The best in Global Leadership studies February 8 2007
This issue our featured leader is Estee Lauder, founder of one of the world's largest cosmetics empires. We are also featuring the articles 'Nurturing Knowledge to Power Innovation Dynamics' and 'Knowledge Management: Shaping the Profession' to give you food for thought over the coming month.
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Knowledge is hot, and deservedly so. Knowledge leadership entails market leadership. Major international companies in industries such as construction, engineering, telecommunications, computer software and hardware, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, energy, and management consulting have started reaping the competitive advantages of knowing what they know, knowing what to know, knowing how to know, and knowing how to use their knowledge most gainfully.
Literature on knowledge management is rapidly proliferating, and so are knowledge sites and activities on the Web. The first ever knowledge professorship, sponsored by Xerox and Fuji-Xerox, has been established at the University of California, Berkeley, and Japan's eminent knowledge scholar, Dr. Ikujiro Nonaka, has been appointed as the world's first knowledge professor.
The growing focus on knowledge and its productivity is hardly surprising in increasingly knowledge-intensive economies. The economic value of knowledge consists of how it creates sustained superior performance: measured foremost by admiration and profitability. Knowledge does this by the contribution it makes to winning innovations and operational excellence. It yields significant short-term value, and it is essential to seizing future opportunities.
Good companies have been managing knowledge for years, even if they didn't use that term to describe their activities. The people who were helping to implement the process were de facto knowledge managers even if they didn't have "knowledge" in their job titles. Vague boundaries surrounding the function did not prevent organizations and individuals from doing a good job of managing knowledge. However, the absence of a clearly defined profession with its own infrastructure meant that the emerging field lacked some of the elements that help sustain any discipline: an accepted body of knowledge or content, specified standards and processes, and readily available opportunities to interact and share knowledge about the field.
It is ironic that the emerging profession of knowledge management has had a relatively limited collaborative context, given that collaboration is one of the key elements in knowledge management. Several conferences, including those presented by KMWorld and E-Gov offer annual opportunities for information sharing and interaction, which prove valuable and energizing to their participants. In addition, a small number of professional societies founded in recent years are providing information resources, training and opportunities for online and in-person discussions. In addition, a growing number of books and Web sites provide explanations of KM basics and implementations.
'iCon Steve Jobs - The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business'
Steve Jobs has become one of the iconic leaders of the digital era. But his rise to stardom wasn't a smooth ride - there were some major setbacks along the way. Authors Young and Simon analyse Steve's roller coaster career, describing it as a drama in three acts. The first act charts Steve's rise from his rebellious childhood in California, through his early hippie years in Silicon Valley, the spectacular growth of Apple Computers, and finally to his resignation from the company.
During this first act, Steve exhibited many of the characteristics that have made him an icon. He epitomised the American dream, in a classic rags-to- riches story. Steve was a charismatic and visionary young man who surmounted all obstacles to become a millionaire by the age of twenty four. He led the project to develop the legendary Macintosh computer and inspired almost fanatical devotion from many of his staff. He knew where he was going - and where the digital revolution was going - and most people were carried along by his vision. It was the textbook "You lead, they'll follow" scenario.
But that is only one side of the story. This unauthorised biography also examines the other, darker side of Steve's character. Young and Simon present a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all analysis of his weaknesses as well as his strengths. They show that Steve didn't understand the technical limitations of his product, micro-managed people, allowed damaging frictions to develop within the company, took no notice of what consumers wanted, and ignored plummeting sales. All the warning signals were there, and disaster soon followed - as inevitably as in a Greek tragedy.
In 1946 Estée Lauder, a master saleswoman, and her husband Joseph started the Estée Lauder Company producing cosmetics in New York City. Now, over 60 years later, with over 20 brands under their banner and controlling around 45% of the cosmetics market, the company is synonymous with quality and beauty. Originally selling her uncle's products to hotels and beauty shops, within two years, Lauder had managed to secure valuable counter space at Saks. It was her consistent focus on customer service which produced classy sales techniques, personal attention to customers and the pioneering concept of free samples. For Lauder this was a way for her products to be in the hands of people who wanted the best. She understood the power of a brand name and so ensured that all their products were of the highest quality and advertised by women considered the essence of femininity and beauty.
Adhering to the mantra of "think globally, act locally," Lauder could be found at Saks on a Saturday, promoting her products and working with the staff to improve their sales techniques. While never a trend setter, Estée Lauder was the first women's cosmetics producer to introduce a men's range as well as creating a dermatologist guided, fragrance free and allergy tested brand with Clinique Laboratories. Estée Lauder's ambition and her eye for quality turned her small cosmetics company into an empire with sales topping $5 billion. She remained the guiding force of the company until her death in 2004 and to this day the Lauder family maintains the value systems and sales techniques which helped to transform the idea of beauty into an international business phenomenon.