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Over the course of 35 years, involving varied professional incarnations, my central interest has been consistent: helping leadership teams and boards create value - and, helping to build better, more robust, more sustainable pathways for pursuing that process.

Early on, while at on the Harvard faculty, I worked as an adviser and mediator with CEOs, leadership teams, boards and investors at large public corporations to resolve hostile control challenges and performance/governance crises.  I advocated for finding middle grounds that achieved a degree of change, but with reduced risk and less disruption.  Those situations were a laboratory for how difficult it is for governance  to arc toward compromise. Human nature being what it is, fixable situations devolve as protagonists build hardened silos; the governance mechanisms that should guide towards the center often don’t.  I was successful in some situations in achieving a good outcome; less so in others.  It was a grounding in identifying unrealized value and trying to find pathways for constructive change, and  led me to make to various proposals for reforming the system.  (See, e.g., here).  

 

I pivoted to apply that toolkit in an investment program (pursued through Integrity Brands, which I founded for the purpose) focused on creatively-driven, consumer-facing businesses.  The same dynamics and tensions are at play, but ratcheted up several notches, because of the importance of the “art” part of the “art and science” equation. These businesses are driven by and thrive because of vision, creativity, and culture (which are every bit as rigorous as spreadsheets and operations; they're just rigorous in a different way). Those qualitative drivers are often not sufficiently respected (or even understood) by key parties who pull the governance levers.  So when there are challenges and change is needed, the process can be opaque, highly charged, and in some cases irresolvable.  People don’t just disagree; they literally talk past each other. 

 

I've gotten involved to help lead, support, and collaborate on value creation journeys based on managing and navigating that tension. My focus has been on identifying and supporting the underlying art - the vision-based value pillars of brands - while working with leaders to integrate the needed science.  It's a matter (switching metaphors midstream) of keeping the horse before the cart. Left to their own devices, investors and boards often put the cart in front, and the results are not good. (In fact, that mistake often creates the problem in the first place).

 

Since beginning the program, I’ve invested in, advised, overseen, helped lead, and otherwise supported more than two dozen consumer-facing turnarounds and growth stories (and informally coached many more).  A pretty high proportion of my investment commitments have resulted in quite dramatic (10X-30X) value creation; a few have been mediocre; a very few have been failures.

 

I’ve entered what Arthur Brooks calls the “wisdom” phase of my life, and am most interested in feeling useful, which translates somewhat away from being an investor/protagonist.  I've learned repeatedly that (i) investors are just another interest group, (ii) there are many situations where I can help, where an investment is either impossible or not sensible;  (iii) my interest has always been in helping to solve problems and create success, not in counting money.   So, following Brooks' advice on meaning and happiness, I try to find and structure new involvements so that they are really about advising and coaching: working with leaders and boards to create more successful organizations.  While thusly engaged, I still also continue to try to think about how to make the system work better.  

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