how could I admit to being unclear about something so important?”

What I have learned is that identifying and articulating strategy is not as simple as it might seem.  “The strategy” was something in our CEO’s head, in my early years at FedEx, and I wanted a way to extract his vision and direction for the company without having to spend hours prying it from his mind.  Fortunately, I knew he was an admirer of Michael Porter (Harvard Business School management guru), and felt Porter was the expert on Strategy.

From that important information, I was able to develop a team within my marketing group whose only role was to define and articulate “the strategy” for FedEx.  Yes, it was actually possible to put Fred Smith’s complex thinking into a plan that could be distilled down into executable tactics for each operating unit of the company.

In my next post, I will define strategy and discuss why it is so important that a strategy be clear and precise.  Click here if you would like more information about Calade Partners.

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What is Calade Partners?

Relevant strategy. Precise direction.  

I’m asked, “What is Calade Partners?”  That’s when the elevator speech kicks in, and I quickly explain that three marketing executives from FedEx decided to take the voluntary buyout so we could go it on our own, and Calade Partners is our platform for helping companies rejuvenate their marketing process.

If we had a few more floors to go, I’d add that we are a catalyst for clarifying strategy and market position, and our services range from diagnosing your marketing capabilities and prescribing the solution, to acting as your marketing team in the absence of that capability within your company.

The Calade Partners have a combined experience of over 50 years managing complex marketing challenges.

We have led product development, branding, advertising, sponsorships and events, campaigns, customer experience design, social media, digital and interactive marketing, website design and optimization — the full gambit in a best of breed corporation.

We bring our expertise to the challenge, bring clarity to the solution, and apply the assets in the form of direction, consulting and other agency and business partners to jumpstart growth and profitability.

A tall order it may seem, but not daunting based on our past achievements at FedEx.

Visit us at www.caladepartners.com to learn more about how we are already leading clients to success.

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