CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, I.S.P.
Internationally Renowned Strategist and IT Authority
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the acclaimed Mitchell Levy.
Mitchell Levy is a strategist, educator & prognosticator helping companies succeed by putting tools in the hands of corporations/individuals that enable them to create their own success. He is a frequent media guest and a popular speaker, lecturing on business and management issues throughout the U.S. and around the world. He has started 10 companies/joint ventures since 1997 and has provided strategic consulting to over 100 companies.
Mitchell Levy is Chairman and Partner of CEOnetworking (http://CEOnetworking.com), an executive networking organization facilitating conversation and learning among peers and coaching executives on being successful. He is also Director and Chief Strategy Officer of the innovative Silicon Valley Executive Business Program (http://SiliconValleyPACE.com) from San Jose State University (SJSU-PD) and President and CEO of ECnow.com (http://ecnow.com), a Management Consulting firm helping company's grow with strategic consulting and targeted business education.
He is author of the book E-Volve-or-Die.com (http://e-volve-or-die.com), creator of the Value Framework™, a strategic framework for analyzing and creating corporate success (http://ecnow.com/value/), Program Consultant for the Business Management program at SJSU-PD, and Executive Producer of the strategic eZine VMS3.info. He was the former Founder, Program Consultant, and Faculty Member of the premier SJSU-PD Enterprise & E-Commerce Management Certificate Program, the former Chair of comdex.biz at Comdex Fall and was at Sun Microsystems for 9 years, during the last 4 of which he managed the e-commerce component of Sun's $3.5 billion supply chain.
Q: Mitchell, you have an impressive and long record of accomplishment as a world-renowned authority. We are fortunate to have you do this interview—thank you!
A: You're too kind Stephen. It's my pleasure to be part of this series.
Q: What sparked your interest in computers?
A: When I was in undergraduate school, I made a decision to spend my time on the areas that would be the hardest to learn with self-study. I switched from an International Finance & Marketing major to one in Operational Research / Systems Analysis. This discipline relied heavily upon computers and I quickly realized the importance of leverage. Computers created a tremendous amount of leverage and it was apparent to me that business was not taking advantage of it yet. At the same time, another thought that went through my mind was "where there's uncertainty, there's margin".
Q: Do you have any "surprising" stories to tell from your days at Sun Microsystems and as Chair of comdex.biz?
A: At Sun there were a number of stories that were interesting.
April 1st was always a fun day at Sun. I knew the organizer for Sun's famous April fools jokes. The company would do things like take a senior managers' car, disassemble it and reassemble it inside their house, or put it in the middle of the pond in front of the main campus or build a miniature golf course inside the CEOs office. My surprise was the integration of fun into the workplace. A good lesson to learn and one I try to focus on every day.
In my first 5 years, I completed two projects that made me truly understand people's reluctance to change and helped me hone my skills as a change agent. I was responsible for implementing Sun's first tool allowing the analysis of actual vs. plan numbers from the General Ledger. At the time, Sun's financial analysis was conducted by consolidating disparate worldwide spreadsheets and my customers in the finance organization were concerned about change. They could take a floppy out of their desktop, take the numbers with them to work at from home, and bring them back to work in the morning. Years later, I was in charge of a team to migrate the original system to a UNIX-based client/server environment. Amazingly, the same people were concerned with change. This time, they didn't want to move from a centralized system where backups were automatically done, to one where the data sat on their desks and they would have to ensure that the backups were done all the time. The same folks were complaining about change, however, this time it was the change to bring them back to where they were in the first place. It was then I realized that the negativity about change was change itself, not the new process, regardless of the value of the new process.
Comdex was amazing. It was the place to be. Everyone wanted to be there. The most amazing aspect was the quality of speakers that Comdex could attract and that they never received payment for speaking. My takeaway was that companies were willing to foot the bill and share their expertise if you could supply the audience.
Q: With your extensive background of success, which experiences were particularly compelling? What lessons can you share with our audience?
A: There are three lessons I'd like to share:
1) Success is about who you know. I know this sounds like a cliché, but it's true. It's not about the one person (although there may be one that stands out above the rest), but the large number of people that you interact with along the way. You absolutely need to build relationships. You absolutely need to make friends and do favors for others. It's also ok to ask for help when you need it.
2) Treat everyone with respect. That wacky peer or one of your subordinates can easily be your bosses boss a couple years down the road. I've seen it happen a lot in Silicon Valley.
3) If a product or process can be done more efficiently, it eventually will. However, you can't underestimate the power of "the status quo".
Q: What is the "value" in your "Framework?"
A: The word strategy is often overused. In my mind, it means two things:
1) The creation and proliferation of the overarching statement of who the company is and the key goals it has. This is the Jack Welch/GE definition of strategy where one defines the vision/mission, goals, and initiatives of the company. This is what I refer to as defining "value". See the next question for more detail on this component of strategy.
2) The second meaning is the approach and specific business models the company executes to deliver value as defined in #1 above. The Value Framework™ (http://ecnow.com/value/) is the approach I've been using to help companies deliver its value.
The "value" in the "Framework" is its ability to allow executives to clearly see the multi-dimensional strategy that the company is executing on and then to communicate it effectively to the employees of the company. The Value Framework™ is one of the first comprehensive frameworks on the market that addresses #2, defined above. It is a business unit tool that helps the executive clearly articulate the business models they are executing today and will evolve to tomorrow to deliver the value the company promised it will. We've applied the framework to over 100 companies and have a number of the results posted on this page: http://www.ecnow.com/value/companies.analyzed.htm. Additional details of the framework can be seen here: http://www.ecnow.com/value/ValueFrameworkWorkbookIntro.pdf
Q: Can you articulate the components of traditional strategy?
Of course. Ask any CEO or senior manager if they have a strategy and they'll say yes. But what really is strategy, how do
you create it and how can you incorporate it into what you do?
1) They have an intuitive understanding of the company and are forcing the company to revolve around this particular figurehead (empowerment is not part of this type of company)
2) They are forcing strategy to be done further down the organization below the CEOs radar
3) They are forcing the company down a path of its demise
These steps are illustrated on the following pdf: http://ecnow.com/ECnow.com.Strategy.Setting.Process.pdf that can also be picked up by going here http://ecnow.com/consulting.services.htm and clicking on "PDF of process" at the bottom of the page.
Crafting the vision.
3) Putting the metrics in place to monitor the goals
4) Alignment: Ensuring that the metrics are part of the performance evaluations of your employees. Unfortunately, not all employees work for the good of the company, but for the paycheck ;) Given that, it's important to incent employees to deliver performance that's in line with the vision and goals of the company. This is done by incorporating the vision, goals, and metrics into their performance evaluations. This step is crucial!
Concepts to remember:
The vision/architecture is where the overarching direction of the company is set. The goals articulate that strategy in bite-size chunks and the metrics help ensure that you deliver it. Make sense?
Q: Can you profile your Executive Business program?
A: The Silicon Valley Executive Business Program (http://siliconvalleypace.com/) is an absolutely unique approach to education that will certainly be copied. Instead of traditional academic training, we bring in outside experts to explore the business world from the CEO and their staffs' perspective. In essence, from the inside out. This makes the program extremely practical with a focus on real-world experiences the CXOs bring to the table.
The program features eight CXO modules. They are the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) as well as the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), CFO (Chief Finance Officer), CSO (Chief Strategy Officer), CTO (Chief Technology Officer), CRO (Chief Revenue Officer), CPO (Chief People Officer),
and COO (Chief Operating Officer). Check out the faculty at http://siliconvalleypace.com/faculty.html.
Executives that go through the program leave with an insider understanding of business, a much broader network and lots of ideas on where to take their businesses and careers going forward.
Q: Can you describe your current work and the benefits offered by your companies?
A: The primary focus of what I do is to help companies and individuals grow with executable strategic frameworks, business management training, and executive coaching. Since 1997, I've created 1-3 new companies or partnerships per year. Some make it and are still around today while others, like an on-line training company we started in 2001, were created at the wrong time and are no longer around. Currently, I spend my time in three primary areas:
1) CEOnetworking (http://CEOnetworking.com) is a Membership Organization for CEOs providing an efficient way to create a peer-based advisory board that does not have a vested interest in the company. All executives need to vent frustrations or brainstorm ideas in a neutral environment that does not exist within their company. CEOnetworking provides just such an environment.
2) Silicon Valley Executive Business Program (http://SiliconValleyPACE.com) is a cohort program providing executive attendees an insider understanding of business, a much broader network, and lots of ideas on where to take their business and careers going forward.
3) ECnow.com (http://ECnow.com) is a management consulting firm that has been delivering strategic tools and education to customers since 1997. Various strategic tools available can be seen at http://ecnow.com/ECnow.com.Strategy.Tools.pdf while our 1x1 executive coaching service can be seen at http://ECnow.com/executive.coaching.htm. Through ECnow.com, we've created and run four conferences for Comdex bringing in over $2m in revenue, three of executive training programs for San Jose State University (the Enterprise & E-Commerce Management program brought in over $1.7m in revenue), and have provided strategic consulting to over 100 companies.
To promote my activities, I've created five assets.
1) Media Attention Now (http://ecnow.com/mediaattention/) is an expert pay-per-performance publicist whose business model is exactly what I was looking for that wasn't available in the marketplace. The company has a low monthly fee that guarantees two bronze placements per month of your money back. Gold or platinum placements or for placements above two per month, there's an incremental cost. Essentially, you get what you pay for, nothing more, nothing less. Exactly what an expert is looking for. Customer wise, in addition to others, I am also a customer. Check out: http://ecnow.com/media/ to see the types of press I've received.
2) VMS3.info is a bi-monthly eZine we've been running since 1999 with a 5,000-person distribution that focuses on viewing the world from the perspective of the Value Framework™.
3) Annual Predictions: Annually, in conjunction with my 1,000-person speaker database, I create an annual set of predictions which gets wide media distribution. This page shares the predictive accuracy since 1998: http://ecnow.com/top10accuracy.htm
4) E-Volve-or-Die.com (http://E-Volve-or-Die.com) is a book written in the year 2000 which explores a series of questions companies should ask to help prepare for the ultimate integration of the Internet into their industry and, of course, their company.
5) I also maintain the content and optimize each Web site for search engines. 50,000 visitors are served at the Web sites monthly. The most heavily trafficked page contains a list of a number of Internet Marketing techniques applied throughout the years. You can view it at http://ecnow.com/Internet_Marketing.htm.
Q: Where do you see yourself and your companies in five years?
A: That's always a great question, one that we should all be thinking about. For me, there are three ideas that run through my mind:
1) I am really addicted to the running multiple companies. Yes, sometimes I spread myself too thin, however, it's never boring. When I describe myself, I often call myself a parallel entrepreneur. I've been toying with the idea of being the CEO of a single larger company and bringing it public. Not sure I'll ever go in that direction, but the thought occasionally crosses my mind.
2) I have a 5-year plan for the Value Framework™ in which I'd like to see it actively used at over 250 companies. Along with that use comes a series of strategic consulting, speaking, and training opportunities.
3) I have a science fiction novel in my mind that I'd like to get on paper.
Q: Which experiences continue to "amaze" you?
A: I teach a course on "Thinking Outside the Box". As an instructor of this topic, I thought I truly acted upon my words. However, hanging out with my 5-year old son teaches me everyday how much of a box I still live in.
Q: Do you have any additional humorous stories to share?
A: My dad bought a gift of a rocking Zebra for my son when Duncan was 2 and a half. Dad was excited about the gift and couldn't wait to share it with Duncan, so he brought him into a room away from everyone else to share it. Duncan unwrapped the paper on the box and proceeded to play on top of the box for 5 minutes before my dad said, Duncan, "that's not the gift, the gifts inside the box". So my Dad opened the box, took out the gift and watched Duncan play inside the box for 5 minutes before he took the box away and said "Duncan, that's not the gift, this is the gift" and he gave Duncan the rocking zebra. My son was happy with the Zebra, however, it had a base plate on it which made it not rock fast, so he asked Duncan to get off of the toy so he could take the base plate off. My Dad's expectation was that Duncan couldn't have been happy on a slow moving Zebra, so a faster moving one would be better. Duncan, however, proceeded to play with the base plate for 5 minutes until my Dad took it away and said, "no that's not the toy this is the toy". Finally, Duncan had the toy that my Dad wanted him to have and Duncan played with it making them both happy.
I was watching from a distance and found this interchange one of the most hilarious ones the two of them have had to date. It was hard to be quiet, but I really wanted to see where they went with this interchange. In the end, my dad was happy. All along the way, Duncan was happy. To Duncan, everything is a toy, not just what we define as one, but everything. The moral of the story is "how many opportunities do we pass up every day because there's no stamp on it that says OPPORTUNITY!"
Q: Please pick four topics from your extensive consulting, and management experiences. Can you share three "special and very useful" lessons in each topic area?
A1: As many books that are written and as many consultants that are out there, strategy is still a misused and misunderstood discipline.
1) Strategy is not an annual one-time event, but a continual evolutionary process. If you perform a static activity once a year, it can guide you if all things remain the same. However, in today's business environment, it doesn't work that way. Strategy needs to be a dynamic activity that's continually deployed, managed, and evolved within a company.
2) Strategy should not be decoupled from execution and business process execution (BPR). If you walk down a bookstore aisle (physical or virtual), you will not see the BPR and strategy books in the same place. A company's strategy needs to be embodied into its operational processes.
3) Every employee and partner of the company needs to live, think, and act in the best interest of the company. This can only happen by creating an open sharing culture where the employees know where the company is heading and how they can help it get there. Well-run companies have a management team that creates the vision/mission, goals, initiatives, and metrics package that set a framework for operating the line management.
A2: The Web is an extension of your company.
1) It's still amazing to me how many companies state that customer service and interaction is one of their top 3 goals, however, survey after survey will show that 25-40% of these companies do not respond to Web inquires within 24 hours, if at all. The Web is an extension of your company. How you treat customers and partners in the physical world should be the same as you do in the online world.
2) There are still a large percentage of small entities that do not have a Web site as well as a large number of medium-to-large sized corporations that have Web sites that are not consistent with the goals of the corporation. A company's Web site is its 24x7 communication vehicle to the world. It is a public persona of the company and should be treated like all other business units of the company. There should be measurable business objectives and goals and all Web activity should be integrated into the activity (and vice versa) of the traditional units of the company.
3) The Internet is the great equalizer. The Internet is the most democratic vehicle the United States has ever introduced to the world. It truly equalizes the law of supply and demand. With it, companies can—and a number of them have—dramatically streamlined their businesses. In addition to squeezing out the cost, companies need to realize that partners in the Value Chain can only be efficient if they have the information they need to act on behalf of the company. Companies today need to provide information that will allow their partners to conduct business as efficiently as possible.
A3: Never pass up an opportunity to network or learn.
1) I went to a dinner social with my wife which had general seating. We spent a lot of time socializing prior to taking our seats and by the time we decided to sit down, we were guided to a table in the corner that didn't have folks at the table we knew. As it turned out, we had a great time. Additionally, after following through with two of the folks at the table, I've generated over $25k in business and created a good long-term client. You never know who you will meet and how you can help them or how they can help you.
2) Speak second and follow through. When you go to a networking function, think about being the second person who speaks. I always want to speak second so that I can tailor by 30-second pitch to the person I'm talking with. I'll often ask questions like "what's your biggest problem today". As I'm listening, I'll write notes on the back of their cards on the type of information I'll send in my follow-through e-mail. I am shocked at the small percentage of people that do what they say they will do at a networking event. I'd say it's as little as 5%. Even when I'm a potential customer with money ready to spend. Always send an e-mail following through with folks you meet and share some information that can help them with the problems they discussed. You will be remembered for it.
3) It's not the degree, but the path you take to get there: Often times, students ask me what job they can get with one degree or another. Yes, in a number of cases, the degree helps. But it's not really the degree. It's who you meet along the way. It's not just what you learned, but how you applied it. My thoughts are to a) Try to apply what you learn, b) Meet and stay connected to as many people as possible, and c) Given all other things being equal, go to the school with the largest network.
A4: You need to stay focused.
1) Ok, coming from a parallel entrepreneur, it seems like advice I don't follow. That's not exactly true. Although I have multiple entities, they all have a singular focus. People and companies that define and deliver on a couple of things well are those that always tend to prosper.
2) Within practical limits, you can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. What's important is to stay focused, research and learn the discipline, practice what you learn, deliver it as often as possible, collect customer feedback and modify your processes based on what you hear and what you do.
3) Try to create multiple revenue streams. Another thought that might seem contradictory, but alas, try to have multiple revenue streams along the same line of focus. If one stream reaches a plateau and starts to decline another may pick up the slack. It allows for more flexibility on how you execute your business models.
Q: What are the five most important IT trends to watch, and please provide some recommendations?
A: 1) Offshore Outsourcing: This needs to be part of your business mix, however, it needs to be managed carefully and you need to ensure that information gathered at customer touch points make their way back into your company.
2) Software Continues to Change Forever Especially via the ASP Model: The days of $50+m software procurement and implementations are coming to an end. Re-exploring and incorporating ASP models into your business processes makes sense.
3) "E-Commerce" Comes Back into Vogue: Companies continue to benefit from various uses of e-commerce (incorporating the Internet into how you conduct business). Incorporate e-commerce, where appropriate, into your business.
4) Internet Telephony: Significant savings and increased capabilities will filter its way into a large percentage of companies this year.
5) Social Business Networking: It's a small world and social business networking is making it much smaller. Companies should be test-driving the use of these technologies both inside and outside their walls.
Q: What are the five greatest challenges facing businesses today? What are their solutions?
A: 1) Continued Global Economic Dependency: Coupled with offshore outsourcing, the world is getting smaller and the laws of supply and demand are being equalized. Increased growth of China as a dominant capitalistic world player. Increased off-shoring of all business processes. You need to be cognizant of worldwide events.
2) Security: Post 9/11, companies need to focus on both physical as well as online security.
3) Viruses and Spam: 2004 will see an increased set of virus threats and spam at an alarming rate. Proper safeguards need to be applied and taught at all levels of the company. Crisis plans need to be put into place for the instance where a virus will heavily bring down traffic for at least a day.
4) Transparency: As the Internet continues to bring more transparency to business, companies need to find ways to deliver incremental value to justify their margins. In a number of cases, margins will erode. Services will continue to be a differentiating factor.
5) Surviving the downturn and Sarbanes-Oxley: Companies are looking for ways to show growth in a downturn and will look for undervalued companies to acquire. Is your company the acquirer or the acquiree? Another area companies need to address in 2004 is Sarbanes-Oxley (S-OX) compliance. S-OX puts a minimal cost of $4-5m on publicly traded entities. This will cause a number of smaller public companies to merge and will put yet another barrier to entry in the IPO market. In 2005-06, we'll see portions of S-OX compliance being forced on VC-backed companies to allow for an acquisition by a public company already compliant with S-OX as an exit strategy.
Q: Who are the winners and losers in the next five years?
A: Companies that continue to center their business around satisfying their ever-changing customer base will win. Examples here include: Microsoft, Dell, IBM, & HP. Companies that don't realize that the customer is the most important asset and needs to be satisfied in the way that's most efficient for them will lose. Examples here include: Sun & SGI.
Q: Any predictions about the economy and future IT spending?
A: There will be some positive IT, economic and stock market movement this year based on the following statements:
Q: What are your top recommended resources for both businesses and IT professionals?
A: The following URLs are the recommended resources:
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
A: I use a Dell laptop with a docking station with 10/100 Ethernet and wireless connectivity. I need flexibility. If I have my cell phone and laptop with me, then I have my office with me. Anywhere in the world.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: Who are some other folks that I should interview?
Q2: How do you find balance in your life?
Q3: Was this the most interesting set of questions, you've ever been asked on an interview.
Q: Mitchell, your in-depth insights are of great value to our audience. Thank you for doing this interview!
A: My pleasure, thanks again for giving me the opportunity to express myself. BTW: Have you done one of these interviews on yourself?
To contact Mitchell Levy to speak at your event to inquire about one of the services described above, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 408-257-3000.