Posts Tagged ‘high-stakes’

The Obama Administration seems quite clueless about realpolitik. It’s foreign policy reduces to “be nice and hope for the best.” They need to grow some cojones. Cancelling a meeting with Putin is nothing compared to real leverage.

The Russians are not Western allies, and never have been. I think I read last week or something in the WSJ that Putin is a classic strongman. He has to be perceived as strong in order to maintain his power. If he looses power, he’s probably going to end up the same way that Mubarak did in Egypt, which is also what awaits Assad. Or worse, like Saddam or Khaddafi.

The US and its Western allies should be doing things to put Putin on the spot and force him back. But since Obama came to power, there has been nothing but “strong words” and posturing, but no real action, from what I can perceive. The idea of cancelling plans for ballistic missile defence in eastern Europe without any Russian concessions set the tone. The Russians are trying to push everyone around in the Arctic. Surely there is something to be done.

On the other hand, I don’t perceive that the US has a very strong hand right now. For instance, NASA is completely dependent on the Russians for sending astronauts into space and bringing them back. The Russians have maintained their position in space and consequently have a lot of concrete leverage. They also send a lot of natural gas to Europe. The Western countries have been saving the Russians from themselves since the end of the Cold War by helping them disarm and clean up their nuclear mess. However, striking at that might not be a good idea because it could lead to proliferation.

If the Obama administration isn’t doing this kind of assessment, they need to start right now and use it to good effect. Why not expulse a few Russian diplomats? I’m sure there are few that could be caught spying. Or how about saying something to embarass Putin, put him on the spot and diminish him in the eyes of the Russian people?

The Great Game is on (it was never off), so Obama needs to get in gear and start pressuring the Soviets… oops I mean the Russians. Talk is good, but so is real leverage.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

Brilliant Manoeuvre
No one can predict the future, much to the chagrin of many economists and financial theorists and their media acolytes, who prefer assumptions of perfect knowledge and decision-making in all circumstances.

I’m breaking my deliberate policy of not commenting on political issues this week in order to comment on reactions to the Boston Marathon bombings last Monday. My personal opinion is that the response of government and law enforcement agencies at all levels has been brilliant in the circumstances. However, there are already Monday Morning Quarterbacks saying that the government overreacted by shuttingn down Boston on Friday and part of Saturday. The problem is that the ones responsible for making these decisions can only plan and act based on information available at the time and the factors they felt they needed to consider. Just throwing out there that they overreacted without knowing those things is pure speculation based on specious counterfactuals or a personal hobby horse. If there is something I learned from a 26-year military career and my study of military strategy and history, it is that decisions that can look sub-optimal in hindsight may have been the best at the time given the circumstances of friction, uncertainty, and the fog of war. In this particular case, only a full after-action review will permit the systemic learning to occur. Saying it was an overreaction is nothing but pure hindsight bias.

The more complex and risky the undertaking, the more likely that friction will wreak havoc. We must compensate by building robustness, resiliency and redundancy into our plans and systems.

From the Vault
A Superb Example of Crisis Leadership in Action

By the way…
My ideas were featured in the March 25th Globe and Mail: A military approach to business.

Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

My new book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles, is now available for purchase through my website. It will also be available through all the major online retailers around the world.

It’s a bit more expensive if you order the book through me, but I will ship you a signed copy. If you’re in Canada, the shipping is included in the price. For bulk orders, just drop me a line at 514-453-3993 and we can discuss special pricing.

About the book

“There are quite a few books about parallels between military strategy and corporate strategy. Richard Martin’s Brilliant Manoeuvres makes a difference by not only focusing on the conceptual but also on the operational side of the equation. This book is a hands-on guide to a brilliant corporate strategy.”
Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Managing Partner, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, Germany

Brilliant Maneuvers is Sun Tzu’s Art of War combined with Drucker’s The Effective Executive.”
Alan Weiss, PhD, Author of the bestselling Million Dollar Consulting and The Consulting Bible

“Richard explains the reasons behind the military concepts, backing them up with diagrams and historical and personal examples. He then shows how to apply them in a business context. I highly recommend Brilliant Manoeuvres to beginners and advanced users alike.”
Pierre Bergevin, President & CEO, Cushman & Wakefield Canada

Business executives and entrepreneurs see themselves as modern day warriors and generals, fighting off competitors and conquering new markets. They talk about attacking competitors, defending turf, firing warning shots, establishing beachheads, bypassing the competition, digging a protective moat, and so on. Brilliant Manoeuvres – How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles is for those executives and entrepreneurs who are looking to create and sustain competitive advantage and to lead their teams in the face of determined competition and rivalry. Based on the author’s experience as a soldier, a business consultant and an entrepreneur, the book explains how and why military leaders and planners actually think and operate. It then translates this into terms that business people can readily apply to their own reality so they can survive and thrive. In other words, this book is a practical guidebook, and not just another set of exhortations to “lead from the front” or to “win without fighting”. In particular it demonstrates how some military methods cannot be applied in management.

“With Brilliant Manoeuvres, Richard Martin has produced a guidebook that gets back to the basics of strategy, management, and leadership. We tend to forget the fundamentals because we think they’re too simple or that we’ve outgrown them. Richard demonstrates the linkages between military and business wisdom and shows that these concepts are fundamental and essential. In the process they gain a new relevance and freshness to help in meeting today’s business challenges.”
Louis Gabanna, President, Colas Canada

About the author

Richard Martin is founder and president of Alcera Consulting Inc. Prior to launching his consulting business, Richard attended the prestigious Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean as an officer cadet and then served for 21 years as an infantry officer in the Canadian Army. Richard is the only member of Alan Weiss’s Million Dollar Consulting Mentoring Hall of Fame with extensive military experience. He brings his business and military leadership experience to bear for organizations and executives in both the private and public sectors seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.



Richard MartinPresident/Président
Alcera Consulting Inc./Alcera Conseil de gestion inc.
Author of the forthcoming book

Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles
Published September 2012 by Global Professional Publishing.

Brilliant Maneuvers is Sun Tzu’s Art of War combined with Drucker’s The Effective Executive.” — Alan Weiss, PhD, Author of the bestselling Million Dollar Consulting

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Two olympians have been stripped of their medals in the past week. Just today we’ve learned that a Belarussian shot putter lost her gold medal due to doping. An olympic champion cyclist also lost a medal last week due to doping during the 2004 Olympics!

We can also see the same type of discoveries happening in business over the past decade, where notables from Rupert Murdoch to Conrad Black Bernie Madoff have come under scrutiny for questionable practices, in some cases ending up in jail for long periods of time.

And what about the scandal at Penn State football.

The lesson here is simple. If you partake in questionable, unethical, or illegal practices, sooner or later, someone will discover it. Why not be as ethical as possible?

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

One of the things that I’ve noticed lately is just how vulnerable many companies (and other organizations) are to non-competitive threats.

I’m not talking about the traditional corporate bogeymen of big government and big labour. I’m talking about environmentalist groups, political action groups, and even lone bloggers launching verbal rockets from the comfort of their homes. Some of these external groups have good points, but many don’t. Their positions are often non-sensical or ill informed, especially when it comes to science-based facts. The ability to propagate disinformation quickly through blogs, online petitions, Twitter, and Facebook contributes greatly to the capabilities of anyone with a message or a cause.

Organizations need to be aware of this phenomenon and to take measures to protect their operations. Here are four cases in point:

•    A meat processing and packing company in the US called BPI came under attack last year by a lone woman in Texas when she started an online petition against using the company’s product in school cafeterias. BPI’s product, a kind of highly processed meat, apparently excites revulsion among some consumers, even though there have never been any cases of contamination or any other form of associated danger. It just appears to be ‘icky,’ to use a thoroughly scientific term. The consequences on BPI have been disastrous. It’s had to close 4 of its 5 production facilities because its clients—the Walmarts, Taco Bells, McDonalds, and others—have abandoned or put severe restrictions on it as a supplier.

•    Hydro-Quebec, the massive electric monopoly in Quebec, is planning on installing what they call ‘smart’ meters in homes across the province. These will enable more detailed data gathering and information transmission about consumption patterns so that the utility will be able to increase its efficiency. There are some 15 or 16 applications for this technique at the present time, and probably many more in the future. But some people find the fact that the meters emit radio waves to be a harmful side effect. Never mind that the emissions are so weak that they can only be measured in a lab similar to an anechoic chamber, Hydro-Quebec has to fight off ignorant opponents who don’t know the first thing about basic physics. Let’s hope the project goes through nonetheless.

•    TransCanada Pipelines has to fight against opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline from environmental groups in the US. The purpose of the pipeline is to ship oil down from the Alberta oil sands. I’m sure these groups have a lot good points, but the alternative to a new pipeline from Canada is to ship the oil from Venezuela and the Middle East by oil tanker which, once it’s on US soil, still has to travel in a pipeline. Unless the US starts consuming radically less oil—something I don’t think will happen anytime soon—I don’t see how shipping oil from another continent in a combination of oil tankers and old pipelines is safer than in a single brand new pipeline. It’s a question of balancing risks, not eliminating them altogether.

•    Stratfor bills itself as a ‘strategic forecasting’ consultancy, providing geopolitical and military-strategic assessments of the world and regional situations for paying clients around the world. It’s safe to assume that some of these clients are corporations trying to work in dangerous environments and governments seeking independent sources of information. Stratfor’s website and computer servers were hacked late last year, with the theft of competitive and client information such as credit card data and repeated illegitimate email blasts to the company’s client lists. The hacking had all the makings of a deliberate attack to discredit and disrupt Stratfor’s operations and credibility. The company has spent millions getting its operations back on a secure footing.
I’m sure readers have their own experiences or know of other companies and organizations that have had to react to these types of threats. I could have included SNC Lavalin’s dubious connections in Libya, or Talisman Energy’s difficulties in Darfur ten years ago, or even Apple’s Chinese sub-contracting practices.
I write about this phenomenon in my forthcoming book, Brilliant Manoeuvres. It is my contention that many companies need to worry as much, if not more, about nebulous threats from non-commercial entities as they do from traditional business rivals. As we’ve seen from the examples above, the threats can be costly and, in some cases, disastrous.

These types of threats can come from anywhere. Here are some questions to ask in identifying potential threats:

•    Do any of our activities or products, though legal and approved, nonetheless elicit opposition in some way?

•    Has anyone ‘threatened’ to take us down or harm our operations in any way?

•    Is there anything we do that we feel uneasy about making public, even though that activity may be perfectly legal?

•    Can what we do be interpreted in a highly negative light from the standpoint of the environment, politics, or labour practices, whether in North America, Europe, or anywhere else in the world? (Think of the opposition to Apple’s sub-contracting practices with Chinese companies with abusive labour practices.)

There are many other questions that can be asked. The point is that someone somewhere may not like what a company is doing, and can take action quickly to sully the company’s reputation, sometimes with massive effect on its business. I will blog more about this topic in coming weeks, specifically on what to do about it.

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2012. We encourage the sharing of this information and forwarding of this email with attribution. All other rights reserved.

I was featured in an article in the National Post on 6 December 2010 – Strategy Comes Easy.

In it, I’m quoted extensively on how I’ve used my military background to launch and run a successful consulting business. The article also features another retired serviceman’s experiences in starting his own business.

My thanks to Jameson Berkow of National Post for writing a great article.

Michael Beschloss wrote a book about the immediate post-WWII period called The Conquerors. There was a struggle between the forces of vengeance and the forces of enlightened self interest. There was no lack of government officials in the Allied camp who were more interested in punishing the Axis countries than in reconciliation and setting the conditions for democracy and wealth. Churchill thought the Nazi leadership should be summarily executed. Hans Morgenthau wanted to return Germany and Japan to agrarianism. Roosevelt’s leadership, and then Truman’s, was key in ensuring hasty reconstruction and a return to normalcy (which was quick given the circumstances).

To contrast with the Marshall Plan, the Soviets set up socialist workers paradises in all of the countries they liberated, and then proceeded to loot them, East Germany being the worst case. Amongst other things, they moved hundreds of factories lock, stock and barrel to Russia. The US and the other Western allies disarmed quickly and only left token occupation forces in West Germany. The Soviets kept millions of troops in Eastern Europe. They did the same in Korea north of the 38th parallel.

Which has been more successful in the long run?

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes authorized with proper attribution.

Listen to the podcast: On Target 14-06-2010

BP CEO Tony Hayward’s performance in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico leads us to ask if companies can better prepare their executives for crises. At times, Hayward has seemed exhausted and despondent. His comments about wishing he could go back to life as usual and his occasional musings minimizing the ecological impact of the disaster clearly show someone who is out of his depth. This is to be expected in someone with little or no training in crisis leadership and decision-making.

I know of only one organization that truly prepares its leaders for crisis leadership, and that is the military. Compare Hayward’s discomfort with the coolness and reserve of Admiral Thad Allen. His command and leadership skills have been honed over a career in progressively demanding positions, including that of directing US federal relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. His statement a few weeks ago that “We need to start under-promising and over-delivering” was at once refreshing and indicative of someone who has respect for the public and shows prudence in dealing with uncertainty. There is currently nothing comparable in the business world.

It is time for companies to emulate the military and to better prepare their senior executives and middle managers for crisis response and leadership under stress. Companies must select managers with excellent business acumen, but they also have a fiduciary responsibility to prepare and train them for disasters and crises, particularly when their actions and operations have such momentous risks.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

BP’s woes in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are consistent with its longstanding culture of risky behaviour and gambling. BP has had many costly accidents and incidents, with major losses in both money and lives. This is nothing new for BP. The company started in the early 20th century as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, to exploit Iran’s oil resources. It has historically operated in the most dangerous and risky areas of the globe. After the fall of communism, BP invested heavily in Russia and has had numerous disputes with Russian partners and the Russian government. This shows just how persistent a corporate culture can be. BP’s strategy is to be at the forefront of the riskiest exploration and production plays in the world, presumably in order to access the biggest rewards.

Well, you can’t make high-stakes gambles consistently and not lose a few along the way. That is why BP has been dogged by controversy over the years, most recently with the Gulf of Mexico crisis. Most global companies with this much at stake are much more risk averse. They ensure that risky undertakings and outright gambles are only a small part of the business, or can at least be sequestered from their other operations and results. However, BP’s high-stakes culture means it has one of the highest corporate risk appetites in the world, and certainly in the already risky oil business. The rewards can be great, but eventually the cowboy mentality and cultural machismo of riskiness can catch up to you. I for one see major risks in the immediate future for BP, and ultimately when the full consequences of this disaster play out.

© 2010 Richard Martin