Saturday, November 15, 2008

Recession is the best incubator for ideas, invention -- even PR came into its own during Great Depression: Harvard Business Review

The Great Depression of the 1930s has proven this beyond doubt, according to Harvard Business Reviews's Steve Prokesch.

“I discovered this recently when I stumbled across Caroline Bird’s 1966 book The Invisible Scar,” writes Prokesch.

According to the book, professional management became firmly established and functions such as marketing, public relations, and advertising came into their own.

“By some accounts, the worst of economic times -- the Great Depression—was actually a rich period of management invention,” writes Prokesch.

“I was astonished to learn how a number of enterprises outperformed competitors and actually grew during that tumultuous era by excelling in understanding and satisfying customers’ changing needs.

“The Standard Oil companies built a lasting advantage by aggressively expanding their networks of service stations. Du Pont increased its dominance by introducing nylon and other new products for consumer markets. Sears prospered -- while Montgomery Ward languished -- by coming out with innovations like low-cost refrigerators and mail-order automobile insurance and by doubling the number of its stores. And at a time when Wall Street was despised, Merrill Lynch recognized that there was an opportunity for honest brokers.

“A similar customer focus allowed entrepreneurial ventures such as Carvel and Good Humor (ice-cream retailing), Clairol (hair coloring), A.C. Nielsen (retail sales data), and Chock Full O’ Nuts (coffee shops) to beat the era’s long odds."

Here are the lesson managers can learn from the The Great Depression, according to Prokesch:

1. Test your assumptions about customer needs -- by rethinking what data you are crunching or how you are segmenting customers.

2. Manage product/service innovations for global markets — by figuring out how to design low-cost or good enough offerings for customers in emerging markets and redesign them for customers in mature economies.

3. Capitalize on the promise of strategic partnering — by mastering the intangibles crucial to making alliances work.

4. Reskill your organization — by using the down market to acquire talent important to your future and the down time to develop the talent pool you already have.

“These are areas that are underappreciated or undermanaged at many companies,” writes Prokesch. “Perhaps it will take a good recession to bring them to the fore.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pradeep Guha’s defining moments

Pradeep Guha is a man who backs his intuition to the hilt. Be it in print (at The Times of India Group) or TV (at Zee), Pradeep Guha has facilitated changes that the industry marvelled at. From print to TV to movies (he produced Fiza), Guha's instinct for making the right moves has made him a legend. Here, PG, as he is commonly known, shares some of the defining moments of his career, which spans almost three decades, writes Sapna Nair In Excerpts from her interview:

At Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd, he was sent to Kolkata as head of the Eastern region, with general management responsibilities, in 1983. This was the time when Sameer Jain was inducted as executive director. It was fortuitous for him, as with Jain, he could look at broader issues concerning The Times of India. This association brought both of them close. That friendship lasted right through his career in The Times of India and continues even today.

“Why I call it a defining moment is because at a very early point in my career, I got the opportunity to work closely with an entrepreneur who had the ability to take risks and make significant changes to his company,” says Guha.

The next big moment in his career came in 1988 when The Times of India was in its 150th year. The late Nandita Jain (Sameer's sister) and Guha were entrusted the task of handling the celebrations of the 150th year in a manner that would change the brand profile of The Times of India.

What followed was one of the biggest branding exercises ever in the history of Indian media, perhaps in the history of Indian brands as well. The Times of India used to be referred to as the Old Lady of Boribunder and was seen as a fuddy-duddy company. The journey to transform a brand from one-of-many to an exclusive one meant making changes, ranging from renovating the office to complex ones like changing the pricing strategy.

A critical defining moment in Guha’s career came when he decided that he had had enough of print. “Media was becoming more digital and the Internet had just come in. The closest digital platform that I could find at that time was TV and the offer from the Zee Network came at an opportune moment. I took it thinking it would be just another medium, but once I got in, I was shocked. Print and television are like chalk and cheese. The only similarity is that both cater to mass audiences,” says Guha.

“Before I get into anything, it is my heart (or is it gut?) that tells me whether I should get in. The mind takes over thereafter,” he says.