Archive for January 2012

Mentoring – how to take control of a business

January 29, 2012

The latest posting from Dr Robert Brooks was again littered with excellent thought-provoking pointers about how we run our lives. Looking back on his work, he surmised that: 

….I learned that there were some relationships that in actuality were beyond repair and/or destructive to at least one of the family members. I came to realize that therapeutic progress was better assessed through the lens of personal control, namely, by examining whether individuals demonstrated the capacity to identify and initiate constructive action in areas over which they had control to change and/or avoid particular relationships.

After citing a case study about a Mr Larsen, who had been abused as a child and whose father had rejected a rapprochement, Brooks noted the client’s response:

Although he would have preferred reconciling with his father, he said to me with impressive insight, “You’ve often said that you have to focus on what you have control over. I had control over communicating with my father but not his response. I did what I had to do, and now that I know my father’s reaction, I can get on with my life ….

Now jump back to my field of mentoring, specifically the art of being a business mentor. Of my three meetings today, I was able to recall Brooks words on two occasions.

In one specific instance, a hassled middle-aged man described how he has been trying to set up a new distribution business. At his own initiative, within 18 months, he had achieved a lot. In fact, the key missing element was a heavy dose of phone-calling to attract new customers. Only, he had convinced himself that he was no good at marketing and that people would not listen to him.

I asked him to check a small data base in his possession. Ten minutes later, he had a list of 10 people to call and the opening of a smile on his face. He had even started ringing the first numbers. As he grudgingly agreed afterwards, he had got on with it and started doing things.

He asked me how I had succeeded in encouraging him to make that small change. The answer is not as Nike would have us believe: “JUST do it”. If it was that simple, nobody would be behind the ballgame.

I showed him that he had a reason to take control, something very important to him that he was letting other issues hide away. From there on, he could do the rest.

And there lies much in the art of mentoring – empowering people, showing them that they often possess the skills that they believed they lacked.

When Israeli society gets it right

January 27, 2012

Israeli society is full of tensions. Never mind the Palestinian issue. You have religious divides. You have divides within the various religions. The role of women is under constant challenge. Two dominant sectors of the population, Arab and Haredi, are known for their large families and thus the problems that they incur. And so the list goes on.

The case studies of 7.7 million people can fill a libraries of sociology and psychology.

And yet? And yet for all the challenges, you have to remember the multiple successes that serve as a lesson for all. Here’s one very simple example.

This week, I was invited to a graduation ceremony for a young man. No – not at his university. He had just completed an arduous basic training course in the Israeli army. Roughly 25 gentlemen in the prime of their lives have been groomed to defend the country against various threats, which even the best Hollywood film cannot portray.

This military unit, hardened yet still untested,  is a cocktail of Israel. Very religious Jews and a member of the Druse community. At least two of Ethiopian origin and a few Russians. Those with good school records and those whose parents are still bearing the scars of poor report cards. Poor and better off. etc etc etc.

It was an amazing ceremony. Listening to soldiers – only yesterday they were horrible teenagers – describe their achievements to date was impressive. I was especially struck by the stories of how they operate together despite (or because of?) their varied backgrounds. It is difficult to know who to praise more, the training corps or the staff who pulled the unit together.

So what? Journalists, local and from overseas, are never shy at criticising what happens in Israel. To seek the divide is not just a national or international sport, it is just so very easy to do. However, sometimes the real stories, the stories that truly reflect society are right in front of us. We just need to ask ourselves the right questions in order to find and admire them.

5 economic highlights from Israel

January 20, 2012

Is there another Israel? As befits its knickname, is there an Israel full of promising ideas and hopes?

Mid January 2012, and the news out of the Holy Land may read like the normal cheerless doom in the international media; Iran’s nuclear threat, the EU complaining that Israel abusing Palestinians, and an increasing focus on the negative issues raised by ultra-orthodox Jews.

So here are 5 economic and social items that you may not have heard about, and yet many  of these stories are literally changing the habits of millions around the world.

Take Any. DO, and Israeli start up which was recently voted the best Android app of 2011 by Techcrunch. Writing as a business mentor who is frequently confronted by clients that cannot mange their own time, I consider this a brilliantly simple solution. The company has a one page website, but the number of downloads breached the million mark a long time back.

Now have a look at what GM is developing in Israel. Imagine that the windows of the passengers seats could be used as a note pad! It’s fun time. Kids will never scream again “when are we there?”…except for the one in the middle, who cannot reach one of the screens. The link clicks to an amazing video.

Kodak International is facing massive financial difficulties. Kodak in Israel does not expect (officially) to fire anybody nor reduce its activities. While this may be partial wishful thinking, this line of thought reflects the key strengths of the domestic hightech industry; an excellent workforce that produices quality products.

This week, I attended a lecture from Moty Hazan, the CEO of Jerusalem’s Development Authority. Now it is no secret that the terrorism of the previous decade hit hard the commercial growth of this special city. Today, despite the global downturn, Jerusalem benefits from record levels of tourism – around 3m visitors a year, destined to peak at 10m within another 5 years – and a dozen international conferences, when there where none during the violence.

And despite the dire economic news from Europe, Israel’s economy is still performing relatively well. Unemployment has fallen to a record low of 5.5%, although it will definitely pick up in 2012. Apple is to open a new r&d centre in the country. Frutarom in Haifa, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of food additives, has just purchased its 17th company in five years. etc etc

Israel’s economic growth for 2012 is expected to be around 3%. Not too many in the OECD can boast about that sort of stat.

Confident CEO or fearful business person?

January 15, 2012

I have written here on several occasions about procrastination – how professional managers simply put off decisions.

Why? Well cometh the person, so cometh the silly excuse. And when the task is finally tackled, guess what? It turns out to be the simplest and easiest exercise on earth. And all this begs the obvious question: “why”?

Much has to do with the old addage of fear. Briefly, a person may perceive that they cannot tackle a subject or that they are afraid of the consequences of their actions. What will success or failure then bring? How will they cope? etc etc.

Yesterday, I learnt a new and revealing angle to this concept. There is a very famous Jewish song, dating back to around the early 1800s:

The whole world
is a very narrow bridge – 
A very narrow bridge.

And the main thing to recall – 
is not to be afraid – 
not to be afraid at all

This is how the song has been translated from the original. A closer inspection of the core text indicates that the word “afraid” is actually written in the reflexsive mode. As the official translation puts it, “When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.”

What’s the message?

Every day, we are faced with tasks, in our private and commercial lives, matters of greater and lesser importance. As the world becomes more sophisticated – even global in an internet era – we are exposed to huge amounts of information. Much of this information can be contradictory to the point of confusing and frightening. Bottom line – you lose perspective of even the most simplest tasks.

Here are a couple of obvious examples of what I mean.

1) Cold calling – there is a whole library of books and blogs on how to help us make calls to people, who we do not know. Boil the subject down to its core issue and all that is required is to pick up the phone and ask for an appointment or get somebody to send you something. Yet many find this task scary. 

2) I hate dealing with insurance claims. Late last week, I finally tackled a household claim that should have been finished off weeks back. As my wife pointed out, all I had to do was make a quick phone call to obtain an email address and then write a simple letter. And what happened? 2 minutes to write the damn thing, after waiting 10 minutes for customer service!

So, the next time you see a confident CEO or manager put off a decision, ask yourself: Is this a canny wise move from somebody playing their cards right or are you looking at a person, allowing themselves to be shaken to their bones for all the wrong reasons?

Reflections on art in Jerusalem

January 13, 2012

Jerusalem in 2012 is associated with many themes – religious conundrums, geopolitical tribulations and even the wonders of hightech. Locked away, out of the sight of the reach of global or social media is a wonderful story waiting to be told – the success of local artists.

It is nearly 200 years ago that the lithographs of David Roberts were first available for the world to see and admire. He was able to describe by use delicate features the simple world of Jerusalem in the middle of the Nineteenth Century.

In many ways, “Reflections“, an exhibition of how four Israeli artists view their world, is an extension of Robert’s work. The contributions are all from females, and each delineates their own way of viewing the very complex society in today’s Israel. 

The characters of Ruth Keusch cleverly take on near Picasso proportions, often too sad for my taste. Estee Kreisman paintings could occupy a whole wall in many a person’s lounge. Combining photoshop and painting techniques, her pictures are divided up into rectangles, with each one in itself describing an action – amazingly brilliant. And Ruth Gresser has delicately taken scenes from private yet enchanted views in different cities and has brought them to life.

I admit to a previous bias, but my favourite is Shoshana Meerkin. Shoshi took up professional painting almost by chance over two decades ago. As she has explained, what excites her is to look at a door or a window of an old house, and then to bring out through colours and shadows what she interprets as the history of the place. The result is often a fascinating picture that keeps you searching through it for more information. You walk away with a smile on your face.

The opening evening of the exhibition was fun. It represented just another tiny yet important element of what the real Jerusalem of 2012 is all about.

4 case studies in management from Israel

January 6, 2012

We all believe that we know better than the guys at the top.

Last year, it emerged that US Presidential candidate, Mick Romeny, and Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, had been colleagues three decades back at the Boston Consulting Group. Reminiscing together, they recalled how they had concluded that the big chief at the time was simply out of his depth. Today? Well just look at the strength of that same company.

This is all very relevant when you consider 4 management stories that were reported in the Israeli press in the past week. Be honest – could you have done any better in the situations done below. And what can we all learn from these real life commercial scenarios?

ITEM ONE: Teva

Teva is considered a global giant in the sphere of generic drugs. The outgoing CEO, Shlomo Yanai, has seen sales nearly treble under his five-year leadership to over US$20 billion – albeit partly through acquisitions. Rumours persist if he left or if he was forced to jump by investors concerned about weak are performance.

For me the issue is elsewhere. When the news broke this week, Yanai was partnered at the press conference with his successor, Jeremy Levin. As the Jerusalem Post and Globes observed:

This time, Teva made every effort not to repeat the mistakes that it made at the retirement of its previous CEO, Makov, in 2006. Then, Teva’s announcement that Yanai was replacing Makov was perceived as earth-shattering, an unexpected and disorganized event. The result was an overworked rumor mill about disagreement between Makov and then-chairman Eli Hurvitz, now deceased….The (new team) all stood as one man at the press conference, perhaps in an effort to show unity and support for the change.

The share price rose 3% on the day.

ITEM TWO: Bank Leumi

Galia Maor has been the head of Israel’s second largest bank for close to two decades – a female rock of stability in a male environment. When she announced her retirement, within 24 hours of Yanai’s departure above, the Hebrew press were quick to praise her achievements.

And yet, this very move appears a contradiction to what she has been striving for. Yes, she has given three months notice. But why quit at a time of global financial  turmoil? Why not quietly help to groom a successor with the Board of Directors? Above all, her own explanations for going now – she had just installed a development plan – were not fully believed by the markets.

Strange – a bank demands conservative strategic management from its clients. In this situation, it is possible to argue that there is an obvious lack of ‘leadership by example’.

ITEM THREE: “Tiach Ha’aretz”

Tiach Haaretz is a small time company in Ashkelon. Supplying raw materials for the renovation industry, it was about to go into receivership and throw its employees on to the street. Up pops 35 year old Ronen Shaharabany from a nearby Kibbutz and who has worked his way up the company tree.

On learning of the impending news, he acted on a gut feeling. Within a few hours, he had raised 1 million shekels (just over US$0.25m) and saved the company.

It is reasonable to assume that Ronen’s commercial pedigree does not match that of Yanai nor Maor. There again, who is to say that he will not make a success. As he says, “he believes in his product”. Look at Mr Gates and co.

ITEM FOUR: Israeli phone companies

Now, Israel has at least 9 mobile and phone companies. And in contrast to Ronen, each has a very powerful and experienced top team. On Thursday, Yediot newspaper published a fascinating survey, comparing the time one had to wait on the phone to obtain a response from the respective customer service departments as opposed to a call to the sales’ operation.

Quelle surprise! For each of our mega profitable telecom monoliths, you had to wait longer for customer support service.

But that was not what struck me as the most disappointing part of the article. The companies were asked for their response. Instead of apologising or trying to do better, the newspaper quoted a series of meaningless excuses.

Now, if you were in charge, what would you be doing?

Israel’s economy looks into 2012 and finds…..

January 3, 2012

What’s the reward for financial prudence?

As Israel’s financial planners are finding out; just because you look after yourself according to the textbooks, it does not mean that you will secure the benefits.

Let’s look at the boring stats. Israel’s economy grew by 4.8% in 2011. Unemployment sunk to a record low of 5% in December. Inflation is under control. Oil and gas exploration is likely to produce a boom starting from early 2014. Everything should be rosy. And yet….

Welcome to Europe. Political and economic leadership has been sorely lacking from the EU big guys over the past few months. As the PIGS (sic) and others have led the founders of democracy towards a very gloomy financial disaster, the IMF and the Bank of Israel have gradually been revising downwards the outlook for the Holy Land. Current estimates put growth at “only” 2.8% – just enough to keep in line with population growth, although still ahead of most competitors.

Just how impressive would that achievement be? Well Israel has barely 7.8m people, excluding the Palestinian territories. It is the size of Wales, yet has mountains, 40% is non arable and has the lowest point in the globe. A Jewish State, around 21% is not Jewish, and there are violent external geopolitical pressures. Its relative spending on defence is disproportinately high in relation to its main economic markets.

Simply put, Israel is a country of “extremes and contradictions”. And yet, over the past decade or so, Jerusalem has created a business model based on innovation and sound fiscal management that allows the economy to grow.

Will the European downturn impact worse than feared? Will internal structural difficulties override political capabilities of Netanyahu? How will the Bank of Israel protect the money supply, while ensuring the shekel remains competitive in a period of weak global trade?

No, 2012 will not be an easy year to manage at the micro nor macro level. That said, Israel has kicked off from a solid base. See you in 12 months time.