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What Tech Firms Could Teach Obama

By Rob Enderle
Mar 2, 2009 4:00 AM PT

A few weeks ago I compared the Obama Stimulus package to what Intel was doing to prepare for the future, and I didn't find out until later that the people at Intel were following advice that Andy Grove, their most famous CEO, had given years ago. That advice was that companies that try to save out of a recession generally fail; you have to invest in your future if you want to survive.

What Tech Firms Could Teach Obama

Looking at Obama's future, I think assuring he is successful is in all our best interests at the moment (he really is the only President we in the U.S. have for the next four years). I think we could pull examples from other well-run companies both to assure his reelection and assure that the promises he made, which benefit most of us (I'm kind of out of the boat on the tax the rich thing), are met.

I'll close with my product of the week, a Barack Obama tribute album, which has as a lead song "We Will Barack You." Sometimes it's just fun to smile.

EMC: Assuring Loyalty

The President and his administration can't be successful if they don't get reelected, and the measure of satisfaction for government is the approval rating, much like most firms use customer satisfaction. But both measures truly don't showcase the real behavior you need if you want to assure loyalty and, in the case of the President, reelection.

What you need to assure in loyalty and the way you get there is with something called the "Net Promoter Score." This attempts to measure how many of your customers, or supporters, are out actively promoting your products or, in Obama's case, selling his ideas and getting folks motivated to vote for him. My sense is that his numbers are dropping, but I'll bet no one is watching this critical metric.

Business Week recently completed some survey work which indicated that the most successful companies during this downturn were those that focused on assuring customer loyalty.

In the technology market, EMC is the leader with this concept, with the responsibility for assuring customer loyalty reporting directly to the CEO Joe Tucci. This is because he realized that not all customers, and not all citizens, are created equal, and that there are some that you'd probably rather have your competitor deal with because they are so costly and negative, while there are others who sing EMC's praises that, were they lost, could cost EMC millions in lost sales.

A similar focus by Obama on the folks who actively campaigned for him and caused his win to ensure they remain on his side -- and don't do that same wonderful job for a rival -- could probably alone assure his next election and give him the time he needs to complete the changes he feels so strongly about.

Microsoft: Being Tenacious

This week I received the new Sidewinder Blue Laser Gaming Mouse from Microsoft and realized that in peripherals, Logitech has for years kicked Microsoft's butt all over the market. Microsoft kept refining and coming back, though, and now it actually has what may be the best line of computer mice and keyboards in the market. Topping this line are their gaming mice, and this Blue Laser unit is, in my opinion, the best gaming mouse in the market. Microsoft got there by focusing on the goal and not losing heart on the way to it.

This was true of its server and tools division where, for most of the past two decades, older firms would constantly say that "Microsoft didn't get the enterprise," but they clearly do now because the Server and Tools division is the strongest in the company. Even in the early days with Windows, people told them at the time that no one would ever want a GUI (graphical user interface) and that Command Line work was more than adequate. Microsoft kept coming, and now it remains the most powerful software vendor on the planet, and its founder, Bill Gates, remains one the wealthiest men in the world. In addition, Microsoft is another company that is investing heavily in its future during the downturn.

The lesson from Microsoft is to focus on the goal and keep coming. So many presidents start off with great ideas and over their term in office get pounded so much that, by the time their term is over, they accomplished very little of what it was they intended to do. Microsoft's lesson is to keep pounding away, and the chance of completing these critical goals goes up dramatically.

HP: Walking the Talk

One of the changes that Mark Hurd, HP's current CEO, brought with him to HP was this concept of walking the talk. We saw this first when HP instituted a set of policies that put it in the lead in terms of deploying its own technology, in effect turning HP into HP's own best customer and putting reality underneath the promises that HP's solutions were better.

There is always an issue that when a company doesn't use its own latest stuff, it implies that the firm knows its promises aren't based on fact, and so it can't even rely upon itself for its own technology purchases. By doing this, HP became more credible, got closer to any related problems and needs its customers have because it shares them, and could point to its own financial results as partial validation that what it said was true. One of the most financially successful was the elimination of much of the business travel in favor of the Halo telepresence solution.

Most recently HP, in instituting a salary cutback to avoid a layoff, applied that same cutback to all of the executives, excluding CEO Hurd, who is actually getting a deeper cut. Everyone shared the pain, but the CEO got more of it, and this was dramatically different than his predecessor, who during cuts got pay increases and even got new corporate jets, which generally were just for her. By sharing the pain, HP assures employee loyalty and focuses everyone on the problems that need to be solved rather than on the inequity of the executive compensation and perks. By leading in this effort, Mark Hurd stands out as a good example not only to his company but to the world.

In watching congress pound on the automotive companies about the use of corporate jets, I couldn't help but think of the vastly larger and more expensive jets used by Nancy Pelosi and Barak Obama. Obama has a 747, and Pelosi has her own jet issues. In these hard times, couldn't both use smaller jets, rely more on video conferencing (at least for staff), and have the folks flying with them mostly fly commercial? In fact, with particular focus on Obama, why not use a B1 or B2? The President would be in the air for a shorter period of time, be better protected while en route, and you could rotate in aviators who needed to keep their flight hours up in the bombers with a potential significant net savings to the country.

In other words, given the country is currently more fiscally unsound than the auto companies are, wouldn't it make sense for those that lead government to also lead in finding ways to save on their own perks and unnecessary travel expenses?

Apple: Setting Aggressive Goals and Managing Perceptions

Most CEOs -- and I'd put Obama in this mix at the moment -- want to manage expectations largely by setting them low enough so that they don't miss them. Many of these folks couldn't personally motivate a college student full of beer to take a whiz. Steve Jobs isn't one of those CEOs, and I don't think Obama is either -- he showcased his capability during the campaign. Repeatedly, with products starting from the original Mac and ending with the iPhone, Jobs set impossible goals and drove his people to do the impossible and meet them.

He has also brought out products like the iPod and iPhone, which should have failed (and most products like them did fail) but -- largely because of a combination of marketing and design -- were huge successes. The reason he survived the stock backdating scandal and that Apple's board isn't replacing him during his illness is that he is the engine inside of Apple, and Apple is the company that consistently does what others seem to think is impossible.

We need a President who can inspire people to do the impossible, because that would do more to restore the economy than any financial plan anyone is likely to come up with. And that is the lesson to be learned from Steve Jobs and Apple who, come to think of it, actually originated the idea "Yes We Can."

Product of the Week: Barack's Greatest Hits

I ran into this last week and, given the topic, I thought it would be fun to end with something that might put a smile on your face. I had a chance to chat with Mitchell Koulouris, who runs the company that brought this out, and his goal was to lighten the mood and have a little fun. You can find "Barack of Ages" on YouTube here, "Barack You Like a Hurricane" here (my favorite). It's actually not bad, and sometimes being a little irreverent can lighten the mode. Because I, in particular, needed to have a lighter mood "Barack's Greatest Hits" is my product of the week.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


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