Posted on Sunday, January 10, 2010
Over the years, we’ve been stunned to see how hard it is for executives to recognize and acknowledge mistakes. After all, everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to learn from them so you don’t repeat them, or, better yet, to learn from others’ errors so you never have to make those particular mistakes yourself. Despite the obvious benefits of learning from errors, the denial among executives runs so deep that, to pick a couple of examples from our book:
Posted on Monday, December 14, 2009
This is a guest post by Ken Krushel, a senior alliance member of the Devil’s Advocate Group. Ken has held senior strategy positions at NBC, Paramount and MGM. He has consulted with Warner Brothers, Sega Corp., MGM and Lifetime Television. He was CEO of College Enterprises, Inc., which merged with Blackboard, Inc., to create the largest enterprise educational software company in North America. He also founded Proteus, Inc. a pioneer in marketing specialized subscription-based content for mobile phones.
Posted on Monday, September 21, 2009
Most of the coverage of Dell’s decision to buy Perot Systems for $3.9 billion says the move makes strategic sense, because the big players in the computer industry have large services businesses, and Dell will now have a much stronger services offering. Some writers also note that Dell paid a steep price: nearly 30 times estimates for Perot Systems earnings this year, and a 68% premium over where Perot stock traded before the takeover announcement. But no one seems to have tried to assess whether the price is so high that the deal shouldn’t have been done. The answer is that the price is likely way too high–the deal will make Dell shareholders poorer. How is that strategic?
Posted on Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The Kraft plan to buy Cadbury hinges on synergies between their distribution channels, which brings up an ugly memory: the Quaker Oats purchase of Snapple for $1.7 billion in 1994, followed by the sale of Snapple three years later for just $300 million (accompanied by the departure of the longtime Quaker CEO). [You can hear an audio excerpt of our Quaker Oats case study at the Billion-Dollar Lessons website.]
Posted on Monday, July 20, 2009
We’ve updated “Perfecting the Art of the Deal,” a working paper that applies our research to potential mergers and acquisitions. Read the introduction below and click to download the entire article in PDF form.
Posted on Friday, February 13, 2009
Let’s say a pharmaceutical company is conducting clinical trials on a drug. Two trials find major problems. Several similar tests by others end in failure, too. Would the company get the drug approved? Of course not. Yet Pfizer is trying to drum up enthusiasm for its plan to buy Wyeth for $68 billion, even though its two other major acquisitions since 2000 have flopped and even though the track record for big M&A deals in the pharmaceutical industry is spotty at best.
In the process, Pfizer is raising numerous of the red flags that, according to our research, can mean a strategy is in peril. Pfizer seems to be seeing synergies that aren’t there; is underestimating the complexity that can come with additional size; may be paying too much; isn’t learning from prior mistakes; isn’t considering all its options; and is acting more because of problems in its core business than because of opportunities in a new one.
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2008
Usually, when a synergy strategy falls flat, the people who put it together are pushed out and replaced by a team that unwinds the strategy, while deriding their predecessors as fools. Well, in the case of Internet conglomerate IAC, CEO Barry Diller has so much control that he didn’t just engineer the flawed strategy, which covered a wide range of businesses from financial services to dating services. Diller also is sticking around for the unwinding of that strategy. He recently held a pretty thoughtful interview with the Wall Street Journal, explaining how he got things wrong.
Diller says he realized IAC was “overly complex and unmanageable.” (That shows up in our research as one of the most commonly overlooked problems. The complications that come with scale can, by the way, be foreseen and assessed before a strategy to achieve scale is pursued.) He adds that “every mistake we’ve made in acquisitions has been outside our essential spheres of expertise”–underscoring the difficulties that we found when companies thought they were moving into an adjacent market, only to find that the new market is too different from the existing market where they operate.
Posted on Friday, September 19, 2008
As regulators, investors, and managers grapple with the deepening economic crisis, the question being asked by everyone is “Who’s next?” Who will join Bear Sterns, Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG on the failure list? We think that’s the wrong question. The strategies that doomed these companies were unleashed years ago, and whether or not others will be destroyed by the rising floodwaters will mostly depend on factors outside of their control. That’s not to say that managers at Washington Mutual and others rumored to be at risk should not bail water as hard as possible. The more important question, however, for those who through good management (or good fortune) managed to stay healthy is what they do now.
Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Bank of America’s hasty decision to buy troubled Merrill Lynch for roughly $40 billion gives us pause because it seems to rhyme with Conseco’s disastrous purchase of Green Tree Financial in the late 1990s. The Green Tree acquisition proved to be so toxic that Conseco soon took billions of dollars in writeoffs, then filed for bankruptcy protection. It was the third largest bankruptcy in US history up to that time.
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2008
While our whole premise for this blog and the book that spawned it is that too few people try to learn lessons from failure, there are a few books that have looked at specific kinds of failure and teased out the lessons. Some of these books are well worth reading. We’ll highlight some in this [...]