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3rd October
2014
written by Sarah Lafferty

conkersDevoted contrarian that I am, my relationship with rules is rocky at best. I’m all for laws that maintain a civil society, keep people safe and curb humans’ excessive and feral tendencies. When people undermine these fundamental laws by scaring us with bogus, invented ones, I am the first one to rush to their defence. As lawyers tirelessly point out, hysterical media stories about it being illegal to play conkers or use egg cartons in children’s craft (because they might cause salmonella) are mischievous lies. But it’s much easier to fume on the sofa playing the outraged victim of some trumped-up injustice than actually teaching kids to play a game of conkers or make planters out of egg cartons.

As much as basic human rights laws are worth dying or going to jail for, progress on many fronts depends on selective, thoughtful rule-breaking. If Rosa Parks hadn’t broken America’s segregation laws and insisted on taking her seat at the front of the bus, how many years might the civil rights movement have been set back? If Dame Kate Bush had followed the traditional pop-star formula instead of composing theatrical, ethereal, eccentric music, would she be nearly as wildly successful and loved?

In the world of corporate PR and communications many arcane rules remain stubbornly intact despite being apparently counter-productive. Here are just a few discoveries I’ve made by selective rule-breaking:

Certain media training tips are past their sell-by dates – a lot more people are wise to media training tricks now, so it’s time for a refresh. Some old tricks now make ordinary businesspeople come across like slippery politicians, especially ones that promote overzealous question-dodging. Admittedly, tough interviews call for a little ‘finesse’ but it’s rarely appropriate for a spokesperson to dodge basic questions. I witness too many people doing this sort of thing purely out of habit:

Journalist: “So how many people work at BoxCo Data?”
BoxCo Data CEO: “You know, that’s a great question. I’m really glad you asked that…”
(The correct response was “about 525”)

The last thing you want to do is drive your interviewer to despair and end up in a situation like this!

You don’t need a big team to screw in every lightbulb. I learned this by leaving the traditional PR agency structure and witnessing my productivity go stratospheric. One or two capable, experienced people working a project from start to finish can save countless hours and deliver a better outcome. Don’t get me wrong, teams can produce great things and I’m grateful for my experience working in them. However, large, hierarchical teams with underdeveloped skills and spare capacity are a recipe for making unnecessary work, high drama and mischief. These erode profit margins and make for an utterly miserable work environment.

PR people shouldn’t ‘host’ every press conversation. There are good reasons for playing host, but certain vital relationships need to ripen through personal, unchaperoned conversations. CEOs and experienced business journalists, for example, benefit greatly from the occasional confidential, off-record industry discussion during which nobody has to fear getting a sharp kick under the table. In fact, some of the best outcomes I’ve been able to help produce for clients have happened when I’ve loosened my grip.

You don’t have to post [x number] of [x social media tactic] per [x frequency]. Okay, I confess to trying to justify my infrequent blogging, but there are no hard and fast rules. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. I blog to reflect on the industry, arrange my random thoughts, share what I’ve learned and mostly, because I love to write. Client work always takes priority.

Almost every rule I’ve broken since starting the company has led to some combination of higher service levels, work/life balance or profits. So go ahead and try breaking a small rule today. In the likely event you live through it and it improves things for you, please share your experience in the comments below!

1st March
2013
written by Sarah Lafferty

Sscrewed upome people say I’m not very observant because I’m terrible at following plots in movies. But I notice weird stuff, like when I hear three different politicians from three different political parties on two different continents saying the words “I screwed up”.

The man who set the trend was Barack Obama. He admitted making a mistake in the way he handled the nomination of Tom Daschle as his health and human services secretary, overlooking Tom’s dodgy tax affairs. Obama admitted on CNN in 2009: “I think I screwed up…and I take responsibility for it and we’re going to make sure we fix it so it doesn’t happen again.”

That worked. Obama managed to make it sound genuine, spontaneous and even kind of cool. He owned it. He drew a line under it. End of.

Fast forward to October 2011 and we are treated to a surreal confession by David Cameron who said that he ‘screwed up’ on Prime Minister’s Questions by making apparently sexist remarks towards female MPs.

This time it sounded a bit cringey. Somehow Mr Cameron – being more Downton than down town – just didn’t seem to wear that Yank turn of phrase any more than he would fit into Obama’s custom-tailored Hartmarx suits. For a former PR man, he really misses the subtle aspects of spin.

Not wanting to miss a rhetorical fashion trend, queue the hapless Lib Dem party president Tim Fallon who admitted earlier this week…wait for it…that his party “screwed up” on the way it handled the allegations of sexual misconduct by its former party chief Lord Rennard.

Yes, you did. But never mind, at least Mike won the Eastleigh by-election.

Now every time I hear a British politician or businessperson say ‘we screwed up’ it makes me cringe, utterly. It revives the burning shame I felt as a teenager when my dad would try to be cool and say corny things to waitresses.

My point is – be yourself!  Enough with the trendy soundbites already. If you’re posh don’t try to be street. You know how to apologise in posh-ese: “I am (ahem) really AWFULLY sorry if I have caused offence to any of the esteemed ladies on the benches. I was in a really rather awful temper having suffered two FULL hours of Ed Balls gurning and gesticularing at me and, well, I suppose I rather lost my composure..well ahem, yes, rather…there you are. Onward and upward. What?”

And finally, all this straight talk is really groovy and all but here’s an even better idea: stop screwing everything up!

26th July
2012
written by Sarah Lafferty

The British Chancellor, George Osborne

As the UK economy lumbers into a third consecutive quarter of negative growth, I’ve picked up on a subtle change in the government ministers’ rhetoric this week. Not a single one has uttered the mantra ‘the mess we inherited from the last government’. Instead we hear phrases like ‘the deep rooted problems we are faced with’. The fact that this is the only time I have ever noticed a phrase not being used is telling.

Whomever’s decision it was to ditch the ‘the mess’ mantra was no doubt growing increasingly alarmed by how resoundingly this communications tactic had backfired. In recent broadcasts of Question Time and Any Questions, several audience members reacted with fury to members of the panel who began their responses with ‘the mess’ mantra.

I once accepted a very tough assignment to be the European head of a PR firm in financial difficulty. Like so many companies, it had prospered during the good times and forgotten to mend the roof when the sun was shining. Lacking a triple-A credit rating, I had to do some painful things like close offices, make redundancies and ask right-brained team members to be more fiscally responsible. I also gave myself a substantial pay cut. All these things were necessary to return the business to growth, which we did. However at no stage did I ever think to complain to my team about ‘the mess I inherited’. I am sure my boss would have quickly shown me the door if I had!

There are many problems with the mantra. First, it’s disingenuous.How many leaders out there decide to launch a programme of operational efficiency when the money is rolling in? Of course we should. Any student of counter-cyclical economic theory knows this is the right thing to do. However I very much doubt, for example, that if the current government were at the helm during the booming 90s it would have decided to impose tighter regulations on banks or clamp down on legal tax avoidance schemes. Nobody wants to rain on parades and parades don’t want to be rained on, which partially explains why economies are cyclical.

The second problem is that whining about the hand you’ve been dealt is very unstatesmanlike. The obvious follow-on to it is ‘then why pray did you voluntarily put yourself forward for this position?’ Nobody held a gun to my head and forced me to take on that job. Marissa Meyer doesn’t have to turn around Yahoo. David Cameron elbowed his way into the top job, not by gaining a majority vote but by forming a coalition government. These hard fought leadership opportunities are not easy, but hopefully, rewarding.  And politicians in particular are more than well aware of what they are letting themselves in for.

Most importantly though, blaming people who are no longer in charge essentially translates into ‘I feel impotent to solve our current problems’.  This sentiment, when coming from our national leaders demoralizes the citizenry along with the business community, chipping away at confidence and hope.  This lack of confidence is materially undermining economic growth and causing many companies to delay hiring people and make capital investments.  I’m no economist but I am convinced that those oft repeated statements of impotence by senior and junior ministers alike have inflicted more damage to the British economy than many other factors combined.  I am glad to see that someone has decided to put a stop to it.

Your thoughts?

6th January
2012
written by Sarah Lafferty
Aerobic In The City

Image by MR MARK BEK via Flickr

This time year legions of executives start off with noble intentions to get fit. Many are driven to shed excess kilos piled on by eating too many mince pies and Cadbury Roses. For others it is brought on by malaise and guilt from excessive drinking, combined with a plan to ‘detox’.  Detoxing is now a cottage industry promising an express route to virtue and clean health through tactics ranging from a weekend at home with cabbage soup and nasty tasting drinks to a bikini ‘bootcamp’ in Ibiza (yeah, right), depending on your budget and gullibility.  I’ve fallen prey to these alluring quick-fixes in the past and never stayed with them long enough to gain any lasting benefits. They may even be dangerous.

Last  November I went to an interesting conference called the Sustainable Leadership Workshop. One thing the hosts Edge Equilibrium identified as an essential success factor for sustainable leadership is self-care.  It occurred to me that so many leaders make huge sacrifices to their physical and mental health so it’s no surprise that as a group they suffer major health complaints and can burn out before their times.

Since I don’t drive, I get some exercise walking and cycling around town but I am peripherally conscious that I need to take more aerobic exercise and strength training to stay properly fit.  On these I torment myself with fits and starts, never fully staying with a programme.  But this morning I heard a segment on the Today Programme that shook me out of my complacency and inspired me to don my running trainers.  One of the guests explained that new research has shown (a) that brainpower begins to deteriorate much earlier than originally thought, at about age 45 rather than 60 and that (b) there is a direct correlation between poor fitness and the likelihood of dementia.  Apparently it’s the hippocampus that’s important to memory and shrinks in later adulthood if aerobic exercise is not taken regularly.  How’s that for a wake-up call?

It’s not the first time I have heard about the connection between brain fitness and physical fitness. In the excellent book Mindsight, Dr Dan Siegel has been able to significantly improve neurological disorders through a combination of aerobic exercise, meditation and talking therapy. I highly recommend this if you’re interested in neuroscience.

As a professional problem solver nothing terrifies me more than the idea of my brainpower deteriorating so I hope I have finally found that trigger that will motivate me to stay committed over the long term.  The good news is that according to the NHS even ten minutes at a time of aerobic exercise and strength training can significantly improve all the most common health complaints suffered by executive leaders including like stress, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.  Exercise is also proven to improve mental clarity and productivity.

So as a start to 2012, which is no doubt going to be another tough, demanding year, I would like to urge all you leaders to join me in carving out a little time every day to get your heart pumping.  The return on that investment is high and well documented.  You know it makes sense!

28th November
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty

No matter what political, business and personal ideals and values you hold, few would argue that Europe and the US are currently beset with a crisis of leadership.  Although greater transparency is making everyday failures easier to see, the so called ‘99%’ have been disgusted by the spectacle of things like bank bosses being rewarded for staggering failures, US congress members profiting from insider trading, gridlock in the European Union and the US during attempts to make urgent fiscal policy decisions.  It’s a daunting task to try to figure out how to repair leadership so that it is more responsible and ‘sustainable’, but last Thursday Edge Equilibrium assembled a group of mainly corporate HR and Leadership and Development professionals from companies like BP, Loreal and CapGemini to do just that.

The argument behind Edge Equilibrium’s Sustainable Leadership model (see diagram above) is essentially that leaders need to better integrate and balance the needs of themselves, society, the organisation and the planet to achieve better long term outcomes. Given the types of personalities in the room, this was preaching to the converted but when we started discussing how to achieve sustainable leadership the conversation became much livelier.

One major obstacle people identified is that corporate governance models are no longer fit for purpose given the complexity of modern society and business. They are overly simplistic and aimed at maximising shareholder value.  Furthermore, one delegate pointed out that even when companies implement very lofty sounding CSR programmes, when you look at them more closely, they are ultimately there to maximize shareholder value. But is that such a bad thing?  I would argue that the most compelling way to persuade leaders to sign up to sustainability is to demonstrate that because it benefits all stakeholders, companies become more profitable over the long-term. It is certainly flawed for companies to design and implement sustainability programmes for the sole purpose of benefiting shareholders.

The qualifier of ‘long-term’ profitability brings me to the second big hurdle.  We broadly agreed that to achieve sustainable leadership, leaders and their companies must start to plan and measure their performance over longer periods of time than quarters. One delegate pointed out Unilever CEO Paul Polman’s bold ‘Sustainable Living’ programme and his defying the markets by providing annual, rather than quarterly operational updates. One  noted that well-performing companies like Unilever are naturally in a stronger position  to take bold stands like this (and should) while another complained that Unilever – known for manufacturing many harsh detergents – still has a long way to go in achieving environmental sustainability.

The most interesting part of the debate came towards the end when we broke into groups to propose actions we can take now to achieve sustainable leadership.  In my group we initially felt overwhelmed, bordering on resigned. How on earth do we go about changing corporate governance and accounting practices? Then in our despair a simple idea revealed itself based on the old adage ‘people get the democracy they deserve’.  We started to throw out a raft of ideas floated on the principle that ordinary workers can and should do to take more control and responsibility for their employment lives rather than waiting for leaders to do the right thing.  We reflected that greed, complacency, fear-based decision making, ruthlessness, duplicity, bullying and laziness are certainly not the sole province of corporate leaders: in fact they exist at every level of companies, large and small.  People and organisations at the top don’t simply rob us of our money and power.  If we’re really honest with ourselves, we give it to them – largely through inattention.  (Like so many high-fliers in the boom years, I went through years without once properly looking at my bank statement and became furious when I found out I was paying for a gym membership for 14 months after I had cancelled it.  But whose fault was that really?)

Our team became excited by the idea that it may just be possible to turn this massive ship around if individuals in the workplace commit to improving their own self-awareness, values, behaviours and skills.  In doing so, the ‘99%’ will genuinely be in a much stronger and credible position to hold their leaders to account and demand sustainable leadership.

How do you think we can make leadership more sustainable?

26th October
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty

In the enterprise software world, the quality of everything is getting better. The salespeople care more about customer outcomes. Marketing people are (starting to) communicate more like normal humanoids. More founders and CEOs are genuinely driven by providing business value to their markets, rather than trying to slap up a product in a hyped sector and sell the company to the first keen suitor.  Ironically this is because there is a lot less money to throw around thanks to a combination of financial austerity, customer disillusionment with first-generation software and people finally seeing past the FUD and embracing things like Cloud computing and open source.   These factors and others have forced software vendors to regroup and genuinely put customers at the centres of their businesses.  Most people who had been working in the enterprise software industry purely to make a fast, easy shilling have moved onto other get-rich-quick schemes.

In an example of the free market working as it should, the quality of industry analysis is also improving.  The early, large enterprise analyst firms went through many years of consolidation alongside the industry and later spun out disruptive new firms like Ventana Research, The 451Group, and Altimeter Group, headed up by entrepreneurial, contrarian, original thinkers.  These and other upstarts are now spurring on some of the mavericks in the larger firms like IDC and Gartner to come forth with bolder, fresher insights.

One unfortunate legacy of analysts’ good intentions to help customers navigate the dizzying array of vendors and their products and services, was that in doing so they invented and propagated a huge lexicon of terminology and acronyms to describe enterprise software categories and functionality.  While these new terms made it easy for analysts to categorise vendors and map them into their graphs and reports, to this day customers never really connected with them.  The lexicon became the foundation and inspiration for the impenetrable enterprise software ‘marketing-ese’ that people in communications largely get blamed for inventing and which frustrates tech journalists, who have no choice but to translate it into language their readers (customers) can understand.  Thankfully, a new generation is coming into the workplace and displacing this lexicon and the ‘relational’ mindset that gave birth to it.  Now that we can ‘tag’ things, we don’t need to put them in silos anymore.

Jargon becomes really dangerous when it starts to obscure the essence of things and severs ties between important, related concepts by putting them into silos.  In this way jargon can actually stifle problem-solving, creativity and innovation.

Lora Cecere of Altimeter Research is one industry analyst who I admire greatly and actively seeks to overcome the perils of jargon in her work.  If you’ve watched Lora speak in the past few years at supply chain events, she might have ranted about the ‘alphabet soup’ of acronyms in the planning world – S&OPSIOPIBP – all of which analysts and vendors have fought to ‘own’ and distract our attention from solving the fundamental problem.  They are all referring to the act of integrating different business processes, which is the basis of effective planning.

By rising above the acronyms and focusing on the underlying concepts and problems, Lora is making important connections outside what would have normally been her ‘silo’ – supply chain management.  Recently in her superb Supply Chain Shaman blog, Lora wrote about the potential for bridging  supply chain and Big Data, the latter of which normally gets chucked in the ‘BI’ silo.  In this post “The ‘IT’ that needs to be in IT” Lora outlines the truly exciting possibilities for Big Data Supply Chains to combine structured, unstructured (e.g., social media), sensor (e.g., RFIDGPS) and multimedia data (e.g., voice and video) to answer BIG questions like, “what did my customer really want to buy (as opposed to buying what we had in stock)” and “when is my supply chain at risk?”  This is truly ground-breaking, inspirational stuff that makes me believe that enterprise software can really provide the needed tools to support business growth.

Lora Cecere is this week’s Round Earth Leader because she is brave, passionate and incredibly generous with her knowledge, experience and convictions.  In an industry that tiptoes gingerly around the egos of anyone with a bit of budget going spare, Lora never compromises her integrity and never shies away from giving paying clients ‘tough love’.  In this way, Lora shows great respect to worthy people in the industry by patently refusing to humour them.  She clearly believes that it can perform much better and ultimately live up to the grand promises inherent in all the jargon.

6th September
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty
Image representing Tim Cook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

This is completely speculative because I’m not sure yet what I think of Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO.  But as someone working with keen interest in the supply chain industry, I like the idea of his appointment and I hope it is part of a nascent, positive trend to promote supply chain professionals into to the director’s chair.

More traditionally in the tech industry, we witness either ruthless sales guys like Larry Ellison and Tom Siebel as CEO or visionary engineers like Steve Jobs and Diane Greene.   Tech industry CFOs rarely get promoted into CEO roles unless the company is struggling financially or operationally (think Iris Software) or there’s recently been a catastrophic breach of governance.

I can understand why first stage CEOs come from sales or engineering.   These are the more natural evangelists, driven either by the prospect of making lots of money or their passionate convictions about technology innovation and design.  But people in these roles can become less capable of continuing the journey when their companies mature unless they actively work to widen their fields of vision.  Relentless emphasis on recognizing revenue can lead to customer satisfaction disasters, product recalls and class action lawsuits, all of which have taken huge chunks out of many an enterprise technology vendor in the boom years including my old company i2 Technologies.  Emphasis on engineering excellence at the expense of usability can result in very cool, sophisticated products that have no practical use in society or yield low or non profit margins.  This discontinued fabric peripheral keyboard by erstwhile British tech start-up Eleksen is an example of the former and was once the company’s flagship product.

The most talented supply chain professionals must, by nature of their roles, view their companies in a joined-up way and therefore cannot make decisions that rob Peter in customer service to pay Paul in sales, if that doesn’t benefit the company as a whole.  They are much more likely to explore ‘what if’ scenarios like: “if we reduce our inventory at the Omaha warehouse to save money this quarter, what will be the impact on our ability to fulfil customer demand over the Christmas holiday?” or “If we source raw materials for our handsets from the Congo, will enough women in Australia still want to buy them?”  The ability to answer these types of questions in order to minimize operational risk and maximize profits is exactly what the modern, organization with all its inherent complexity needs in order to thrive and sustain.

That and enough personal charisma to be able to move people on from the occasional ‘bad hair day‘.

I will be following Tim Cook’s progress with great interest to see how his supply chain expertise contributes to the next stage of the company’s growth.

As ever, I welcome your comments on this topic and would particularly like to hear anecdotes and examples of supply chain professionals in positions of executive leadership.

27th July
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Resized, renamed,...

Image via Wikipedia

A lot of people are chattering that corruption in politics, the police and the media is at an all time high, but fail to acknowledge their own role in the situation.  This blog post is about personal leadership and how we can contribute to creating a more civil, less corrupt society.

The nasty media mogul at the heart of this corruption scandal is actually a very simple animal; a scrappy schoolyard bully who understands the currency and power of populist rage.

He understands that rage is an expression of impotence. Impotence at not being able to achieve those things on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs like love, financial success, political change, employment and social integration.

Let’s face it: it is so much easier to blame, attack and discredit other people and institutions to defuse our rage, rather than to confront, reflect upon and overcome our personal impotence.

I define populism as the collective rage (impotence) in our society against a perceived ‘elite’. Successful people who appear to have overcome their impotence in some way are easy targets for populist rage – we think they have taken a piece of our pie.

Super-rich people like celebrities and footballers whose fortunes are funded (voluntarily, I might add) by ‘ordinary people’ are particularly easy targets.  We envy their success and gleefully build them up so we can knock them down later.

In the UK, politicians, police and the media have not been protecting these people’s rights as they might others because they attract the spotlight, taking the populist heat off the really important matters that they can’t fix anyhow.  And anyway, they reason, these people can afford expensive lawyers.

But by failing to protect the rights of these people, we threw out the most basic tenets of our democracy with the bathwater; that all humans are equal under the law, that humans are innocent until proven guilty and that humans have a right to personal privacy relating to matters that do not affect others.

These are sacred ideals that we have spent trillions on and sacrificed many lives fighting wars to protect. 

And it is cruel besides.  These are real people, whatever other labels we want to give them.

Humiliating and exposing others in the court of public opinion destroys careers, mental health, financial stability and all those things on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Losing these all at once can drive even the strongest people to despair and self-destruction.

This is a high price to pay to relieve our feelings of personal impotence.  I have indulged in it myself and I’m ashamed.

Inevitably this invasive cruelty carried over into the world of ‘ordinary people’ like Milly Dowler’s family and the 7/7 bombing victims. Because the kind of people who are emboldened to break the law will always push the boundaries until they finally get caught.

The tabloid newspapers (directed by the schoolyard bully) are fully aware of the opportunity that our human weakness to indulge in Schadenfreude and exchange vindictiveness for democratic principles provides.  The nastier UK tabloids seized on this in order achieve a simple aim: increase newspaper circulation and all the trappings of power that goes with it.

In the UK, the revenue this generated gave our tabloid press enormous political power to buy the cooperation of the police and other powerful people who hold information.  If they couldn’t buy certain people, then they would force them to cooperate by threatening to uncover and expose their human weaknesses and then publicly humiliate them through their newspapers. The rest of the tabloid Baksheesh was allocated to private detectives who invade on people’s privacy for a living.

And in doing so, they sold even more newspapers and advertising which increased their revenue and power and hold over politicians and police officers. And on and on it went.

But WE are ultimately responsible for this lapse of civility and humanity by failing to confront our own impotence and take constructive, responsible steps forward to improve our personal situations – by informing and educating ourselves, by taking care of our physical and mental health, by holding the appropriate people in our lives to account (parents, politicians, doctors, ourselves) and confronting them, rather than distant rich and famous people.

The good news is that we the ‘ordinary people’ have the power and the ability to break this vicious cycle, because without the fuel of our impotent rage, the machine can’t run!

So instead of dwelling on the negative today, take some steps to fix something in your life that’s needs repair or attention.  Find a financial advisor.  Arrange a medical screening.  Make a fruit salad.  Finish that proposal.  Call your mother.  Write to your MP.

You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel and how quickly your good leadership inspires others.

24th May
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty
David Duffield (2005)

Image via Wikipedia

The ‘garden variety’ technology entrepreneur seizes on and builds a venture-backed business around a hyped technology (like e-commerce in the late 90s), pursues a high-growth strategy and when that ruthless cheese-moving puppeteer known as the free market intervenes to devalue the underlying system or technology, many grab as much cash as they can with both hands and flee into the wilderness before catching the next hype wave.

The other, rarer and more inspiring variety is on a personal, long-term mission to create and commercialize a specific product or service that is best-in-class to benefit its customers and other stakeholders.  These entrepreneurs continue to adapt and reinvent underlying systems and technology to accomplish the mission – even if it means sometimes having to start all over again from scratch.

With that introduction, this week’s Round Earth Leader is Dave Duffield, co-founder and co-CEO of WorkDay Software, an inspiring, determined entrepreneur whose career has been dedicated to the cause of providing business software that makes the most of what’s now referred to as ‘human capital’. Turning 70 this year, Duffield proves that keeping an open mind to technological, social and business change and not holding on to personal grudges are the secrets to staying young at heart and ‘entrepreneurial’ at any age.

Most people will know Duffield as the co-founder of PeopleSoft in 1987, the company that defined HR software, later sold to Oracle in 2005.  Many people don’t know that before Dave started two other ventures before PeopleSoft – Integral Systems and Information Associates, both of which provided HR and accounting software for mainframes.

At PeopleSoft, Dave built a legendary and beloved corporate culture whose core values were focused on people, integrity and fun. When Oracle acquired PeopleSoft after a highly contentious 18-month hostile takeover bid that promptly led to 5000 staff layoffs, Duffield donated $10 million of his own money to help them get back on their feet.

As painful as the Oracle takeover was for Duffield at the time, the timing was auspicious.  In 2005, software as a service was starting to gain commercial traction with early enterprise adopters starting to accept it as a viable, cost-effective alternative to premise-based software.  Duffield seized on the opportunity to use this more scalable and less expensive platform to benefit enterprise customers.  Although in theory Duffield could have migrated PeopleSoft to SaaS, it would have required massive, disruptive internal change to make the business model viable – as large enterprise vendors like SAP and Oracle are realizing today.  Perhaps that’s why Duffield isn’t bitter and twisted about the whole Oracle episode.

Enter WorkDay Software, which Duffield launched in 2006 with former PeopleSoft chief strategist Aneel Bhusri, already predicted to IPO in the second half of 2012.  The secret to WorkDay’s success lies in providing enterprise customers with an attractive mix of favourable pricing, modern interface design (suitable for younger workers) and fast innovation cycles combined with ‘enterprise-friendly’ security and regulatory compliance support.  Culturally, Duffield has taken his core values into Workday, which was voted among the ‘Best Places to Work in the Bay Area‘ three years running.

Unlike some of his less charitable competitors, Duffield never talks down the competition and notably champions the CIO, whose role is often threatened in the debates surrounding SaaS and cloud computing.  If you want a feel for where Duffield is coming from, this video is a great starting point.

Finally, as is the case with most Round Earth Leaders, Duffield is also giving something back to the community.  He and  his wife, Cheryl, created Maddie’s Fund in 1999 to “to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals”. Maddie’s Fund is named for the Duffield’s Miniature Schnauzer, Maddie and has an endowment of $300 million.

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21st April
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty
William and Kate Royal Wedding plates

Image by Ben Sutherland via Flickr

A few years back in a Dutch pub, a friend and I conceived a television comedy spoof based on a fictitious PR agency called “Royalty PR” that was to be a pastiche of all the worst aspects of the media agency world.  The ironic slogan for the agency was “We treat our clients like Royalty – we hold them in silent contempt and tell them what they want to hear”. (I know, I know – but remember, this was a frivolous pub chat okay so cut me some slack). The unique services of Royalty PR included training clients in ‘how to make an exit’ because after all, ‘it’s not how one makes an entrance that defines Royalty, but how one makes a departure…’etc., etc…

As an American living in London since 1997, the concept of Royalty is still very peculiar to me. Royalists come in the most unlikely guises so I advise my Yank  friends not to flap on against HRH in what might seem like ‘safe’ company.  My working class husband from Liverpool and my liberal Notting Hill musician friend broadly share the view that while Royalty is to blame for the UK’s stifling class structure, it must remain otherwise ‘there would be no head of state’ – a largely ceremonial position held by the Queen.  And I sit there scratching my head asking myself “and so what?”

Anyway, it’s not for me to say. I just live here and pay taxes and observe things. Notably, the Royals are an iconic symbol of Britain’s sense of ‘tradition’ and former Imperial dominance that many of her loyal subjects don’t want to part with in this increasingly uncertain world.  And as we hear time and again, they are good for tourism (and crockery). My husband Ian is getting some solid work out of the Royal Wedding because he works in television production for the company that the BBC uses. One thing that always amuses me is how disappointed Americans are when they first see Buckingham Palace.  Here’s a real conversation between Ian and a tourist two days ago:

Tourist:          Excuse me mister, can you tell me where Buckingham Palace is?

Ian:                  You’re standing right in front of it love.  Sorry –  it’s a bit of disappointment isn’t it?

Tourist:          So where’s the front?

Ian:                  We’re facing the front – it’s right there.

Tourist:          Oh.  So where’s the back?

Ian:                  Erm, it’s ‘round the back, love.

Where I think we run into danger is when we expect the Royal family to behave like so called “role models”.  By all accounts the Royals muddle through life like the rest of us and do ordinary things like get married, get divorced, go on reality TV shows, broker arms deals, binge drink, bet on horses and play dress-up.

I have come to accept the enigma that is British Royalty with good humour and plan to celebrate in the marriage of William and ‘our Kate’ on the 29th of April, 2011 by partying in the streets with the commoners, drinking mead and dancing around maypoles.  With that said Round Earth Leadership will be on break until after the UK May bank holiday, 4 May 2011.

 

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