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Buckle up for a rough ride, Superman!


“Obamacare will kill us!” said my client, the co-owner of a labor-intensive business. “We might have to shut the doors.”

Although this particular company had some significant hurdles, my client’s partner and the executive team luckily weren’t ready to throw in the towel. In fact, after facilitating a scenario planning exercise, we identified several potential business model changes that not only allowed continued prosperity but also identified new growth opportunities. Common wisdom says this company will soon be in trouble, but it won’t.

How would you like to be in the publishing business right now? If you read the headlines and have a pulse anywhere north of two beats per minute, you know the publishing industry is in deep doo-doo. However, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both have circulation increases (print plus digital) of around 15 percent year over year. How can that be? I guess they forgot to read their own headlines. It seems as though a quality product can succeed even when industry headwinds are gale force.

As you might imagine, another client that publishes textbooks and journals has encountered tremendous change in the past few years. For an industry that hasn’t had to change much since Gutenberg developed the printing press, it now encounters disruptive factors faster than a speeding bullet. However, this company is still able to leap over tall buildings. How can that be? It also must not read the headlines.

Another firm I worked with recently ran into a buzz saw in the form of government intervention and a regulatory rat’s nest. As I prepared for my involvement, I researched some of its competitors who were going to try weathering the storm and crawling into their shell. This company, however, crafted a new strategy that I believe will help it not only survive but also grow. Like the other firms mentioned, it has a strong CEO who refuses to give in to what many would consider meteorites hurtling toward planet Earth.

Does it take Superman to beat back the villains, meteors and deadly storms of disruption? Sometimes. But often, innovative thinking combined with the chutzpah to make risky changes (In the face of death, how would you define risk?) can allow a company in a tough industry to succeed.

The common themes in the examples I cited are a strong-willed and resilient CEO, the willingness to think differently about the business, a supportive board or ownership group, and a process to recognize what’s coming down the pike and do something about it rather than just let it happen.

Better to make headlines than just read them.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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