I help leaders make key decisions that drive value creation. They are usually framed as strategic choices. But in fact: value creation depends a deep, broad, often-ephemeral and opaque mosaic of forces. Some are within leaders' control, some not. They shift and evolve, often without warning. Included (by no means an exhaustive list) are: vision,s conviction, experience; personalities and expectations; culture; shifts in the external environment. too: value is not straregy. A great strategy may in fact destroy vaule. Tat is often the course of controversy between public markets and companies. A fully inside perspective may miss critical aspects of the external environment, or, may simply be focused on metrics of success that do not map into long term value creation.
My work has involved understanding those linkages and helping leadership teams navigate them. My value proposition lies in being able to bring that perspective to the table. to help leaders assess the full mosaic of forces that they confront, internally and externally; to see clearly the value roadmap (opportunities and threats); to chart a path; and to respond to issues.
I focus strongly on the impact of governance. By governance I don't mean legal housekeeping, or the kinds of tick-box issues that governance organizations monitor. I mean the web of interests, people, agendas, and accountability mechanisms inside and outside the organization. Value creation is deeply intertwined with that definition of governance. Strategies need to be able to survive and flourish given the organization's culture, people, interests, power structures, and constraints. And, too: doing work to improve how those mechanisms themselves work (boards in particular) leads to a better environment to develop strategies.
I began my work in the corporate control arena, advising leadership teams, boards, and investors on controversies and conflicts involving vision, value, and control at large public companies. That work was a deep research project into how the value creation process can become stuck, conflicted, and/or broken, and, into how every party to the value creation process behaves. The reality was that every crisis had been caused by a different, complex web of events, people, and processes - none met any of the standard cliche explanations (e.g., a bad CEO, a passive board). Seeing the system at its most stressed led me to develop radar about the challenges that are always present and lurking - the intrinsic tensions in the system. It was also a series of expermints in how to rescueand create value - ad, simultaneously, to rebuild consensu and culture. (One cannot do the former without the latter).
In that work I found that I had a knack (so I thought) for helping to find better solutions - ones that were sensitive to the needs of leaders, that were constructive, and that didn’t burn the house down.
Since then I've engaged across the lifecycle, from nascent business, through growth, evolution, new strategies and initiatives, refinancings, repositionings, turnarounds, acquisitions/asset sales, workouts. And across a full spectrum of problems: how to evolve the business model, how to manage finances through a crisis, leadership team development, succession, shareholder challenges, founder and former CEO involvement. I've also engaged along the same lines with nonprofits. After fairly broad-ranging early work across industries (e.g., telecom, transportation, chemicals, manufacturing), I narrowed my domain focus to concentrate primarily on vision-driven, consumer-facing businesses (and nonprofits). It reflects my own area of greatest expertise around the substantive business challenges, and also, my personal connection to and instincts in the space. My deepest experience base has grown to be working with leaders at vertical brands during merchandising-driven turnarounds and repositionings, supporting them in developing strategy and navigating dynamics with boards and public markets.
More examples of specific issues on which I've engaged (not an exhaustive list): brand evolution, redirection, recapture • omnichannel strategy • merchandising overhauls • pricing/margin/promotional strategies • sourcing strategy • new brand/channel opportunities • acquisitions • sale/divestiture • turnaround planning • financing, early stage to turnaround/distressed • public market dynamics • activist investors • leadership team development, evolution, compensation, retention • succession dynamics, support for new leaders • board engagement, culture, leadership team support • board composition, restructuring, evolution • mediating board, leadership disagreements • building more supportive, engaged board cultures.
I've come to think that the last item in the above list is actually perhaps the most important and also, the least-addressed - a unicorn in the forest. It’s hard interpersonal work, and it's alien to the standard exhortations about board effectiveness (which emphasize being independent and tough, not being supportive). And, facing the day-to-day challenges of business, dealing with the touchy-feely conversations about improving board culture is easy to back-burner. But the reality is that boards that engage differently with leaders - empathizing and coaching, recognizing their own limitations and failings, focusing on helping with decisions and value creation - can fundamentally change the life of the CEO, and the value proposition, for the better.
I often vividly remember something that a member of a talented management team once said to me: "You're the board member who protects us from the rest of the board." I was, and I did, and I'm proud of that. But, with the right board culture, it shouldn't be necessary.