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Alfred Chandler: Business History

It’s just a few people who could claim to have invented an academic discipline, but one who could, with some justice, is Alfred D Chandler. He was a historian who studied business, and in so doing, he inferred large historical patterns that still inform our thinking.

Alfred Chandler
Alfred Chandler, 1918 – 2007

Short Biography

Alfred DuPont Chandler was born in 1918 into a Delaware family that had commerce in its blood. In one branch of his family was grandfather Henry Poor, of Standard and Poors, and in another was the duPont family. He studied for a Masters degree at Harvard College before the war, where he was a friend of John F Kennedy. After service in a non-combat role, he returned to Harvard to finish his Masters and earn his PhD with a study of Henry Poor and the coming of the American railroads..

An appointment to MIT allowed him to study more large corporations in depth. His analysis of duPont, General Motors, Standard Oil, and Sears Roebuck & Co led to the publication in 1962 of the first of his three most noteworthy books (among over 25 in total): Strategy and Structure.

He also worked for a while at Johns Hopkins University, before returning Harvard in 1970, as the Isidor Strauss Professor of Business History at the Harvard Business School. There, he wrote his second major work, 1977’s The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. This exceptional work won Chandler the Pulitzer Prize for History, and was the first business book to be recognised with a Pulitzer Prize. The title is a deliberate reply to Adam Smith, whose ‘invisible hand’ is the market. We’ll see what Chandler was referring to in a moment.

In 1990, Chandler published the last of his three major books, Scale and Scope: Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism. In this he shows that it is not just scale of operations that bestows big economies and hence competitive advantage. It is also scope – capturing a diverse spread of markets early on. Uncharacteristically, Chandler looked to economics and borrowed the term ‘first mover advantage’.

Having retired from the Harvard faculty in 1989, Chandler continued to work, write and comment on changes in business, and was a visiting professor at numerous institutions. He died in May 2007.

Themes of Alfred Chandler’s Work

Chandler’s approach of wide-ranging comparative analysis to find historical patterns of evolution and change initially encountered a lot of resistance from the academic business community. These academics favoured using economic and quantitative analysis to build their theories, but Chandler was able to change many (though not all) attitudes. Today’s business school focus on case studies and the rise to prominence of academics and writers like Jim Collins.

Strategy before Structure

The primary thesis of Chandler’s ‘Strategy and Structure‘ is that strategy must come before (and therefore dictate) the structure of the corporation. His historical observations led him to conclude that market forces need to drive shifts in the way organisations evolve, and he was able to predict the increasing trend for decentralisation that continues, in the largest businesses, today.

More recently, academic and business commentators have disagreed. Tom Peters observes that it is structure that determines which strategy a corporation will select, and Richard Tanner Pascale argued that Chandler assumed that organisations act rationally. They don’t, and he also notes that organisational structures play a big role in shaping strategy.

Trust Gary Hamel to sort it out, by seeing the subtlety of the competing views. He notes that the two are intertwined: new challenges lead to new structures, and new structures present new challenges. He concludes:

‘Few historians were prescient. Chandler was.’

Arguably, Chandler is, along with Igor Ansoff, one of the founding advocates of the study of business strategy.

Professional Management

Chandler also charted the rise of professional management; first in Strategy and Structure and then, more fully, in The Visible Hand. He saw managerially led corporations in the US rise with the growth of the railways and the need for complex, geographically-spread, systems. These first arose within the railway companies, and then in the corporations that grew nationally, due to the opportunities that long-distance transport offered.

It was the visible hand of an organisation’s managers that replaced Smith’s invisible hand of the market as a major driver of the structure of a modern business.

Further Reading

I rarely cite another website for further reading about our Management Thinkers, but in this case, I am compelled by the excellence of the article at the Strategy + Business site. I have deliberately avoided borrowing from it. If you are interested in Chandler, this should be your next port of call.

 

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David Maister: Trust and Professionalism

David Maister was described to me by a friend and colleague* as ‘the first good consultant’s consultant’. A former Harvard Business School professor, who hails from the United Kingdom, Maister carved out a niche as perhaps the most influential thinker about professional services and and the role of trust in business.

David MaisterBrief Biography

David Maister was born in London, in 1947,and studied Maths, Economics, and Statistics at the University of Birmingham. He went on to achieve a Masters in operational research from the London School of Economics and a DBA from Harvard Business School, in 1976. He then taught, first at the University of British Columbia, and then, from 1979 to 1985, at Harvard Business School.

During this time, he specialised in transportation and logistics. His books on the topic are now all out of print. He left academia to establish his own consultancy and started to focus on advising professional firms, like accountants, lawyers, marketers and consultants. This led to his keystone work, in 1993, ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm‘. This remains in print and a strong seller. Maister had found his niche. I came under his spell when given a copy of his 1993 book, ‘True Professionalism‘, while a manager at Deloitte. It was written for people like I was then: professional services managers, looking to build a career, a reputation, and a client portfolio.

Perhaps Maister’s most influential book, however, was his 2000 book (co-written with Charles Green and Robert Galford), ‘The Trusted Advisor‘, which introduced us to ‘The Trust Equation’. His last book (to date) is ‘Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy‘. The subtitle summarises the book’s thesis succinctly. At the start of 2010, Maister announced his retirement, shortly after being awarded the Carl S Sloane Award for Excellence in Management Consulting. He now spends his time in his home town of Boston, having forsworn air travel, enjoying the arts with his wife. How unusual and refreshing to see a top business person enjoying a fulfilling retirement.

Five Inter-connected Ideas

I’d like to summarise and interpret some of Maister’s ideas and how they link together by isolating five inter-connected themes, and showing how Maister joins them up.

1. The Trust Equation

At the heart of ‘The Trusted Advisor’ is The Trust Equation, which Maister and his co-authors use to illustrate how the ‘four realms’ of trust interact, to answer questions like: ‘My client knows I am credible and reliable, so why doesn’t my client trust me?’. Trust (T), they argue is the result of four factors: Credibility (C), Reliability (R), Intimacy (I), and Self-orientation (S).

T = (C + R + I ) / S

But trust, they say, is not about knowing and it is not about tactics: it is all about attitudes and character. People will trust you if you show an interest  in them, demonstrate a genuine desire to help them, and have a low self-orientation – that is, you are less interested in yourself than in them. Excellence, Maister says, arises from acting according to agreed principles and values, which also build trust (through reliability – or being predictable in your ethical choices).

Here is the first link: A high trust business will experience high growth. Trust is the best business strategy.

2. Business Strategy

Maister observes that many professional services firms in the same market will often have near-identical strategies. So what will determine which one wins, competitively. Since they are all smart, it isn’t the choice of customers, products, services or marketing: it is the drive and commitment to implement the strategy effectively. And this comes from people and how the leaders of the business manage and lead them.

Here is the second link: To deliver a business strategy, you need energy, excitement and enthusiasm from your team

3. Management

Management is about people, passion and principle. Maister says that one-on-one management is the only real managerial activity, because this is the only way to properly engage with people. A manager’s agenda must be to create a great place to work, rather than working at building their own career: that will follow.

In an article published in 2002 (Business: The Ultimate Resource), Maister sets out 13 rules on which successful managers model their behaviour. I have selected some of my personal favourites:

  • Act as if not trying is the only sin
  • Act as if you want everyone to succeed
  • Understand what drives individuals
  • Know all your people as individuals

Here is the third link: Management is about doing what’s right over the long term for your clients and people. This is the route to great client service.

4. Client Services

Maister sees the world of client services in a fairly simple way. But his work has been able to justify this with logic and evidence. A manager’s role is to energise their people. These people will then serve their clients excellently. Clients will reward the company with their patronage and loyalty. This will lead to great financial performance.

So stop focusing on the financial results – they are a lagging indicator of what matters: focus on energising your people. Maister notes that formal systems, policies and procedures do little to build a business: what it needs is managers to use their informal influence on employees, and demonstrate honour, character and integrity.

Here is the fourth link: Honour, character and integrity are the foundations of a meaningful career

5. Career – Professionalism

True Professionalism was where I started with Maister, and his subtitle neatly summarises Maister’s point of view: ‘the courage to care about your people, your clients, and your career’. His definition of professionalism takes in four critical commitments:

  1. to provide the best, most effective services to your clients
  2. to self-improvement
  3. to caring about your clients
  4. to not compromising your values

Here is the final link, back to the start: Not compromising your values is the key to ‘values in action’. Without this, there can be no trust.


* Michael Coleman, who sadly died in September 2011.

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Mission, Vision and Values

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Among the most frequent sources of confusion for managers – at all levels – are the distinctions between mission, vision and values.

As I started planning this article, I created a table for myself, to put my ideas down about how they compare. In the end, I decided that, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a table must be worth at least 500.

You can click on this image to get a full screen version of this table.

Mission, Vision, and Values

There is not much more to say

Your mission is a long-term definition of why you are in business, your vision sets out what you want to achieve within your strategic planning timescale, and your values determine the culture, behaviours and choices you want your business and its people to follow.

Values should drive your culture through every process: recruitment, appraisal, promotion, succession, procurement, development, sales, marketing, …

Mission should set up the basis for your values. Mission and values should help you find which of many possible visions is right for your business.

Mission, vision and values: one of those things that is fiendishly simple in concept, yet staggeringly hard to do well.

Further Reading 

From the Management Pocketbooks series:

  1. The Strategy Pocketbook
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On Competition, again: Porter’s Five Forces

Back in the summer of 2011, we did a couple of blogs on the work of Michael Porter – one of the most serious-minded academic thinkers in the realm of corporate strategy.

In the first, ‘On Competition: Five Forces’, we surveyed his five forces model from a high vantage point and also introduced his three sources of competitive advantage.  We then, in ‘On Competition: The Far End of the Value Chain’ questioned whether there are not, in fact other sources of competitive advantage.

The Five Forces

I think it’s time to take a closer look at these five forces, and maybe question the adequacy of that model too.  So what are Porter’s Five Forces?

1. The Bargaining Power of Suppliers

If your business is dependent upon the supply of materials, assets, or people, then your suppliers have power over your business – which is increased as the market dominance of your supplier increases.  You need a strategy to keep your suppliers’ interests aligned with yours, by being as important to them as they are to you.  Dependence on a monopoly or near monopoly supplier is a route to doom.  Consider creating alternative supply sources, alternative inputs, or vertical integration to control your own supply source.

2. The Bargaining Power of Customers

It would be great to be a monopoly supplier of a commodity product.  Few are although, if you can differentiate your product sufficiently – for example, as Apple did with the launches of the iPhone and iPad – then you can simulate that position for a while.  Ultimately, the customer is king or queen: without them, you are doomed.

3. Competitive Rivalry

Existing players in your market will be jostling for customers’ attention and preferential deals for suppliers.  For most people, this is where their conception of competition ends.  Porter knew differently . . .

4. The Threat of New Entrants

When Sea and Atari were slugging it out for dominance of the games console market, who would have predicted the arrival of the Sony Playstation?  Answer: anyone familiar with this model.  They would not necessarily have known it would be Sony or that it would be successful, but the threat was there… As it was some years later, when, Atari gone, Microsoft entered the market to challenge Sega and Sony, with the X-Box.

5. The threat of Substitute Products

Somewhere in my stationery cupboard, I have a bottle of Tipp-Ex (probably set solid) and a pack of acetate sheets.  Is there a better supplier of correction fluid or a superior priced transparent paper?  Who knows?  Who cares?  I don’t use either: I print drafts from my PC and re-print when I’ve made corrections, and I project straight from my PC when I need slides.  I doubt many of my clients retain a working overhead projector (OHP).

Are there More Forces?

There you have it in a nutshell: five competitive forces that allow a business to evaluate its competitive strategy.  It is one of the most successful and widely used management models.

The last fifteen years have emphasised the rightful role of regulation as a competitive force or, rather, sometimes the failure of regulation to curb competitive behaviours (Enron, anybody?) I think we would now have to add regulatory forces to any complete analysis.

But I also have to ask, what about internal forces.  How do the social, cultural, political, operational, technological… forces within the business affect strategy.  To me, this is a big gap.

If only someone could plug it . . .

Happily, they can.
But you’ll have to wait until next week’s Pocketblog for that.

Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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