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Are all your leaders from one ‘tribe?’ Trouble will soon follow…

Aug 29, 2011 Business Daily, Management

“(Research in Motion) is run by a ‘good ole’ boy’ network from Southern Ontario. Though I actually believe there can be advantages in this close-knit, trust-based social ecosystem, it is unacceptable in this day and age that a global brand should have the vast majority of its citizens derived from a section of a small province, of a small, somewhat provincial and less important country (Canada)… (I say this as a proud Canadian who believes that Southern Ontario businessmen are amongst the best in the world – but that no group of localites are prepared to take on such global challenges). If Apple were to be based in Wisconsin, and drew most of their talent from the state area, I’m sure Wall St. would wonder what is going on.

Business Insider (17 June 2011)

A senior former employee recently spilled the beans regarding what might REALLY be wrong with Research in Motion – the company that gave the world the fabled BlackBerry phone.

BlackBerry is still the dominant corporate phone in Kenya and many emerging markets, but it is taking a real hammering in its more mature markets. Once peerless, it is these days completely unable to cope with the onslaught from Apple’s iPhone and various Android-powered offerings from HTC and Samsung. Its recent, much heralded foray into the new tablet-computer market has also been judged, by most analysts, as a real dud.

What’s going on? RIM sat on its laurels for too long, believing it had an unassailable position in the corporate segment. Two standout features: push e-mail from corporate servers, and class-leading security features, gave it this dominance. But as I pointed out on this page last week, those features didn’t remain unique or distinctive for too long. Other products not only matched them, but also released features that gave an entirely fresh experience to the consumer segment: great internet usability and a whole new universe of fun and useful ‘apps’. Soon, even corporate executives were clamouring for these features – and found that even new models of their BlackBerry phones lagged woefully behind.

The employee who gave businessinsider.com the scoop had this to say: “Despite the deep respect I have for the co-CEO’s of RIM, and their world-class strength in some areas – they are very weak in others. The problem is that they brim with hubris regarding their success in the corporate market and are culturally blind to the gaping holes in their armour regarding consumer. They honestly think they understand consumer product, business, mentality, marketing – but they really don’t.”

So the RIM bosses not only got it wrong, they didn’t even KNOW they got it wrong. How come? A strong clue can be found in the excerpt highlighted above. All the key bosses come from one small part of Canada. In other words, they come from one ‘tribe’ – they share cultural affiliations, and have been socialized in similar settings. What’s so wrong with that? Well, can you imagine key competitors like Apple or Google being similarly insular and provincial?

So, who runs your company? If there is a governing ‘tribe’ of some sort – a family, an ethnic group, or just a group of too-comfortable insiders – trouble will follow at some point. Once an organization has grown beyond its narrow home base, and is trying to make a living in a diverse global setting, it must grow up and shed tribal origins. Even Japanese and Korean companies are learning that ethnic homogeneity is no longer serving them well in modern markets.

Let us learn this lesson well in East Africa. Inbred, hidebound companies don’t give you the challenge and creativity you need to thrive in modern global markets. You must seed your leadership team with people of diverse backgound, exposure and experience. Or stay small and meaningless. Your call.

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