Dec 282007

Great Exchange on Newspapers’ Future

Great Exchange on Newspapers’ Future

Dave Morgan and Jeff Jarvis trade excellent thoughts here on the future of newspapers.  Read the posts in this order:

Jarvis:  Why newspapers aren’t making it in the new world (and what they can do about it)

Morgan:  What they can do about it (disaggregate their vertically integrated business models)

Jarvis:  Disaggregate even further!

The exchange is really thought-provoking about other forms of traditional media whose businesses are being turned upside down by the Internet.  Yellow Pages.  Music.  Movies.  The current Hollywood writers’ strike may actually be unsolvable with the Movie and TV industry’s current structure.

Filed under: Email

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Dec 272007

An Unusual Christmas Present?

An Unusual Christmas Present?

Has anyone else noticed a precipitous drop in spam volumes this week?  Perhaps the Internet Axis of Evil is taking a few days off to sharpen their horns…or maybe they’re just giving the world an unusual Christmas present!

Filed under: Email


Dec 272007

When Good Companies Go Bad

When Good Companies Go Bad

This post could just as easily be entitled, “When Small Companies Go Big.”

I know risk management is an important part of business, but I have run into several examples in the past few months where another company’s insanely aggressive staff roles — legal, procurement, and HR in particular — have driven me batty.

We have a big financial services client who, after much wrangling with their legal time, signed a two year contract with us that was based on our standard form of agreement, though modified quite a bit to their specifications. A few months into the contract, we and our client wanted to add a new service into the agreement via a simple addendum. Someone in their legal team called us up and in a near-hysterical tone of voice told us that he didn’t think the current contract with us was valid because — even though it had an authorized signature on it and had been signed off by their legal team — it wasn’t based on their standard form of vendor agreement. So we had to start over and draft an entirely new agreement if we wanted to get the new service included in the contract.

We had another long-term client who was putting us through the paces on a contract renewal. The company had grown large enough to now have a procurement department for the first time. The renewal, in the midst of a perfectly good working business relationship, took 9 MONTHS to wrap up, during which time the client was missing out on services that the business user deemed critical.

A prospect of ours was another similar company – once small, now large, now with a procurement department. This procurement department demanded the following terms from us as a vendor: an uncapped amount of services for a fixed fee; unlimited custom modifications at no cost; and unlimited liability. When we balked (mostly because we have a brain), the procurement person called back and said “Every vendor who works with us agrees to all of these terms, always. So thank you, I’ve decided this your services are no longer a strategic area of interest for us…and please don’t call the business contact ever again without going through me.” Right, I’m sure the electric company gives these guys unlimited power for a fixed fee.

Honestly. I’m not making this stuff up. I have a lot of respect for lawyers who protect their companies. And for procurement people who are trying to negotiate a good price. But when lawyers and procurement people run the show instead of taking their cues from the business people and adding value on the margin, it’s a sign that your company has a big, big problem.

Filed under: Leadership, Return Path

Dec 222007

Book Short: a Corporate Team of Rivals

Book Short:  a Corporate Team of Rivals

One of the many things I have come to love about the Christmas holiday every year is that I get to go running in Washington DC.  Running the Monuments is one of the best runs in America.  Today, at my mother-in-law’s suggestion, I stopped i8n at the Lincoln Memorial mid-run and read his second inaugural address again (along with the Gettysburg Address).  I had just last week finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and while I wasn’t going to blog about it as it’s not a business book, it’s certainly a book about leadership from which any senior executive or CEO can derive lessons.

Derided by his political opponents as a “second-rate Illinois lawyer,” Lincoln, who arrived somewhat rapidly and unexpectedly on the national scene at a time of supreme crisis, obviously more than rose to the occasion and not only saved the nation and freed the slaves but also became one of the greatest political leaders of all time.  He clearly had his faults — probably at the top of the list not firing people soon enough like many of his incompetent Union Army generals — but the theme of the book is that he had as one of his greatest strengths the ability to co-opt most of his political rivals and get them to join his cabinet, effectively neutering them politically as well as showing a unity government to the people.

This stands in subtle but important contrast to George Washington, who filled his cabinet with men who were rivals to each other (Hamilton, Jefferson) but who never overtly challenged Washington himself.

Does that Team of Rivals concept — in either the Lincoln form or the Washington form — have a place in your business?  I’d say rarely in the Lincoln sense and more often in the Washington sense.

Lincoln, in order to be effective, didn’t have much of a choice.  Needing regional and philosophical representation on his cabinet at a time of national crisis, bringing Seward, Chase, and Bates on board was a smart move, however much a pain in the ass Chase ended up being.  There certainly could be times when corporate leadership calls for a representative executive team or even Board, for example in a massive merger with uncertain integration or in a scary turnaround.  But other than extreme circumstances like that, the Lincoln model is probably a recipe for weak, undermined leadership and heartache for the boss.

The Washington model is different and can be quite effective if managed closely.  One could argue that Washington didn’t manage the seething Hamilton and frothy Jefferson closely enough, but the reality is that the debates between the two of them in the founding days of our government, when well moderated by Washington, forged better national unity and just plain better results than had Washington had a cabinet made up of like-minded individuals.  As a CEO, I love hearing divergent opinion on my executive team.  That kind of discussion is challenging to manage — at least in our case we don’t have people at each other’s throats — but as long as you view your job as NOT to create compromises to appease all factions but instead to have the luxury of hearing multiple well articulated points of view as inputs to a decision you have to make, then you and your company end up with a far, far better result.

Filed under: Books, Leadership

Dec 192007

Holiday Cards c. 2007

Holiday Cards c. 2007

Every year, I get a daily flood of business holiday cards on my desk in the second half of December. Some are nice and have notes from people with whom we do business – clients, vendors, partners, and the like. Some are kind of random, and it takes me a while to even figure out who they are from. Occasionally some even come in with no mark identifying from whence they came other than an illegible signature.

And every year, I receive one or two email cards instead of print & post cards, some apologetic about the medium. Until this year.

I think I’ve received about 10-15 cards by email this month. None with an apology. All with the same quality of art/creative as printed cards. It’s great! A good use of the email channel…much less cost…easier overhead for distribution…and of course better for the environment.

I wonder what made 2007 the tipping year for this.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Dec 062007

Eight is NOT Enough!

Eight is NOT Enough!

Today is the eighth anniversary of the founding of Return Path. No offense to Dick Van Patten or Grant Goodeve, but Eight is NOT Enough.  We are just hitting our stride here! 

Congratulations to our incredibly hard working and dedicated employees, and thanks to our clients, partners, and investors for all their support these past 8 years.  Eight may have been Great…but Nine will be Fine!