“Unless a company has a clear point of differentiation it does not have a strategic vision. Setting a strategy, rather than deploying a series of tactics, is the biggest challenge for any new business.”

Entrepeneurs & Business

Standing still is the biggest risk in todays fast-moving business world

2019 has been a turbulent year for the global economy with the headwinds of Brexit, the fall-out from the US-China trade war and continuing tensions in the Middle East creating uncertainty in boardrooms. We live in an inter-connected world and it is hard for any business to ignore the impact of these momentous events.

So, the theme of the C & C Alpha Groups 2019 annual conference, Business Sustainability, Emerging Risk Analysis and Growth in a Changing Climate, could not have been better chosen. Led by Professor William Kerr and Professor Juan Alcacer, from Harvard Business School, it addressed these issues head-on. Every challenge brings opportunities and the best business leaders dont shirk from their responsibilities or find excuses for failure they seize those opportunities.

Harvard Business Schools classic definition of entrepreneurism is: The relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. However, that is not an invitation to be reckless. Risk should always be managed. As an investor, I am always looking for new ventures that excite me, but, for every two or three opportunities we invest in, we will probably turn down 100. We minimize risk by going in small and increasing our investment incrementally. Once your base is sound, the time is right to take higher investment risks.

Many business leaders struggle with the dilemma of managing their companys growth trajectory. One way of looking at this by asking: Have I earned the right to grow? Professor Kerr suggested a helpful four-question framework, which can be summarized as:

  • Is my business ready?
  • Do we have the resources we need?
  • Have the leadership team bought into the vision?
  • What is the cost of standing still?

Another useful way to approach the question is to ask: What was the first thing that worked for my business? Every business has core competencies, but what is your distinctive competency what do you do better than your rivals? Make growth decisions based on your distinctive competency, not on your core competencies.

Another important consideration is that cashflow is usually the biggest challenge to growth. Sometimes it is better to be less profitable if it allows you to keep hold of capital because raising capital yourself can cost you more than the profit you have sacrificed.

Adel Al Ali, chief executive of Air Arabia, who founded the Middle Easts first low-cost carrier in 2003 and has presided over its growth into a 50-strong fleet flying to 170 destinations, gave a fascinating insight into his strategy. He looks at profit, not growth or market share, arguing that if you are weak it is easier for competitors to damage you. Airlines typically have a three/five-year strategy, but invariably the plan changes every year, such is the speed of change in the industry.

His philosophy is not to worry too much about corporate secrecy or competitors trying to steal your business; he argues a good business should have the self-confidence to let the competition chase you, rather than chasing them. That approach has certainly worked for Air Arabia; whilst 17 airlines have closed globally during the last 12 months, Air Arabia is ordering 120 new aircraft and extending into new markets.

However, not every business leader can afford to be so sanguine. Profit draws a crowd; Netflix and Ben and Jerry are good examples of pioneers in their fields whose business models have been imitated and have had to innovate constantly to stay ahead of the competition. And competition is not always direct; arguably, the biggest challenge to camera manufacturers has been the advent of the smartphone.

As a business leader you need to be alive to risks posed not only by competitors in your own space, but by rapid technological change, which could make your own business model obsolete. The rise of Airbnb has changed the face of the travel industry and it is instructive to consider how Marriott International, which most people think of as an upmarket hotel operator, has responded to the challenge, rather than ignoring it.

The first Marriott hotel was opened in 1957; today, more than 1 million hotel rooms in 110 countries operate under the Marriott International banner, but within its collection there is a huge range of properties, from flagship luxury hotels to midscale brands, offering options to travelers on a budget. Bill Marriott Snr, who started the company in 1927 from a single root beer stand, had a motto: Success is never final and Marriotts hotel innovation incubator has introduced the concept of apartment living and local experiences to some of its hotels in response to the live like a local phenomenon pioneered so successfully by Airbnb.

If you are running a successful business, it is tempting to think you dont need to change anything about your business model. But in todays fast-moving world, if you wait until you need to change it you will already be too late. The best CEOs anticipate disruption even before it has happened and are not afraid to change their business to adapt to it, however, counter-intuitive that might seem.

There is a well-known saying in the business world: Dont let a good crisis go to waste. Rather than fearing radical changes in their market, or macro-economic factors buffeting their business, a good CEO embraces a crisis, seeing it as an opportunity for re-invention. And if there isnt a crisis, one can always be created!


Let's have a chat

If you have an investment opportunity or I can help you develop a strategy in any of my sectors of expertise
please fill in your details below: