• 10 Ways to Slay Goliath

    by  • February 26, 2012 • Branding, Human Resources, Leadership, Marketing, Strategy

    My business career is characterized with a bunch of David versus Goliath encounters. As a 23 year-old Macleans Toothpaste Brand Manager in 1970, my colleagues and I competed against powerhouses P&G, Colgate and Unilever. When I joined Jacobs Suchard (then Nabob Foods) in 1977, I found myself up against the muscle of Kraft and Nestle. Wherever I went, the major competitor was 20 times larger. That is clout. And yet, our little band of rebels was able to outmaneuver that might with two potent weapons that cost absolutely nothing.

    Here’s the point. When you know you will never be the low-cost producer nor will you ever have the resources to outspend the big cat, you find other ways to skin it – okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Clout allows these giants to grow, but there is absolutely no reason why a smaller player cannot become a market leader within their chosen market(s). As long as the “Davids” are able to resist the urge to become generalists by expanding into too many markets with too many products, they can win. I should know; I spent 17 years at Jacobs Suchard winning within the intensely competitive coffee and chocolate markets.

    The secret to thriving against mega-company competition comes down to three potent armaments – strategy, creativity, and culture. Here are 10 ways to survive in a world where big keeps getting bigger:

    1. They are slow.  You be fast.
    2. They are bureaucratic.  You be nimble.
    3. They are risk averse.  You be entrepreneurial.
    4. They are fact-centric; the more the better.  You make decisions when you have most, but not all of the information; that affords the “first-in” advantage.
    5. They are generalists.  You be specialists.
    6. They value doing things right.  You value doing right things.
    7. They grow by doing more and more.  You grow by doing less, better.
    8. They are conventional and reactive.  You be distinctive and farsighted.
    9. They are obsessed with efficiencies and processes.  You be obsessed with innovation.
    10. They leverage their financial resources.  You leverage your creativity.

    If your company is suffering the clout of a giant, I suggest you rank your performance against these 10 commandments of giant slaying. Undoubtedly, you will come up short. Change won’t happen overnight because you are likely facing a shift in corporate culture. Achieving the right culture is possible, but it seldom happens unless the organization is blessed with a strong and tenacious CEO who passionately practices the tenets of entrepreneurial leadership.


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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    9 Responses to 10 Ways to Slay Goliath

    1. February 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Brilliant! Yet I think even big organizations need to be wise enough to make the same leaps if they want to compete into the future.

      • John
        February 28, 2012 at 12:14 pm

        Appreciate your viewpoint, Susan. There are a lot of big companies out there who talk change, but just can’t get their act together to institutionalize meaningful reinvention. Who would have thought that a company like Kodak would be forced into bankruptcy? They never adapted to the reality of digital photography and yet they saw the digital wave coming. Sure they tried to reinvent themselves, but every change was too little, too late. The small player gets used to being fast and nimble. That said, it is amazing that the highest value company in the world has been able to do just that. Apple shareholders can thank one man for that.

    2. February 28, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Excellent suggestions for any company from small business to Fortune 500. You don’t have to join the pack competing on the basis of size.

      • John
        February 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm

        Thanks for your comment, Jesse. Unfortunately for the Goliaths, their leaders were groomed within the big company bureaucracy. They know no other way of operating and that is good for all the Davids out there. Giants who grow through acquisition (like Kraft), soon lose the entrepreneurial spirit needed to drive organic growth.

    3. March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      Such an inspiring read. Get, be and stay nimble.

      Darting in and around the ‘Goliaths’ is much more fun anyway! Great message, thanks!

      • John
        March 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm

        Yes, Karen. I forgot to mention the fun. I can’t imagine spending an entire career working the system within these bureaucratic beasts. After sgraduation and before retirement, 50% of our waking hours are on the job. Those years should be inspiring and rewarding. Some people are able to realize this in big corporations; most do not. At the end of their careers what do they have? A pension. That’s not enough.

    4. Jay
      March 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      One of my client recently received and RFP from the largest Logistics Provider in the world. It was wired for their competitor, who is much larger and very well funded. My client was treading water.

      Initially, they did not want to waste time responding to the RFP. I asked them if there was a better solution than what they were looking for. If they felt they can deliver, then I will ask them if we can provide an alternative solution that is probably better than what they are considering.

      They said yes, and we provided the solution they were looking for and the alternative solution we felt was superior that we wanted them to consider. They loved our alternative solution and we got the business.

      We won by changing the game.

      • John
        March 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm

        Glad to hear that, Jay. Next tim will be easier because now you know you can do it. Each win adds another block to a culture that thrives on differentiation.

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