Started first consulting business
After eleven years in corporate sales with a Fortune 500 company, I started my own business in 1984. That evolved into a world-wide computer trading business. From there, I wanted to leverage my MBA in Finance and Marketing, and got into computer leasing.
I ran into a problem
Things got really interesting for me from 1990 to 1995. Tax law changed, and companies lost the advantage of being able to get an investment tax credit for computer leasing. After that, leasing was strictly another type of loan, and became a commodity business. It was obvious I had to change my business to meet the market. I had to reinvent myself.
That “problem” led me to my career as a strategy consultant
Since my degree was in finance, I started looking for financially-oriented ways to work with companies. The focus of my business shifted to helping companies that were no longer considered a good risk by their bank. The bank was tightening down on their credit. Without the fluidity of an operating line, they were in trouble. They needed to rebuild their balance sheets so that they could refinance. My objective was to get them a new bank, and new financing.
Mark Thompson speaking at the NFPA.
As I worked with businesses having financial challenges, one thing became crystal clear. I realized that they had lost their focus on strategy. Before I could help them repair the balance sheet, I had to help them get back on track with their strategy. To sell them to a new bank, I had to be able to tell the story about how they were going to improve. Inevitably, this forced us to refocus them on strategy. That was the only way we could get the business refinanced, and get them out of financial difficulty.
Stategic problems were at the root of financial problems
In every instance, strategically, they’d lost their way. They did not know what differentiated their company in the market, their niche, or best skills. They did not understand how to make the best balanced choice—considering right amount of risk, profitability and growth, and best competitive differentiation—and sustain it into the future. They did not have a process for decision-making that would give them those best balanced choices.
A book changed the direction of my career
During this time, I was very successful in helping my clients’ businesses stabilize financially and start to thrive. Since I saw the importance of strategic planning and implementation and I’m a big reader, I sought out information on strategies. I can clearly picture the moment and the person who handed me the book that took my life in a whole new direction. That book was Michel Robert’s Strategic Thinking Pure And Simple. Many of the answers I was seeking were in this book. It started my life down a new path, and strategic work has been the focus of all my consulting work since then.
The information in that book further enhanced the successes I was having with businesses. I fell in love with strategy, and read every book Michel had written—and every other strategy book I could get my hands on. In 1995, I decided to make a full-time career of helping companies formulate and implement strategy. I joined Decision Processes International, Michel Robert’s company.
Spent 23 years as a Decision Processes International (DPI) strategy consultant
Over the ensuing 23 years, I spent my career consulting one-on-one with CEOs and their management teams. I have worked personally with hundreds of CEO’s in all kinds of industries. A few things became obvious to me. These guys and gals are at the top because of their own personal characteristics. Almost without exception they have great personalities and charisma. They are very personable and gracious. It’s obvious how they got to the position of CEO. I’ve had the honor of playing golf and drinking fine wine with some phenomenal talent.
Two different types of CEO’S
I also came to recognize that there are two different types of CEOs. Some are autocratic, though they would never verbalize this. They are not terribly concerned about the opinions of the team. They basically expect their people to “follow orders” and implement the strategies they dictate. They do not want input into the strategic planning process. They perceive the opinions of others to be a bothersome distraction. They have a vision, and don’t want anyone challenging their vision and plan.
The other type of CEO has a high regard for the opinions of others in both the formulation and implementation of strategy. They are willing to entertain fresh ideas. In fact, they value different perspectives and a variety of viewpoints. They don’t need to hear “yes” to feel OK. They recognize that good ideas don’t all have to come from inside the company. These are the kinds of CEOs who get the most out of the decision processes I facilitate. I ask a lot of questions, and stir things up, but don’t tell anyone what to do. It’s like that old saw about good salesmanship. I, the salesperson should talk 25% of the time and the customer 75% of the time. That’s how you uncover the real situations.
Some facts about working strategically
Every single company I go into is unique—and they have to know what makes them unique. How they differentiate themselves in the market is the most important thing. Often they do not know or fully realize their differentiators. They might know one or two, or be operating from outdated differentiators. We have to uncover the differentiators, and implement them strategically.
The problems are the same, no matter the size of the company. In my first consulting gigs at DPI, I started with small companies ($10-50M valuation). As my skills grew, I worked with bigger and bigger companies ($500M-$50B). I realized that the problems they faced did not change with their size. Sure, the decimal points changed, but the problems were the same.
If you don’t grow the business, everything else is problematic. You want to move the top line up—increased sales, increased prices, increased revenue. You care a lot about the competition, and where you’re positioned compared to competitors. You keep a close eye on competitors and on your industry. If you’re not doing this, you are liable to be making your company vulnerable.
Decision-making is the basis of all business. What are the decisions that will boost your bottom line? What decisions win market share? What decisions lead to product dominance? As a CEO, you are constantly making decisions for the organization. The decision-making process we take you through keeps your choices focused strategically.
It’s important to question the beliefs you’ve automatically operated from. Most businesses have an accepted “slate” of beliefs that have been the framework for operations for years. These beliefs may be decades old (common in larger corporations). We’ll look at things and see how the future trends, industry changes, and the economy will impact your business in a different way. You want to consider how things like globalization, new technologies, and social media methods could affect your business.
There is a link between strategy, product innovation, and leadership. You need to recognize this link. First, you have got to have the right strategy for your business. Next, you have got to be innovating at all times with products and services. Make this distinction—this must be strategic product innovation. Lastly, you have to practice and apply effective leadership principles to implement those strategies.
A new phase of my strategic consulting career
I have gotten to a point where I want to share my insights, personal experiences and observations as they relate to strategy, product innovation, and leadership. I am building this online presence as the vehicle to accomplish that more effectively and more efficiently. I am reaching out to my identified audience through public speaking. You might even say I’m on a mission to get this critical information into the hands (and minds) of corporate leaders. As part of that mission, I am currently working on a Doctorate in Organizational Development & Leadership, and writing a book on strategic leadership.
Three distinctions I want you to know
There are three more things it is important for you to know about me and about working with me.
- Let me make it clear. I am a consultant officially, but I am merely a facilitator of the strategic processes. I probably don’t teach you anything you don’t already know, but I am here to help you uncover new angles on your “old tricks”. Facilitating is a process that allows people to come up with their own strategy. As a byproduct, you learn strategic concepts.
- When you work with me, you get my expertise—you get me. We don’t send in an army of young MBAs who turn your business upside down. You get me and a senior associate. We do the work with you. There are no surprises when you find out who is actually doing the work. You are not confounded by believing you are buying one thing and finding another when it is delivered.
- We accomplish a massive amount of work in three days of an offsite meeting.Our methodologies are very efficient and effective. We don’t waste valuable management time. You are not paying your people to be interviewed by me. We don’t take weeks. We do not interview your employees, then turn around and tell you what they told us. We get in, get it done, and get it right—and the answers come from your team.