– Develop entrepreneurial instincts. Almost 20 years after the publication of In Search ofExcellence, Tom Peters is probably still the world’s top management guru. Hetalks to Godfrey Golzen about his latest ideas “I’m an enthusiast,” confesses Peters who, inprivate conversation, is a much quieter, more thoughtful man than his hecticplatform manner might suggest. “I’m constantly excited by what I see, hearand read is happening.” It’s not an easy one to follow, particularly for big,process-led companies. The trend there is to deal with change by seeking safetyin numbers so large that smaller competitors cannot challenge them; hence thehuge rise in mergers and acquisitions. “You don’t get small, fleet-footedcreatures by mating two dinosaurs,” is his pithy comment on mega-mergers,like the recent one between Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham to create theworld’s biggest drugs group. It was the latter that eventually led to the book In SearchOf Excellence, co-authored with Bob Waterman, which made them both famous. Therest, as they say, is history, but the chairman went on and on, with accountsof Peters’ subsequent life and work. As the minutes ticked by the delegatesbecame restive because the man they had come to hear was not there – until heemerged from the shadows, 15 minutes late. “Ladies and gentlemen,” hebegan, “in your industry this would count as being on time.” In the global search for talent, people who can create thatkind of effect are in great demand and that is being reflected in theirrewards. Peters believes that some of the high prices being paid foracquisitions are not, in fact, for the companies or even their brands, but for theirbrains. “If you look at the figures on the basis of a price being paid perhead of talent, they often look remarkably cheap.” – Be aware of the importance of your Rolodex of contactnames. – Have an intense appetite for and interest in technology. – Be damn good at something. Not to be afraid of getting it wrong has become part of hismessage. “Look at Churchill,” he told a British audience at a seminarorganised by The Economist in December 2000. “His career was littered withdisasters, but he is rightly remembered as one of the great men of the 20thcentury because he wasn’t afraid to act boldly.” In a typical imaginative leap, Peters suggests thatcompanies should learn from the bees. “When the hive gets too big, theysplit off into smaller colonies.” The corporate equivalent of this is whathappened at the US$25bn Swiss-Swedish electrical power group ABB which, underthe leadership of Percy Barnevik, was restructured into some 5,000 profitcentres operating throughout the world. The model corporations should look at,Peters is currently arguing, are professional service firms, such as those oflawyers, accountant, architects and engineers. “Professional firms are notvery big and don’t have a continuous, predictable source of work,” heexplains. “They have projects with clear objectives, cost and timetargets, they work in teams, often as part of a network involving otherprofessional firms, and they are judged and rewarded on an agreed set ofresults.” Looked at another way, finding such work is also a survivalstrategy for individuals who are having to come to terms with the fact that by2010 full-time workers will be in the minority. “Volunteer for crappyjobs,” is a typical piece of Peters advice. “Even a small assignmentcarries the DNA of a big one. And never accept the assumptions that go withit.” That last comment is part of his message that e-commerce has created”a brawl with no rules”, in which the way we do things has to beconstantly reinvented. He points to the example of companies like the softwaregiant CISCO, which is solving 45,000 customer problems a week through achatroom facilitated by the company but conducted by the customers themselves.In effect, CISCO is getting US$1bn a year’s worth of free consultancy this way. – Have a passion for renewal. Peters is an evangelist for management, and is sometimescriticised for his somewhat Billy Graham-like approach to his subject. Butunderlying it all is his doctorate in engineering. He does the numbers, and oneset of numbers he is currently looking at with great interest is the US women’smarket, which he says is the world’s biggest, and most neglected, consumergroup. Their purchasing power represents a market bigger than the Internet. IfPeters is right about this and turns his formidable intelligence to marketingstrategy, a whole new audience awaits him in the 21st century. His flair for making his point dramatically and with acertain amount of humour explains why, almost 20 years after the publication ofIn Search of Excellence, Peters remains arguably the most famous and probablythe most highly paid management guru. And in a business world that technologyhas changed almost beyond recognition. But isn’t he getting a bit tired afterclocking up 1,700 seminars and 4.5 million air miles since 1982, not to mentionthe books, the syndicated newspaper columns, the small businesses he runs outof his base in Palo Alto, his farm in Vermont and his insatiable reading? True,he’s aged a bit and is going through one of his overweight phases, theinevitable consequence of too many lunches with business leaders and too manyhotel meals eaten too late at night. It’s not that he’s a big food man,although he does admit to an interest in cooking. It’s just that he’s so wrappedup in his work as a lecturer, so generous in the way he is prepared to talk andlisten to members of his audience even when his day is officially over, that hestays late and eats at times which are bad for the digestion. His seminarsessions almost always run way over time too. He is not concerned about dot-com failures either. Hecompares their fluctuating fortunes to what happened in the early days ofanother great communication revolution, the building of the railways acrossAmerica. “Horrible mistakes were made about basic stuff like agreeing auniform gauge for lines across the country. Entrepreneurs and investors were aslikely to lose their shirts as to become rich. But the railways would neverhave got built in anyone’s lifetime if they hadn’t done a lot of dumb stuff anddone it quickly. How do children learn to walk, for God’s sake? They do it byconstantly falling over until they get it right.” One of the mantras thathas been a Peters message from the beginning is that the way to respond tochange is “Ready. Fire. Aim.” Waiting for star speaker Tom Peters to arrive at a recent USseminar for senior airline executives, the chairman talked about Peters’achievements. His impressive academic qualifications – doctorates from two ofAmerica’s top universities, first in engineering, then in businessadministration – his service record as a young naval officer in Vietnam, hissubsequent attachments to the Pentagon and his later career as a McKinseyconsultant. Survival skills for the new economy Peters’ career as a management guru goes back to the dayswhen most people’s idea of a computer was a mainframe IBM 360, and the electrictypewriter and the copying machine were as technological as office equipmentgenerally got. Some of the 43 companies whose practices were singled out asbeing “excellent” were indeed at the forefront of the coming computerage, including IBM itself. But within five years, two-thirds of them were invarying degrees of trouble and some have since gone out of business. Peters’ principlesOn 1 Feb 2001 in Personnel Today – Individually, be aware that your knowledge is a rapidlydepreciating asset. Make sure you have a Renewal Investment Plan and that youremployer contributes to it. Previous Article Next Article So how did he and Waterman get it so wrong? It’s a questionthat’s often been asked by sceptics, but it’s not one that has ever fazedPeters. “It doesn’t invalidate the ideas we put forward about theimportance of closeness to customers, of listening to the people they serve,and of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. What I got wrong and what thecompanies that fell by the wayside got wrong was that change happened muchfaster than had been predicted. That’s still true. So what I’m talking about alot of the time now is the scale and speed of change.” In this situation,he suggests, speed of action may be even more important than quality. Related posts:No related photos. In the business world, he points to the example of Enron, awidely admired and successful US utility company. “Two-thirds of thestories told at senior management meetings are not about successes but aboutmistakes.” The point about not burying mistakes is not just the obvious onethat you learn from them. “Mistakes are often just a matter of bad timing.At a later point you may find that in a new context they are the rightanswer.” – Be a finisher – clients pay for completed work, not brightideas. Getting to grips with the Web is integral to survival, bothfor corporations and individuals, and there is probably no management guru whohas engaged with the new economy more thoroughly than Peters. A consequence ofthe fact that information and data can now flow globally at the speed of light,is the drive towards commoditisation. “Everything is better but everythingis much the same,” is how this has been put. Peters believes that in thenew economy, competitive advantage will be with those who can create what hecalls “the WOW factor”. The Sydney Olympics were a case in point.What created worldwide attention were not so much the events themselves, withtheir converging standards, but the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a “guru” asa wise or revered teacher. Peters reminds you of that teacher at school who wasreally fired up by his subject, perhaps a little bit eccentric and whooccasionally talked a certain amount of nonsense, but who was never less thanstimulating and ever eager to share and explain new developments in his field. – Be able to adapt and improvise. Comments are closed. – Grovel before the young.