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The                                      experience end up cutting costs only        work in the long term. What the CEO
Corporate                                to save a marginal business. Only a         needs to do is change the attitude
Near Death                               very few, such as Apple, seize the          toward risk so the company is more
Experience:                              opportunity to reinvent themselves and      risk accepting. Reinventing a company,
Seize the                                come back as a really great company.        after all, is a risky business.
                                         Q You had direct experience with            Q Reinventing a company
Don Strickland, former Senior                       this at Apple. You joined Apple             involves a lot of internal
Executive at Apple, CEO of               as their Vice President of Publishing       disruption. How does the CEO hold
PictureWorks, CEO of IPIX and            when they were very close to                the company together?
Adjunct Professor of Innovation          bankruptcy. A few years later they
and Entrepreneurship at Imperial         had reinvented themselves and               A Culture. Culture trumps
College London, spoke with               now are the world’s most valuable                      everything in a company. At
Dagmar O’Toole, Editor of CSA            company. What was it like?                  Apple, it was the culture that enabled
Speaker Bulletin about triumphing                                                    the company to survive the difficult
over the corporate near death            A It was crazy! I had been at               years and come back a winner. Building
experience.                                         Apple for two weeks when all     a great culture is not rocket science,
                                         of the VPs were told to lay off 20%         but it is hard work. I always start with
Q What, exactly, is a “Corporate         of their employees, and to have it          the corporate values. Are they generic
           Near Death Experience?”       done within six weeks. That was             and obvious such as “we will treat
                                         my introduction to what it takes to         each other with respect” or “we are
A A company experiences                  reinvent your company. I learned            committed to delivering superior value
           near death when it has so     that the pathway to reinvention is          to our customers”? Or, as in the case
underperformed for an extended           unpredictable. It is all about picking a    of Apple, are they really meaningful?
period of time that everyone in the      new direction, aligning up everything in    “We believe in the simple, not the
company doubts whether it can            the company towards it, and the CEO         complex” and “We are on the face of
survive. It is a period of high stress,  giving everyone the passion to make         the earth to create great products.”
and bankruptcy is a real possibility.    it happen. It won’t happen overnight        My test for corporate values is that
                                         and don’t expect to get it right the first  they satisfy three questions: Do they
Q Does it happen to all                  time. Steve Jobs came back to Apple         make employees want to work for the
           companies?                    in 1997, but the stock price didn’t take    company? Do they make customers
                                         off until 2004.                             want to buy from the company? Do
A It is something that all                                                           they sound like they were written by
           companies experience sooner   Q What is the most important                the CEO? If you answer “yes” to all
or later in their business cycle. If                thing for a CEO when leading     three questions your company has a
no action is taken, the near death       a company through a near death              great set of values. n
experience becomes the death of the      experience?
company. This means bankruptcy or
a fire sale. That is what happened to    A The CEO needs to create a
Kodak, for example. The majority of                 sense of urgency to tackle the
companies that undergo a near death      problems early rather than wait until it
                                         is too late. This requires changing the
                                         risk profile of the company. Companies
                                         that have enjoyed years of success
                                         naturally become risk averse. When
                                         the early signals appear that the
                                         business is in trouble, the risk averse
                                         reaction is to “try harder.” That doesn’t

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