At the beginning of every great business success there’s a human capital story
– Dave Lefkow, CEO Talentspark
Introduction – the other story of success
The narratives we have been using to describe public, corporate and personal successes have been incomplete. Yes, we have been guilty of a single story.
We tell stories of the successes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Apple, Microsoft, Dangote, Adenuga, Fashola, GTBank, Oando, Oyedepo, Adeboye, Sam Adeyemi, Fola Adeola, Daystar, Gani Fawehinmi etc.
It almost sounds as though these people are the only ones behind their own successes and their organisations’.
For example, is Steve Jobs behind all the ideas that have made Apple the most capitalized organisation in the world?
Is Dangote behind all the series of success that has made him Africa’s richest individual?
Is Tony Elumelu solely responsible for the deft moves that saw Standard Trust Bank acquiring the behemoth UBA?
There is a successful disruptive-thinking branding company whose founder is well known today – rightly so. I was there when a team of his employees made a pitch for the advertising contract of a leading bank and won it above the bigger firm which held the contract for three years.
Why wasn’t the founder there?
I don’t know but let’s assume he also had to be somewhere else? Or maybe he reasoned that he needed to build an organisation and not just a business and so decided to send his employees so as to build capacity into his organisation.
Is it then possible to say that our story of success has been incomplete and …misleading? How many great but unknown employees are behind the successes we know? How many great employees are behind the innovation-spewing, ideas-generating and flawless executing of some of the organisations – public and private – that we know?
In this article we’ll run through a subjectively selected list.
The Talent Story in Lagos State
I know Lagos is working and Fashola is working but I can’t help but think of some of the less obvious things and the minds behind it all. Like the under bridge link road in front of Muson centre on the way to Victoria Island. That space has been there almost forever but no one saw that it could be used to stem some of the age long traffic in that axis.
Whose idea was it? Who was tasked to design it? Who was tasked to execute it?
Which officials are behind the execution of the annual street lightning and decoration at the end of the year? Whose idea was it? Who are those that shortlisted the service providers that they use? Who consented, alongside the Governor to the idea, scope and scale? Who has been ensuring that funds are released on time? Who manages them?
Who were the brains and brawn behind the Oshodi transformation?
Let me confess. I never thought that it was possible or that it would stand the test of time. Thanks to the godfather who handled the objections from residents and indigenes. Who led the task force behind it? Who came up with the modalities? Whose task was it to ensure that it didn’t revert to its old state?
We have lived with a cleaner Lagos. Please how did it actually happen? Who are the minds and men behind it? Obviously Fashola and some talented people are working.
The Talent Story in Corporate Nigeria – Nigerian Bottling Company case study
Some years ago a two things happened through Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC). They started a party service! Their main product is the Coca Cola and Five Alive juice families. Before the proliferation of event planners, it was unwieldy to get your drinks cold and served without making it a National Constitutional Conference!
So my guess is that someone in NBC suddenly reasoned that they could ‘help’ by;
1) bringing the drinks to the venue,
2) providing ice block,
3) cooling the drinks, and
4) helping to serve the guests and all at no cost (if memory serves me right).
I recall it was a huge relief. And I think they unofficially started or gave vent to the party drinks provision business.
At another time they started to produce bottled water: Eva. I don’t know if you are aware but here is what I observed. For a few years Eva was labelled ‘a product of Nigerian Bottling Company’, while the other drinks and juice where ‘a product of Coca cola’.
Meaning? Eva was a Nigerian product. I noticed that after maybe three or so years it became ‘a product of Coca cola’. I think that signified the beginning of the success of the Eva-experiment. It raised the bar for the table water business and opened other existing businesses to the idea of bottling water.
Whose idea was Eva water please and the party service as well? Who approved the idea? Who approved the release of funds? Which group executed the manufacturing and the marketing? How one or more great employees can change our world?
The Talent Story – international case studies
I first stumbled on this line of thought through an article some years ago by Dave Lefkow, CEO Talentspark. In it he gave some examples of some of these great employees in great oganisations, such as:
- Omid Kordestani, who helped turn Google, a growing search engine without a significant revenue model, into a truly disruptive online advertising force, with over $5 billion in yearly revenue and a $126 billion market cap (as at 2005).
- Steve Ballmer, the business mind behind the Microsoft miracle, and the first head of recruiting at the company. For a long period of time early on, he interviewed every new employee, made offers, and closed deals.
- Howard Schultz, who created a global empire out of a new twist on coffee — after literally begging for a marketing job at Starbucks in the 1980’s.
- Dennis Carter, a director of marketing at Intel who created the Intel Inside program, which gave Intel a sustainable competitive advantage, regardless of competitor processor speeds, and catapulted the company into one of the top ten known brands in the world.
- Theo Epstein, the innovative general manager of the Boston Red Sox, who ended over 80 years of frustration for an entire region of the U.S.
The Talent and Success Story of the iPod
That Dave Lefkow’s article was titled, The Talent Story of the iPod. By the way I think Apple is one organisation that has had the highest number of generation defining services and products.
From iMac, to iPod, iPhone, to iTunes, and iPad. We would need several volumes to begin a discussion about the impact of each of the above.
Let’s look at the iPod, referred to as the “the Walkman of the twenty-first century” unveiled on October 23, 2001, which Jobs announced as a product that puts “1,000 songs in your pocket.” On April 9, 2007, it was announced that Apple had sold its one-hundred millionth iPod, making it the biggest selling digital music player of all time.
On January 22, 2008, Apple reported the best quarter revenue and earnings in Apple’s history till that time, posting a record revenue of US$9.6 billion and record net quarterly profit of US$1.58 billion – 42% of that revenue came from iPod sales, followed by 21% from notebook sales and 16% from desktop sales.
As of September 2012, Apple reported that total number of iPods sold worldwide was 350 million!
iPods have won several awards ranging from engineering excellence, to most innovative audio product, to fourth best computer product of 2006. iPod line has “altered the landscape for portable audio players”.
Several industries are modifying their products to work better with both the iPod line and the AAC audio format. The iPod has also been credited with accelerating shifts within the music industry. The iPod’s popularization of digital music storage allows users to abandon listening to entire albums and instead be able to choose specific singles which hastened the end of the Album Era in popular music. (ref. Wikipedia). Were there some great employees behind this miraculous product? The answer is Yes!
The Talent Story of the iPod – enter Tony Fadell
Excerpts from Dave’s article, goes thus:
“I thought for a moment about the great business stories of the last few years, and my thoughts immediately turned to the iPod. In the back of my mind, I assumed that it was an entire team of individuals brainstorming in a board room who built the strategy and laid the foundation for the iPod’s success. But in fact there was one person without whom none of this would have been possible: the founder of the iPod, Tony Fadell.
In the late 1990’s, Fadell began working on a business strategy that would revolutionize digital music hardware and software by combining the two together into one powerful platform. You may be surprised to know that Apple wasn’t the first company to hear about his idea, however.
Fadell shopped the idea around to several companies, including Real Networks and his previous employer, Philips. None of them jumped on it as fast and as hard as Apple, who gave the project the undivided attention and vision of founder and CEO Steve Jobs. The project was completed in under six months, a record for Apple. “This is the project that’s going to remold Apple,” Fadell predicted in early 2001. “Ten years from now, it’s going to be a music business, not a computer business.” And he was right.
Finding the next Tony Faddell
It may scare you to know how easy it was to find Tony Fadell before he changed the game at Apple. Fadell had spent years working for Philips leading up their mobile computing group and at General Magic in various senior engineering positions. He had been featured in a Fast Company magazine article on managing the generation gap in the workplace as early as 1998. He established five public patents at General Magic.
The lesson for every executive that gives a corporate goal of building the next iPod, growing into a retail organization that builds thousands of new stores per year, or revolutionizing the way that companies advertise online, is that great ideas start with great people.
There’s no question that, in hindsight, most companies would bend over backwards to go back in time and hire Tony Fadell in 1998, Omid Kordestani in 1999, or Howard Schultz in the 1980s.
Visionary Recruiting Practices
Dave also said, “While it may indeed be getting easier to find the next Tony Fadells, I would argue that it’s getting harder to hire them. Reading between the lines of the Fast Company magazine article, you can see how an environment that stimulates creativity is as essential to recruiting top talent as it is to keeping them.
So here is a simple five-question checklist, from Dave, for your organization to see if you’re prepared to hunt and compete for top talent:
- Are you targeting the right people for your mission-critical openings?
Unless you lived down the hall from him in college, it’s not very likely that the next Steve Ballmer will show up at your doorstep. It’s also not likely that he or she will be on a job board, attending a job fair, reading a classified newspaper ad, or viewing your recruitment ad in a trade journal. This person is more likely to be reading blogs, searching for relevant content online, attending industry trade shows, or interacting with other industry top performers (including ‘A players’ at your company).
- Are you building relationships with talent ahead of demand?
It’s difficult to impossible to build a deep bench of talent in every area. But for your mission-critical openings — the ones that can be the difference between becoming the next Google or the next Pets.com — I suggest being very prepared with a slate of people you can contact when the perfect opening becomes available or to get recommendations of top performers.
This means getting more systematic and efficient about candidate relationship management in advance of the applicant tracking process, hiring specialists who can “hunt” and sell great talent without requisitions, and using technology to its full potential to augment and scale your efforts.
- Are you looking for visionaries with ideas, not just resumes with years of experience?
As Seth Godin said best in his best-selling book Unleashing the Idea virus, in the new economy we’re all in the idea business. The best ideas that can spread the fastest create the most value for companies. Google’s Code Jam is an outstanding example of a company that is directly connecting with the leading technical minds before they start looking for work — and hoping the idea spreads like a virus (it just has).
- Are you rewarding your recruiters for high impact hires?
More companies are beginning to tie on-the-job performance to their recruiting teams — in a new economy of ideas, this is crucial. Taking this a step further, if I was a recruiter who hired a person who added billions of dollars to the bottom line, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect to be compensated for it? If I knew that no matter how big of an impact I made with a hire, I’d be paid the same, well… it might be easier just to keep putting bodies in seats.
- Do you have an environment where new ideas can be generated and quickly take flight?
Philips got a new building, painted their walls different colors, and broke their standard on-boarding rules to hire a singular talent.
Apple only took 6 months to develop the iPod.
Microsoft turned on a dime to start the move from an operating system company to a technology and Internet-leading juggernaut.
Boeing has a Chairman’s Innovation Initiative available to all employees, and a “Phantom Works” R&D unit that is pushing them beyond their core businesses.
Without the right environment and brand positioning, you can’t recruit top talent or position them to launch the next game-changing idea. You have the power to influence and educate your organization on what it will take to do this.
Your next business success is increasingly dependent on your next human capital success. The next Tony Fadell, Omid Kordestani, Howard Schultz, and Steve Ballmer are all out there. The question is, are you ready to hire them?