Posted by: Bill von Achen | February 28, 2013

What I’m Reading Now (February 28, 2013)

Ideas for best practices in business come from everywhere!  So here’s a brief list of some of the articles, blog postings, videos and other items that I’ve come across during the past week:

Are You Ready for ObamaCare? (Inc Magazine, March 2013) For many companies, 2013 marks the beginning of the implementation of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. The folks at Inc. Magaine have just pubished a simple and informative flowchart that can help you to determine exactly how the ACA will impact your company in the year ahead, and what penalites may be applicable.  Check out the chart…

The Truth (?) About China’s Economy?  (The New Yorker Magazine, February 25, 2013) Everyone talks about the China economy, but much of the data on which the mostly positive press is based comes from government sources. Now, lawyer and entrepreneur Leland Miller has compiled what he calls the China Beige Book , modeled after the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank’s compendium of economic data.  Favorite quote from the article? “The answer to better Chinese analysis is not better Chinese analysts…The answer to better Chinese analysis is better data.”  Learn more…

How Will You Measure Your Life?  (Interview with Clayton Christensen, Wired Magazine,  February 12, 2013)  It’s been 16 years since the publication of The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen’s ground breaking book on disruptive innovation. As part of its review of iconic business thinkers, Wired Magazine’s Contributing Editor Jeff Howe interviewed Christensen on the origins of Dilemma, and his views about industries where disruptive innovation is at play right now (think higher education!). But Christensen also shares some thoughts from his newest book about the meaning of leadership in business. Most inspiring thought?  “Many think of management as cutting deals and laying people off and hiring people and buying and selling companies. That’s not management, that’s dealmaking. Management is the opportunity to help people become better people. Practiced that way, it’s a magnificent profession.”  Read the interview…

Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate (Harvard Business Review Blog Network, February 19, 2013)  Speaking of innovation, Steven Blank, author of Four Steps to the Epihany, opines in this Harvard Business Review blog posting about the challenges facing big companies that are trying to be innovative.  According to Blank, we expect entrepreneurs to be innovative, since an innovative idea is often the spark for a new business.  But, even with more resources at their disposal, large companies often fail because their job is not to innovate but to execute their existing business model.   Best “aha!” idea?  “Finding a viable (new) business model…requires iterative experimentation, talking to large numbers of potential customers, trying new things, and continually making adjustments…(Therefore) companies need a portfolio of new business start-ups rather than putting all of their eggs into a limited number of baskets.”  Read more…

Another Client Company in the News  (Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2013) Last week our good friends Mark and Pam Fisher were featured in a Washington Post article about business-marriage partnerships. This week, a 2012 analysis of the residential housing market by our long-time client Pro-Teck Valuation Services was the subject of an article in the Los Angeles Times.  According to Pro-Teck’s analysis, real estate prices across the country increased in 2012 over 2011 levels. Notable quote from the article: “Pro Teck’s median price per square foot is more helpful than other measures in gauging the path of housing prices…(and) Pro Teck’s figures are more current.” Kudos to Pro-Teck president Tom O’Grady!  Read the article…

What have you read recently that might be of interest to others? Let us know by posting your comments here. Thanks!

Posted by: Bill von Achen | February 22, 2013

What I’m Reading Now (February 20, 2013)

Ideas for best practices in business come from everywhere, but we can quickly become overwhelmed just trying to keep up with the daily newspaper. So, in an effort to save you time and help keep you informed about best practice ideas and trends, here’s a brief list of some of the articles, blog postings, videos and other items that I’ve come across during the past week:

12 Great Motivational Quotes for 2013 (Inc. Magazine, January 2, 2013)
Even though we’re already well into the new year, it’s never too late for some inspirational thoughts to help motivate us on our respective journeys. This brief posting on the Inc. Magazine website offers enough inspiration to last throughout 2013. Favorite quote? From Tony Robbins, “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” See the list…

How to Tell High Potential Leaders They’re Special (Gallup Business Journal, February 2013)
If you believe that your company’s employees are your most valuable asset, then your high potential associates warrant extra special care and attention. A number of companies are creating special development programs specifically for high potential employees. However, such programs present two challenges, first, how to objectively select participants, and two, how not to send the wrong message to those who are not selected to participate. The answer? “Use a validated and transparent process to identify high-potential leaders — and be smart about how you notify them and begin the leadership development process.” Read more…

Why We’re All in Sales (Harvard Business Review, podcast, February 14, 2013)
Author and speaker, Dan Pink’ was in town earlier this month promoting his new book, To Sell is Human. and took time out to speak with Harvard Business Review about his findings about the pervasive nature of selling in the 21st century. Pink lays bare the reality that almost all of us spend some of our work time persuading others to part with something of value for something we have, and provides some tools to help make those efforts more effective. Most provocative idea? We can learn a great deal about effective persuasive techniques from improvisational actors and comedians. Listen to the podcast…

The Thank You Economy (Interview with Gary Vaynerchuk, Piers Morgan Tonight)
We’ll be discussing Gary Vaynerchuk’s latest book, The Thank You Economy, at our March Executive Book Club Breakfast (see below for details). In the meantime, here’s an interview with Vaynerchuk conducted by Piers Morgan on Piers Morgan Tonight, and recorded in 2011. Watch the video…

Business Marriage Balance (Washington Post, February 14, 2014)
Our good friend Mark Fisher and his wife Pam, owners of Construction Coordinators in Needham, were profiled in Valentine’s Day article about the estimated 1.4 million entrepreneurial couples who work together in running a business. Mark and Pam discuss how their partnership supports their business success, and the benefits and challenges of working together. Notable quote from Mark: “Having outside activities helps us remember why we’re here. It helps make it easier for me to step back and see where Pam’s coming from.” Read the article…

What have you read recently that might be of interest to others? Let us know by posting your comments here. Thanks!

Posted by: Bill von Achen | October 24, 2011

The Best of 2011’s Best Practices in Q3

We’re well into the final few months of 2011.  So, I’d like to share with you excerpts from the five most popular Best Practices postings from the third quarter of this year:

Succession Planning: A Cautionary Tale (posted August 1st)
“Charles Sarkis, the eponymous owner of Charley’s Eating and Drinking Saloon and the Back Bay Restaurant Group, has built a formidable restaurant empire here in the Boston area over the past 40 years, with 33 restaurants and 3400 employees. Sarkis is reportedly one smart, tough business owner, but it appears that his unwillingness to address succession planning issues may lead to the demise of a company that has been his life’s work.”  Read more…

Steve Jobs on Leadership and Life (posted August 24th)
“We’re all trying to fit in a few days of rest and relaxation before the unofficial end of summer a little more than a week from now. But today, Steve Jobs, the co-founder and legendary visionary of Apple Computer, announced his decision to step down as the company’s CEO. So, despite the hour, I’m compelled to send this post.”  Read more…

Howard Lutnick on the Economy (posted September 11th)
“Last Thursday evening, I watched the President speak before Congress about his plan to reinvigorate the U.S. economy and to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Then, on Friday evening, I heard a fascinating interview with Howard Lutnick, the head of the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, that touched on the very same subject.”  Read more…

How Not to Drown Out the Opinions of Others (posted August 5th)
“As companies expand beyond their entrepreneurial roots, effective leaders must break out of the habit of making all of the decisions, and find ways to share leadership with the other talented people they’ve hired. But that’s tough to do, especially when you’ve called the shots from the beginning. And helping others to get comfortable with expressing their own views, particularly when those views are different from yours, can be tricky.”  Read more…

Seven Questions to Ask About Your Business Model (posted September 23rd) 
“Alex Osterwalder is a leading thinker and commentator about innovative business models, and the co-author of the best-selling book, Business Model Generation. Osterwalder dissects the key elements of a successful business model, which he’s captured in his Business Model Canvas, a one-page sheet that allows business owners to “describe, design, challenge, invent and pivot your business model.”  Read more…

What are your favorite Best Practices postings from the past few months?  Let us know by posting your comments here.  Thanks!

Posted by: Bill von Achen | October 7, 2011

The Passing of an Innovator

Innovation has the power to transform our world in ways we can’t even imagine. In reading the hundreds of published tributes to Steve Jobs following his passing last week, we are reminded of the many ways in which his work has changed our lives, from how we use computers (graphical interfaces and the mouse), to the way we buy and listen to music (iTunes and the iPod) or access books, newspapers and magazines (the iPad), and even our experience at the movies (Pixar and Toy Story).

But this week’s posting is not about Jobs, whom we wrote about in late August following the announcement of his decision to step down from the helm of Apple. Instead, I’d like to share with you the story of another innovator from another era, who passed away in early September, and whose work possibly transformed our world as fundamentally as did Jobs.

His name was Keith Tantlinger, another California native and the son of a citrus grower in Orange, California. Tantlinger earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley during the Great Depression of the 1930s, eventually landing a job at the Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II. By the 1950s, Tantlinger was the vice-president of engineering for Brown Industries, a company which produced truck trailers in Spokane, Washington. And it was there in the mid-1950s that Tantlinger took a call from Malcom McLean, the owner of the Pan-Atlantic Steamship, that would change the face of modern shipping and, with it, the world.

Until then, transporting cargo by ship was a labor-intensive process that involved hand-loading hundreds of thousands of individual items, packed in sacks, crates and barrels, and then unloading them all over again at the destination port for transportation to their final destination. The earliest versions of the shipping container significantly reduced the labor required, but stacking containers from different manufacturers in a secure manner was impossible because of the lack of standard designs and coupling options. This constraint severely limited their usefulness on long-distance sea passages.

Tantlinger changed all that. Hired by McLean, Tantlinger designed a set of fittings to be welded to each corner of a container, along with a locking mechanism that would allow a stack of containers to be safety secured to one another on board container ships. The fittings also enabled cranes to hook on to individual containers to quickly and safely lift them on and off ships. And the locking mechanism could also be used to secure containers to a truck chassis or railroad car, for transportation to and from the port.

Once Tantlinger’s innovation became an industry standard, the speed and safety of sea cargo transportation increased dramatically. As a result, manufacturers gained access to markets around the world, and consumers benefited from a wider array of products at lower prices. Indeed, today’s global marketplace would not have been possible without Tantlinger’s seemingly small but monumentally significant innovation.

The complete story of Tantlinger, McLean, the shipping container and their contributions to global commerce is wonderfully documented in Marc Levinson’s 2006 best-seller The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, which I highly recommend. You can read the obituary of Keith Tantlinger as published in the New York Times by going to our Resources page at, and by clicking on the link under the heading “Innovation.”

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