Experiences from the Corporate Trenches

Tuesday, 19 May 2009 - Athens, Greece

Leadership Chess

Presentation Summary

Kevin Roberts’ recent address to the 20th Annual Leadership Congress of the ACEO in Athens “Smart Leaders Bad Decisions” looked at how to win in the new reality, and tackled “en passant” the issue of making and avoiding mistakes.

I’m a radical optimist — in times like these, there’s nothing else to be. Worldwide, the value of financial assets fell by $50 trillion in 2008, equal to world GDP for a year (Asian Development Bank).

2009 is bad; 2010 will be worse.

  • Credit crisis
  • Confidence crisis
  • Social crisis

In the history of bad decision making, this is monumental. There’s no institution left to trust: Not government, not financial houses, and not religion.

How to survive is the wrong question. The right question is how to win. Not how to win foul, how to win fair and ferocious.

There will be winners and losers. The winning will be ugly not pretty, gritty not flamboyant. Raw standards will be raised from the ashes of fallen markets.

Winning Ugly re-calibrates the old skill sets. It strips you down to the bare essentials of winning. Clients face new problems, and want new solutions.

I want to focus on changing your mindset, and we’ll cover mistakes as we go. We need to reset priorities to face the new reality. So here are five re-organizing ideas:

#1 Activate Seven Solutions

Let’s start with 7 “To Dos” for smart leaders in 2009, for women and men to stand and win in the tough.

    Courage hurts and it matters.
    Pepsi faced the truth about its Tropicana-packaging redesign: A sales drop of 20%. Tropicana is back in the loved, familiar pack.
    Wrench yourself out of the familiar and predictable. Rip out what didn’t work. If you don’t reframe, consumers will.
    Starbucks, aka “fourbucks” has struggled to escape the “$4 cup of coffee” frame, — even though many of its beverages are cheaper.
    Refuse to be paralyzed by the unknown. Let uncontrollables go.
    Wal-Mart attracts three to four tweets a minute, and they’re not all compliments. Execs there let it go and use it as a listening post.
    Do it fast.
    Gaps in your research may feel ugly, but stop feeding what Kim Dedeker of Procter & Gamble calls “the metrics monster”.
    Create teams that don’t fit in a box in the organizational plan, for performance, flexibility, results.
    What you cut now has more impact on the bottom line than what you add, and more than what you offer as a price reduction. To make up for a 5% price reduction, you need a 19% increase in sales.
    One day to identify the problem, one day to send the solution upstairs for approval and one to put it into action. Compress time.

#2 Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Fix Fast

Head-to-head combat demands speed and adaptability. Velocity is key to Winning Ugly, decisive speed. Leave loose ends dangling, and keep moving.

In my first job at Mary Quant, we had nine months to conceive, produce, launch, sell — and then discontinue a complete line. Cheap-and-chic Zara clothing wins in this zone, warp-speed response to fashion trends.

There’s no innovation without error. Smart executives pursue failure, fail cheaply, and rise. Says John Chambers, Cisco, “Without exception, all my biggest mistakes occurred because I moved too slowly.”

Velocity drives raw competitive advantage, keeping you on or ahead of the curve. In 2008 Barclays leapt regulations by acquiring Lehman Brothers’ assets days after its collapse. Tesco introduced a discount line to avoid customer loss to cheaper competitors.

Velocity with mistakes is like scaffolding — you build, climb, slip and go higher. I’ve experienced failure, and I bounced back harder and smarter, using FREDA.

Focus – 100 Day Plans
Reinvention – Point not Lead
Execution – Drive the important not the urgent
Distribution – The scale and communication factor
Accountability – RASCI

Most companies bury or ignore mistakes. Toyota encourages employees to share mistakes.

Toyota is experimental yet rigorous via Plan–Do–Check–Act. Causes of screw-ups get rooted out with blowtorch scrutiny, the famous “five-whys”.

Toyota uses paradox to navigate market minefields:

  • Moves slowly yet takes big leaps.
  • Grows steadily yet remains paranoid.
  • Be frugal yet splurges on key areas – like the 3G Prius.

Fast idea generation is critical. Ideas are the currency of the future, and the only discriminator in the present. Dare to innovate. Reduce risk, increase transparency, and make a move for market share.

The higher up the company you climb, the dumber and blinder you get!! Smart executives make big errors because they start believing their own PR!!

An unacceptable mistake is one that threatens or destroys structural integrity. A genius is someone who makes the same mistake, once.

#3 Create Loyalty Beyond Recession

If it feels too good to be true, it probably is, as the car guys in Detroit finally discovered.

I believe emotion is a solution not a problem; the key to better decisions, to stronger value, to higher profit.

John Bargh, NYU psychologist, says that everything is evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second. When emotion strikes, we see. When emotion gets tough, we act.

Saatchi & Saatchi created Lovemarks to take value beyond price, beyond range, beyond brands.

And the tougher recession gets, the stronger emotional bonds become. Consumers are reframing value. Understand how, act on this, and you’ll win.

Consumers are evaluating more, experimenting more, connecting more, and switching more: health and indulgence, familiarity and novelty, time and money, shopping more and spending less.

They see you coming on this Love/Respect Axis:


Low Respect. Low Love. Commodities without differentiation. U.S. Airlines, U.S. banks!

High Love. Low Respect. The creative zone of “NEW” and “NOW”. Fads and financial bubbles. Burning bright, but short, with acute up and downsides.

High Respect. Low Love. “E-r” words: faster, bigger…cheaper. Brand land, currently discounting itself into oblivion.

High Love and High Respect. Lovemarks. Consumers say: “I’ll make sacrifices before I give this up.”

Great brands are irreplaceable. Lovemarks are irresistible, mixing Mystery, Sensuality, Intimacy.

Lovemarks reveal ways to reframe value, turning recessionary price-focused value into priceless value.

Here are three ways to win, each led with emotion.

Surprise with the obvious:

  • Buy a Hyundai and if you lose your job, they’ll buy it back off you.
  • Netflix delivers videos to your door.
  • Toyota Prius – a button start ignition.
  • Southwest Airlines treats people like people.
  • Apple made technology…beautiful.

Jump Shift Value:

  • P&G invited consumers to compare their new product Tide Total Care with dry cleaning.
  • Tata Nano compared their launch not with another car, but a scooter. The world’s cheapest new car.
  • Flexjet reframed its private jets from a luxury item for rich people to a valuable business tool, from cost to investment.

Take the Long View:

  • Dutch Rabobank Group stuck to its guns in 2008, avoiding high-risk sub prime mortgages in favor of low-risk lending principles.
  • Toyota gained market share in each of three major economic downturns of past 20 years:
  1. By continuing to launch new products.
  2. By investing in strong brand and marketing activities.
  3. By going hard on rational value and priceless emotional value.

#4 Deliver Four Fantastic Feelings

This is a time to reevaluate people, and to steal some plus-one talent. Win Ugly!! And it’s a time to re-examine your reward system.

In managing, it’s a time to judge less, help those who are down, focus on the future and understand your own emotions.

I’ve got 6,000 eagles born not to fly in formation. I give them four things:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Learning
  3. Recognition
  4. Joy.

#5 Dive into a True Blue World

Greek Fact: The sea is never more than 80 kilometers from any point on the mainland.

Greece is a metaphor for the True Blue world, an idea that Saatchi & Saatchi has inspired.

Sustainability is the biggest opportunity of the next 50 years. And the next major differentiator as brands face commodification.

In Winning Ugly terms, it’s not a nice-to-have but a have-to-have, it’s surviving and winning. Smart leaders are all over this, no mistake.

Last year we set up Saatchi & Saatchi S – our specialist sustainability agency. Saatchi S works with companies and governments. They are getting scale and impact fast.

We believe in:

  1. Heading from limits to possibilities.
  2. The power of consumers to change the world.
  3. Sustainability as a catalyst for business growth.
  4. No sustainability, no Lovemark.

True Blue is a transformational idea, mixing ecology, economy, society and culture, and stirring action with Personal Sustainability Plans. We’re making doing the right thing fun, irresistible and viral, and revolution is coming…

The Role of Business is to make the world a better place for everyone. This is where true value lies as markets rise again.

How to Win in the Age of Now


Spanning creativity, leadership and execution, Kevin Roberts’ presentation to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Wellington Chapter is an inspirational primer in: Wanting to Win, Ways to Win Now and Ways to Keep Winning – the secrets of Peak Performance so that winning becomes a habit.

Up, Up and Away – Rotary Newmarket


Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, talks to the Newmarket Rotary Club about Winning in the Age of Now, and how to turn a brand into an irresistible Lovemark for the next generation.

Start Me Up


Kevin Roberts gives keynote speech at the 6th Annual Global Competitiveness Forum “The Entrepreneurship Imperative” held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sharing three ways to win in the region.

Set Fire To The Rain


In this presentation to Spotlight On Lancaster at Lancaster University, Kevin Roberts talks about enabling, energizing and activating creative partnerships and achieving Vibrant, Crazy, Unreal and Astounding impact.

Brighter Than Sunshine


Presenting to AAC Saatchi & Saatchi in Bermuda, Kevin Roberts shares three key ideas on connecting people around ideas that create Loyalty Beyond Reason.

Magic Time


In this presentation to EmoDay in Amsterdam, Kevin Roberts shares five key ideas on emotional innovations and creating Lovemarks.

Just Can’t Get Enough


Presenting to the Institute of Development Professionals in Education in Oxfordshire, Kevin Roberts presents three ideas on creating Loyalty Beyond Reason and creating frameworks for development discussions.