John Bell is the retired CEO of coffee/confectioner Jacobs Suchard, now part of Kraft Foods. As a strategy consultant, he has counseled some of the world's most respected blue-chip organizations. A prolific writer, John's musings on strategy, leadership, and branding have appeared in various marketing journals and publications such as Fortune and Forbes. His latest book, Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World was released in December, 2014. John can be reached at In the CEO Afterlife and on Twitter @JohnRichardBell.
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Articles by John Bell
CEOs by nature are time-starved species. Critical to their success and that of their organization is how they carve up the hours on the clock. Those who invest their time advancing their company’s business model or seeking a new one are adding value to their organizations. ‘Advancing the model’ is just another way of saying improving or fortifying the company’s competitive advantage.
Most of you have heard the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” or something to that effect. Basically, the idiom advises us not to discard something valuable in our eagerness to get rid of some useless thing associated with it. If you are not careful, this can happen to businesses going through a rough patch.
Should the Strategic Plan Rest in Peace?
At one time, business executives believed that strategic planning was the answer to all of their problems. The process that started in the 1950’s evolved through various strategic analyses including SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), Michael Porter’s competitive strategy model, core competencies, strategic intent and business transformation. Today, many are questioning the strategic plan's usefulness.
There are many reasons for this. I'll give three:
The notion of business as a combination of sport and war was attributed to Emile Herzog (1885-1967), a French author who used the pen name, Andre Maurois. I’m going to admit at the outset that I was a strong proponent of Herzog’s concept for most of my career. However, now that I look back from the CEO afterlife, I realize that this view need not be pervasive.
A picture is worth a thousand words; clichéd but true. This illustration may also become clichéd, but whenever I see it, I grin and nod. Although the Promised Land lies within that magic circle, most of us can’t break out of our comfort zone. Recently, the Apple Corporation has shown the world a glorious example of how big business creates magic. No doubt, many CEOs will try to replicate the principles that catapulted Apple to the most valuable company on the face of the earth. Will they be able to do it?
When I retired, I thought I was through with business. And I was, until the social network came along and enticed me to blog.
Like most bloggers, I write about what I know -- strategy, leadership and branding. My motive is nothing more than to share my experience with today’s business community, in the hope they might put an old warrior’s advice to good use.
Back in the fall, We Know Next published my blog, Why HR and the CEO should be joined at the Hip. According to SHRM, the blog struck a chord within the HR community. Conventional wisdom suggests the CEO’s most valued C-suite confidant should be the CFO. I’m not arguing that. During my CEO days, I was fortunate to work with two outstanding financial executives. I’m simply pointing out that a CEO has more than one hip, and with culture finally getting its credit as a key success factor, the time has come for HR to occupy a seat at the C-Suite table.
I’m not arguing against a clear definition of where a company is going and what sets it apart. My beef is with the way the particular corporation’s guiding principle is expressed; it is generally verbose, convoluted and incapable of resonating with employees or inspiring them. I’m not the first person to say this. Yet, companies large and small from start-ups to blue chippers continue to err in crafting compelling, single-minded mantras.
To most of us, mentors are people of experience and knowledge who help the less experienced advance their careers and/or their education. There are plenty of well-known examples throughout the course of history; Aristotle mentored Alexander the Great, Laurence Olivier mentored Anthony Hopkins and Freddy Laker mentored Richard Branson.
Last week’s blog post bemoaned the lack of strategic discipline in today’s world of business. I posed three simple strategic questions that on the surface appear easy to answer.
Memo To: CEOs and Aspiring CEOs
From: John Bell
Re: Your CEO Epitaph
If you are already in the C-suite, I suggest you take a moment to contemplate your epitaph. Will you be remembered as Jack Bighead or Andy Goodfellow?
Epitaph of Jack Bighead: