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Posts tagged with Leadership

Political Myopia: Piercing through the nonsense and casting your vote

Posted on October 22, 2012 by 2 Comments

It’s “silly season” – so sayeth the politicians.  It’s time to throw every piece of mud at the opposition simply because a lot of people will believe it.  Fox, MSNBC, pundits who claim to know everything but in reality know nothing, and thousands of horrid political ads – it’s all a lot of noise that provides no reliable indicators on which is the best way to vote.

Can we look at some of the realities of the situation and some of the facts?


  • Romney:
    • We don’t know what Romney would or would not do. Unfortunately, he’s changed positions so many times, it’s hard to figure whether he’s conservative or moderate.  The “etch a sketch” metaphor has been mentioned and fair or not, it was created by his own campaign manager.
    • Yes, he did a great job with the Olympics.  He had support and money from the government that he says isn’t working.  It’s unclear how he did as governor of Massachusetts but one would think that if he did a great job, he’d easily win the state this time.  Polls show he’s 15 points down.  You want to tell me that’s meaningless?  Please explain.
    • The only thing Romney has been consistent about is that he is a social conservative.  He’s supported the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, favors DOMA and won’t take a position on the Lily Ledbetter Act.  If that’s what you want and you’re okay with his other murkiness, you should vote for him.
  • Obama:
    • Four years ago, we were headed toward a full-on depression.  We’re not now.
    • Corporate profits had risen more than with any other president.
    • The stock market has risen 14.7% a year under Obama.
    • Housing values had fallen one-third on average at the end of the Bush administration.  They’re rising again and have recovered much of the loss.

Now that we’re here, who can take us further?


  • The U.S. economy has done better with Democratic presidents than with Republicans.
  • Personal disposable income has grown nearly 6 times more under Democratic presidents.
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 7 times more under Democratic presidents.
  • Corporate profits have grown over 16% more per year under Democratic presidents (they actually declined under Republicans by an average of 4.53%/year).
  • Average annual compound return on the stock market has been 18 times greater under Democratic presidents (If you invested $100k for 40 years of Republican administrations you had $126k at the end, if you invested $100k for 40 years of Democrat administrations you had $3.9M at the end).
  • Republican presidents added 2.5 times more to the national debt than Democratic presidents.
  • The two times the economy steered into the ditch (Great Depression and Great Recession) were during Republican, laissez faire administrations.

Don’t believe me?  Why not read the self-proclaimed “Capitalist Tool”?  The above facts can be found all over the Internet but click here to read this article from Forbes magazine.

Investment managers always point out that there’s no guarantee that past performance is an indicator of the future but given the choice between uncertainty and past negative performance versus a record and past positive performance, logic should say to select the latter.  But when did logic and facts determine a U.S. presidential election?


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2 contrasting days in America

Posted on October 13, 2012 by Leave a comment

It has been several days now that we watched the Vice Presidential debate and have been subjected to a discussion that’s more about whose demeanor and facial expressions have been better than about their policies.

Depending on from which side you see things, President Obama has either brought the economy back to a place where it can now recover or he’s brought us to a Leninist-Marxist precipice.  Governor Romney is either the biggest liar that has ever run for president or he is just the man we need to help America get back to its revolutionary roots.  It’s that extreme and it’s that myopic.  We’re losing sight of the big picture.

Yesterday, I attended the annual shareholders’ conference for The Baron Funds, a group of mutual funds led by Ron Baron who believes that it’s the quality of people who make great companies and that investing in them is a long-term bet on America.  The event is held each year at New York’s magnificent Lincoln Center. 4,000 shareholders attended.

During the morning, you get to listen to presentations from CEO’s of companies the funds have invested in.  Then at lunch, various entertainers perform in one of the many auditoriums at the Center.  Yesterday, the choices were British rock singer Joss Stone, Broadway star Kristin Chenowith, or jazz stylist Harry Connick Jr.  After returning from lunch, the senior analysts from each of the Baron Funds engages in a panel discussion about the past year’s performance and how they pick stocks.  When this ends, there’s a musical performance from a big name headliner.  In the past, it has been people like Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, Elton John and others who you’d pay a lot of money to see elsewhere.  Yesterday, the headliner was Celine Dion – more on Celine later.

I don’t know if Ron Baron chose the CEO’s who made their morning presentations to make a point about the country’s economic stewardship.  I want to believe he did.  Here’s a brief encapsulation:

  • David Rubenstein, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of The Carlyle Group showed a different set of values for private equity firms than we’ve seen during the past year from Governor Romney’s turn at Bain.  From its start in 1987, Carlyle now manages $160 billion in investments with the goal of supporting good companies that create jobs and prosper for their shareholders AND employees.  For all his success, Rubenstein exhibited an amazing self-deprecating sense of humor and stressed the importance of giving back to America.  He has put his money where his mouth is by joining Warren Buffet in giving his fortune away.  What came across more than anything is that good values build great companies.  By the way, he said he has no problem with the regulations imposed by Dodd-Frank, which some politicians want to remove.
  • Steven Spinner, CEO of United Natural Foods was a little more meat and potatoes in his presentation…well actually, more tofu and bulghur… but he expressed a need to be more conscious about our environment and both the chemicals we put into our environment and our bodies.  The company is now the largest distributor in the U.S. and Canada of natural and organic foods and has become a $4.5 billion company with 65,000 sku’s and 23,000 customers.  Healthy foods raise our awareness of our environment and build successful businesses – quite a contrast to the right wing preaching that the government (and in particular, Michelle Obama) is trying to force feed us healthy foods we don’t like.
  • Robert Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts showed how a sizable business ($1 billion +) dependent on nature can prosper when it focuses both on good environmental stewardship and helping people enjoy all the recreational possibilities that enables.  What’s interesting is that they don’t own the land their resorts sit on.  They lease it from the National Forest Service, and have to work with the Service to show they are deserving of both permits and leases – a great example of how government helps improve our lives, supports business and is worth the investment we all make in it.
  • Frank Coyne, CEO of Verisk Analytics is all about Big Data.  This company dominates the insurance risk assessment business.  I have no idea of his political leanings (or most of the others for that matter) but he’s a former Marine who grew up in a lower middle class family from Scranton, PA.  There was not a trace of ego in his presentation.  He is clearly an American success story who rose from the middle – no trickle down there.
  • Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of Under Armour, a $2 billion company that began in his basement in 1996, told an amazing story of how his experience as a college football player took him on a search to find better performance athletic clothing.  He displayed optimism, competitiveness and personal charm in telling his success story.  There was not a hint of dismay in his approach to the future.
  • Rich Barton, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Zillow, Inc. was the moderator of the analysts’ presentation so he wasn’t really focused on his or his company’s story.  However, he founded both online travel giant, Expedia, and Zillow, an online real estate search site.  He’s another American success story who displayed extraordinary optimism.

The last presentation of the day came from Ron Baron, CEO of Baron Capital Group.  Baron founded the funds in 1982.  Today his enormous success has made him a billionaire.  I’ve never met the man but in every conference I’ve attended, he always stresses his middle-class roots in New Jersey, his optimism about American business and his belief in America.  He doesn’t hesitate to mix patriotism into business.  As in past years, Broadway star Kelly O’Hara came out to sing America The Beautiful as everyone sang along.  This year, there was an additional treat of Kristin Chenowith singing the national anthem.  She raised the roof and 4,000 hearts with it.  (That girl has pipes!)

Baron gave his outlook on the economy, the stock market and reminded us why a long-term investment philosophy in good people who build great companies pays off .  He praised Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, Ben Bernanke for his stewardship of the economy to a smattering of applause.  He showed how the stock market has climbed 60% since the days of doom and gloom four years ago to wild cheers.

Then, came the part that left me stunned.  He noted that we’re soon to have an election between President Barack Obama — maybe 20% of the audience applauded — and Mitt Romney to loud, enthusiastic applause that drowned out anything that had preceded it.  It left me wondering whether anybody had been paying attention all day.  The contrast to private equity investing with the Romney approach from David Rubenstein ‘s Carlyle Group couldn’t have been clearer.  Protection of our food sources and environment have helped businesses succeed, not fail due to over-bearing government regulation.  The economy never fell off the cliff.  Businesses and the stock market prospered and now they’re cheering for an uncertain change that promises to strip away a lot of the government support and regulation that has contributed to both success and fairness?  I don’t get it.

I grew up in a family that was firmly Democratic, although I believe I am more fiscally conservative than my parents.  While I live in New York, I continue to vote in Maine where I still own property.  There, like many Mainers, I’ve settled into a mode of independence, voting for moderate Republicans like Bill Cohen and Olympia Snowe, independents like Angus King and Democrats like George Mitchell.  The contrasts to me this year couldn’t be clearer.  While I’ve lost some of my love for President Obama, I think he provides a healthier direction for America.  We have serious problems to fix but I don’t believe those will come from cutting everything except defense and frankly, I have a problem with disingenuousness.  Neither party can claim sainthood in this regard but I saw Romney claim himself as “severely conservative”, heard his campaign manager say they could just take out the “etch a sketch” and remodel him once the Republican nomination was secure and now he’s transformed himself into a moderate.  It reminds me of that famous Lincoln quote:  “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

In the end, just like Ron Baron says and practices, it’s about people and their values.  Not only do good people build great companies but they also build great countries.  I left the conference a little dismayed at the shareholders’ reaction to the election but still optimistic about the long-term.  To that, I can thank Ron Baron for this annual event.

This brings me to Celine Dion.  I’m not a fan and never have been.  She’s too kitschy for me.  Yes, she’s talented and a professional song stylist who’s benefited from great writers but in one song, Kristin Chenowith blew her away.   After all the great rock stars I’ve seen at this event, I was surprised at her appearance.  “Las Vegas East”, Ron Baron called it.  It certainly was.  Her big band, violins, lots of costume changes and a self-aggrandizing video were all on display.  Like so many other successes — only in America.

I thought of staying for a few songs and then leaving but then I thought of my daughter.  She’s a fledgling comedy writer in LA and she loves Celine.  She’s dreamed of going to Las Vegas to see her and has even asked me to foot the bill for the $250 ticket.  You can imagine how far that went.  But as Celine came on, I texted her knowing that she would be excited.  It was only the texting banter between us that kept me there for the duration.

Here it is:

So the afternoon entertainment is Celine.


Here she is:

You are breaking my heart.


Tell me everything!  WHAT IS SHE WEARING?  How many costome changes?  How many times is she fake crying?  AHHHHH

Is she amazing????  OF COURSE SHE IS!!!!

I guess because I own $30K of Baron Funds.  I wish you were here.  She’s too sappy for me.  I don’t know how long I can last.

OMG omggggggg!!!  Just revel in it.

Oh, here come all the big hits!  “I’m your lady” oooh la la


Imagine her an alien from a special planet where the wind is always billowing her hair and dresses!

A lot of eyebrow action and the motions.  WAIT!  We have violins!  It’s a costume change!


This is so unfair.

We’re waiting with bated breath.  Maybe she went out to pee.

Slinky, black and silver.

It’s cabaret time.

She’s magnificent!

I’ll record Titanic if she goes there.


She tucks her 3 little ones into bed and there’s video to prove it.

Stop it.

I think I’m going to throw up.

Me too.

It’s “Beauty & The Beast” time.

Oh, I love that one.  This is so unfair, it hurts.

I feel your pain.

It’s another costume change.

What will it be?  There’s James Bond music.


No, she just went to pee.  She’s singing “Goldfinger.”

A medley of 007 songs.  She’s got her fist in the air.  The audience is in a state of rapture.

Now, she’s patting her hip and swaying.  This Québécois lady knows how to have a good time.

She sure does.

This all sounds glorious!

A little piece of heaven.

I’ve run out of responses.

I’m just really jealous.

It’s “All by myself” now.  I know how she feels.  Carla left to go to a meeting.  So sad.

Double fist pounding on her chest.  Serious stuff.

Now, she’s singing “Spinning Wheel”.  Am I back in college?

Costume change!

This is amazing.  Never forget how amazing she is.

Elvis is in the building!

Here we go:  I’m sinking.  There’s an iceberg and the ship is going down.  I’m recording this.

It’s over.  I’m exhausted.

Holy crap!  Me too.

The Baron Funds Annual Conference is one of my favorite days of the year.  I am reminded of why I am in business and what I tell my clients through my consulting business.  I’m entertained in this incredible city and my belief in America is always restored.  This year, it also provided some fun with my daughter.  Is there anything better?


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My new friends

Posted on April 25, 2012 by Leave a comment

I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from people who say they know what I need and want and I never knew that they were so close to me.  The funny thing is none of them have ever asked me about what I need.  Actually, they’ve never asked me anything at all.  Well, that’s not true.  They’ve all asked for money.

Four years ago, I made a political contribution to Barack Obama’s campaign for President.  I expected that they would ask me again.  What I didn’t expect is that they would ask all their friends to ask me too.  I suppose that’s a good thing.  We can all use new friends.

During the past six months, not only have I received many, many emails and letters from President Obama but also from Michelle – that’s sweet, we’ve never met.  Also Joe and Jill Biden have written me, together and separately.  Obviously, I project a lot of charisma to attract all these important, new friends.  They told their friends about me too including Elizabeth Wilson, Patty Murray, Diane Feinstein, Debbie Stabenow, Sherrod Brown, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charles Rangel and many more whose names I’ve forgotten, although I know none of them have forgotten me because they keep sending me emails and letters.

I know I probably sound overly suspicious but sometimes, I think the same person is doing all the writing.  They all say they know my needs, wants, dreams, aspirations and desires and it seems the same answer for all of them is mo’ money.

Yesterday, my son received a letter from Mitt Romney.  (I’m really upset that he didn’t write me.  After all, we went to the same elementary school in Detroit.)  But I guess he thinks my son likes him.  He must feel that way because he wrote, “you are one of America’s most notable Republicans.”  That’s something I didn’t know.  But never mind my son’s political persuasions, if that is indeed what they are.  I was really interested to read this letter because someone else had to have written it.  I don’t think the same writer who works for all the Democrats is writing letters for Mittens (my affectionate name for him – when you grow up nearby, you do those things).

So, I was really excited to see what gems Mittens was going to offer that might change my mind about the course of politics and all my political friends.  Here are a few tidbits:

  • “I believe in America.” – I feel so much better to know that.  I’m sick and tired of all these people who run for office and say they believe in Turkmenistan.
  • “Bigger government does not equal better government.”  That’s a tough one for me to take because I grew up singing, “The bigger the burger, the better the burger.  The burgers are bigger at Burger King.” And I thought Mittens believed in corporations.  That’s a rude awakening.
  • “I know how jobs are created.” And this is followed by his story of how he got the Olympics in great shape.  I guess we need more games in America.
  • “It could be worse.”  Now, he’s sounding like my grandmother although she usually followed with “You should be so lucky.”
  • Here’s my favorite:  “Washington is suffocating the American Dream.  We must save it.  How do we do that?  By believing in America…our future depends on it.”  Two quick flashbacks come to mind.  The first is Gerald Ford’s WIN (Whip Inflation Now) campaign where if we all came together and just believed, everything would get better.  He even wore a button that said “WIN” on it.  That helped.  I think I saw that in a movie once about a little girl who lived in Kansas.  She met a wizard who got her to believe but I don’t recall that his name was “Mittens”.  The second is Jimmy Carter’s famous “Malaise” speech.  His message of buck up sonny, stiff upper lip and all that never got off the launching pad.  All we had to do was be confident, he said.  Romney says all we have to do is believe.  I’m sure he can explain the difference.

Okay, so in many ways, the letter is a parody of itself.  Yet, it’s not much different than any other political letter, Republican, Democrat or Tea Party (yes, I got one of those.)  It ends with another request for money and you know what?  I know that money is the answer but it’s not money for anybody’s campaign.  It’s money for poor people, middle class people, education, research, healthcare, etc.  Oh, now I’m sounding like a Democrat.  I suppose I should toe the Republican line since I’m reading their letters and say that the solution is money for the moneyed few.

What’s most striking to me about this particular letter (and I’ll now have to start reading the others more closely) is that there is not one solution or proposal for how to actually make things better.  Not one.  Lots and lots of problems but no ideas, proposals or solutions, only a request for money.  They could at least get creative about it.  How about emailing me the Money song from Cabaret?  That certainly gets the point across with more élan than any of these politicians.

Or if you’re not a fan of Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, how about picking one of the top 20 rock songs about money. You can find them at http://power98fm.radio.com/2011/04/25/top-20-songs-about-money-money-money/.  I’ve got to believe that Mittens is an Abba fan.  How about this one:

I mean how can a Republican refuse Abba asking for money.  They’re white, clean-cut, at least in their day, and they’re Swedish…oh, never mind.

I guess there’s no hope.  You’d think that some fund raising genius (and remember that a percentage of what you give goes to them) would come up with the idea of “let’s ask people what they think, what ideas they may have and then, after we’ve listened to them, we’ll ask them for money.”  It’s funny how when you ask people what they think rather than telling them, how they often respond better.  It’s called human nature but why would we expect our politicians to be human?  Come to think of it, doesn’t Mittens often get criticized for being robotic?  I wonder.


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If you read nothing else, read this

Posted on February 22, 2011 by Leave a comment

Yes, it’s been a two month hiatus, wiped out by the holidays and start of the new year, but we’re back in force.

Every so often, an article comes along that everyone should read.  Whether you’re in business, a blogger, twitterer or just find yourself hanging out on the Internet, some authors writing for The McKinsey Quarterly have come up with one you shouldn’t pass up.  I hesitate to tell you the title because I’m afraid it might it scare some of you off.  But let’s plunge in and I’ll explain why it’s important.  The article, “Clouds, big data, and smart assets:  Ten tech-enabled business trends to watch” sounds both techie and ominous but it’s really neither.

You can download it here and to make things simpler, I’ve highlighted the important parts, at least as I see them.  It’s written in McKinsey business speak but don’t let that intimidate you.  Of course, if your idea of fun is to skip the latest episode of 30 Rock or pass up The Daily Show and settle down with the Harvard Business Review, you’ll feel right at home (I speak with experience in this.)

The article is particularly important if you’re in the information technology business, but the trends that the authors cite are effecting all of us in both the way we go to work and the way we live.  It’s time to rethink your priorities, how you’re marketing, selling, or using technology to walk, run or keyboard your way through life.

It speaks to the importance of web-based communities and their pervasiveness in our work and home lives.  Yes, web-based communities can be about marketing to corporations and the latest episode of your favorite TV show to consumers, or the latest revolution abroad, but it also highlights the growth in co-creation and collaborative work and ideation that’s taking place.  Organizations, corporations and countries are expanding in their depth and breadth through cross-boundary networked organizations.

Small countries and corporations can rapidly become bigger than large ones by managing global knowledge and using communities to create, test and provide feedback.  Scaling up is no longer limited by your own resources.  Simply use those that belong to others but are waiting for you to stop by.  Innovation and creativity now and increasingly in the future are coming from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.

This is a very thought provoking article that will get you asking whether you’re taking advantage of these trends or spending too much time watching “Jersey Shore.”


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Country Branding Interview with Nearshore Americas

Posted on December 22, 2010 by 1 Comment

I recently was interviewed by Kirk Laughlin of Nearshore Americas about nation branding with particular focus on Latin America.  The interview can be seen here or at this link.


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How a Disaster can Help a Country’s Image

Posted on October 31, 2010 by Leave a comment

This blog post appeared last week in NearshoreAmericas.com

The August 5th mine collapse near Copiapo, Chile seemed like more bad luck for a country already hit by one of the largest earthquakes in history this past February.Media coverage of the mining disaster was constant and the way in which the Chilean government and miners handled the situation mesmerized the media and consumers alike. On October 13th, millions across the globe were riveted to their TV sets watching the dramatic rescue take place, almost two months before anticipated.  It was a stunningly inspirational scene – a disaster, rescue plan and successful result – seemingly in lockstep that even Hollywood writers couldn’t have improved upon.

A Silver Lining?

At the outset of the crisis, it was hard to imagine there could be a silver lining to the story, one that could provide an advantage for how Chile, as a country, is presented to the world. Can the outcome of natural or man-made disasters have a positive impact on a country’s competitiveness in growing exports, attracting investment or seeking outsourcing contracts?  The Chilean miners’ rescue offers some interesting lessons.

1. Leadership makes a difference

There is that old saying that “a fish rots from the head”.  Conversely, positive, focused leadership trickles down throughout an organization and effects planning, implementation and results.  Chile’s focused leadership from President Sebastian Piñera and particularly Mining Minister Laurence Golborne made a difference in how the rescue effort (managed more like a large construction project) was strategically planned and implemented.  The plan allowed for international cooperation, options, customer relations (i.e. miners’ families), and management of public expectations.

2. Emotion and egos get you nowhere; help moves you forward

Chile offers a diverse mix in its socio-economic strata.  Much of the country feels like a highly developed nation.  There is a thriving middle class, high literacy and education rates, advanced use of the Internet and telecommunications.  Yet, there are pockets of extreme poverty and underdevelopment that give a very different picture.  It’s certainly a very long way from Haiti to Chile but Chile still is not at the level of many developed countries which probably explains why the country ranks #30 in the Global Economic Forum’s World Competitiveness Report and not higher.  The Chileans didn’t ask for charitable contributions but did welcome cutting-edge technology and advice from other countries with the goals of beating the expected result of not getting the miners out until mid December.  The U.S. has not responded in as focused or timely a way when it has been hit by disasters.  American egos have gotten in the way of accepting foreign help.

3. Media needs to be managed but not catered to

While the media savvy crisis mangers in Chile worked with the international journalist community, platitudes and wild claims were avoided and the focus was kept on what needed to be done.

For example, the Wall Street Journal published a story “Chile Mining Minister Is Resourceful in Rescue” in which writer Matt Mofffett wrote about the response from the Chilean government, dominated by former business executives.  Centered around Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, a former retail executive, the story traces Golborne’s early missteps in the crisis to gaining the confidence of the miners and their families.  It praises Golborne’s communication skills in dealing “with people from lots of different social strata” and goes on to cite the oft repeated catchphrase for the current government, “Chile Inc.”

Then, on September 10th, an article appeared in Universal Knowledge@Wharton, the newsletter of the esteemed Wharton School of Business’, titled, Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork – from 700 Meters Below the Earth’s Surface.  The article is an interview with Francisco Javier Garrido, a professor of strategy at various MBA programs in Europe and the Americas.  Garrido talks glowingly of the miners and their leadership skills.

These are the types of stories, not the ones about mistresses or movie deals, that will be long lasting and have true value for Chile’s image and competitiveness.

4. Results can reveal societal traits

In the Wharton article, Garrido details the miners’ skills in situation analysis, overcoming elementary responses, viewing efforts as a function of goals, teamwork, ethical coherence and integrity and communication skills.  These 33 miners, he notes have taught “the business world that you need to act with flexibility when it comes to achieving your goals.”  He further points out, “There are lessons here that transcend the world of business instruction when it comes to [defining] such expressions as “decision making,” “leadership” and “teamwork.”

Since the successful rescue, there have been hundreds of articles and blogs adding to the comments on work skills of the miners and leadership of Chilean officials.

Given the positive results of managing this crisis, two questions arise:

First, is it ethical to use the story of the miners to profile or position Chile or Chilean businesses? If used in a tactical way, it seems inappropriate and opportunistic to promote such a story as saying something positive about a company, sector or country.  To those who read the media coverage, the lessons are there for us to see.  The story illustrates how leaders can respond to crises and victims can show behaviors and values that can teach us about disaster response.  Finally, it shows us how leadership can operate in the midst of crisis and media can respond positively to not overreact as so often takes place, but to manage for what everyone hopes will be positive outcomes.

Second, what real impact does crisis management have on a country’s image? Several months ago, in Nearshore Americas, Simon Anholt, a British branding consultant asserted that there is no evidence to show that marketing communications can change a country’s image (seeThe Latin America Image Issue:  Going Beyond the Superficial to Create a ‘Nation Brand’.”) Anholt said, “Influencing a country’s reputation is primarily a matter of policy, strategy, innovation and investment over a very long period – it has nothing to do with logos, slogans, advertising or PR campaigns.”

The World Watches

All of this is true but it ignores the impact of what happens when a country exercises strong management tools to solve a difficult problem while the world watches.  Few would dispute that Chile’s positive awareness is much higher today than it was before the mining accident.  It is a result of both what the Chileans did and what they said working with modern media and marketing communications as part of the overall management of the crisis.

The miners’ rescue won’t change Chile’s ranking on the global competitiveness index but it will open doors in the U.S. and elsewhere for Chilean businesses that never looked at the country before.  How long those doors stay open and whether they lead to new business will depend on how well Chile manages from this point forward.


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The rise and fall of leaders

Posted on October 20, 2010 by Leave a comment

It hasn’t been a week yet since the dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners riveted millions around the world to their TV sets.  We were awestruck by the scene of miners emerging one by one from their entrapment.  For two days, praise was heaped upon Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera, Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne and the international cooperation that brought technology together for a successful result.

It was inspirational and caused even the most cynical pundits to stop in admiration and hope the rescue would encourage us all to rise above the petty things we so often focus on and work together to solve the real problems at hand.  Problems such as the state of our economy, high unemployment, continuing wars abroad, environmental degradation and more, all demand the attention of leaders.  In Chile, we saw leaders come together for a common cause, drop the distractions and create a plan to achieve a positive outcome.  That’s what leaders are supposed to do.  Newspapers and TV stations across the U.S. covered the story and praised the international response.

So what’s happened in the week since the rescue?

Some recent headlines in New York tell us:

  • New York Post, October 15:  Son’s Fatal Rage
  • New York Post, October 17:  Dead Wives Club
  • New York Post, October 19:  Tiger Sex Fake
  • New York Daily News:  Every front-page headline since the rescue has covered sports

As always, The New York Times has covered a number of substantive issues but in the country’s largest city, it has the smallest circulation of the three largest daily papers.  The rest of the national print and broadcast media has dropped any mention of the rescue’s impact to the back pages, if it’s mentioned at all.  Other issues being hotly discussed include:  gays in the military, Congressional candidates as witches, whores, bigots, thieves, liars, religious zealots, girly men and manly women.  There has been little discussion of the big issues and problems that we deal with.

The mine rescue, of course, has stimulated some related discussion.  One blog tells how the drill, drill bits, drilling chief, emergency cameras, rescue pod and diet recommendations all came from the US…to cheers I suppose of USA! USA!  Others have noted that the 33 miners and 33 days to dig the shaft both coincide with Christ’s age at death, so surely this was not a victory for leadership, international cooperation and technology but for religious miracles.

It’s all quite frustrating, particularly when most of us from the most conservative to liberal know that we are faced with some of the most challenging problems in our nation’s history.  It’s probably expecting too much of an event such as took place in Chile to get us to pull our heads out of the sand.  In fact, it’s likely that the daunting problems we face are what scare us into looking elsewhere for salvation, to deny that we face a monumental economic challenge that will take more years to recover from than it took to get into and to shove looming problems such as global warming aside.  The U.S. as a nation has become like the person who notices a lump but does nothing for fear that it’s cancer only to learn that survival might have come if the lump had been addressed when discovered.  In truth, most of the problems we face are larger than 33 miners trapped beneath the earth.  Every aspect of that challenge could be dissected and planned with good organizational skills, but it stands as a symbol that should inspire us to demand better.  We don’t need anybody to shout, “the sky is falling.”  There are pieces of it lying all around us.


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How a disaster can help a country’s image

Posted on September 14, 2010 by Leave a comment

The August 5th mine collapse near Copiapo, Chile seemed like more bad luck for a country already hit by one of the largest earthquakes in history this past February.  Media coverage of the mining disaster has been constant and the way in which the Chilean government and miners have handled the situation has mesmerized millions of people around the world.  In a desperate situation such as this, it’s hard to imagine there could be a silver lining to the story, even providing an advantage in how Chile, as a country and society, is presented to the world.

The situation could change at any time but three recent articles provide an interesting lesson.  On September 1st, The Wall Street Journal published a story Chile Mining Minister Is Resourceful in Rescue (download highlighted version here) in which writer Matt Mofffett wrote about the response from the Chilean government, dominated by former business executives.  Centered around Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, a former retail executive, the story traces Golborne’s early missteps in the crisis to gaining the confidence of the miners and their families.  The story comments on Golborne’s communication skills in dealing “with people from lots of different social strata” and goes on to cite the oft repeated catchphrase for the current government, “Chile Inc.”

That phrase caught the attention of New York Times writer, Ben Schott, who eight days later wrote an entry (titled “Chile Inc.”) in his popular vocabulary blog and reprinted the Journal’s positive comment about Golborne’s handling of the crisis.

Then, on September 10th, an article appeared in Universal Knowledge@Wharton, the newsletter of the esteemed Wharton School of Business, titled, “Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork – from 700 Meters Below the Earth’s Surface” (download highlighted version here).  The article is an interview with Francisco Javier Garrido, a professor of strategy at various MBA programs in Europe and the Americas.  Garrido makes a few comments on the consistency of the government but talks glowingly of the miners and their leadership skills.

He details their skills in situation analysis, overcoming elementary responses, viewing efforts as a function of goals, teamwork, ethical coherence and integrity and communication skills.  These 33 miners, he notes have taught “the business world that you need to act with flexibility when it comes to achieving your goals.” He further points out, “There are lessons here that transcend the world of business instruction when it comes to [defining] such expressions as “decision making,” “leadership” and “teamwork.”

All three stories have now been frequently quoted in the print and digital media and particularly the ever-growing blogosphere.  Reading them, we’re compelled to ask whether we would respond in a similar fashion.  It is a difficult situation that has positive lessons for us all and causes us to admire the miners, the government and to ask whether Chileans possess some traits that we all might want to emulate.

The question then comes up of whether it’s ethical to use such a story to profile or position a business in Chile or would it be seen as being crassly opportunistic.  If used in a tactical way, it seems inappropriate to promote such a story as saying something positive about a company, sector or country.  To those who read the media coverage, the lessons are clear enough for us to see.  However, it seems acceptable to talk about the miners’ plight the same way these three stories have treated it thus far.  It illustrates how governments can respond to crises and victims can teach us about behaviors and values we can admire.  Finally, it shows us how leadership can operate in the midst of crisis and media can respond positively to not overreact as so often takes place (and we are seeing repeatedly in the U.S.), but to manage for what we all hope will ultimately become a positive outcome.


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