Several years ago, while visiting a regional branch of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global career management services company, then-president Stephen Harrison was stopped short by “Ray”, his chief operating officer.
“You didn’t greet the receptionist,” said Ray, who proceeded to do what he
called the “two-minute schmooze”. Introducing himself, Ray inquired about the receptionist’s commute and impressions of the company. Ray explained to Harrison: “A receptionist is a corporate concierge. They will talk to more important people in a day—suppliers, customers, even CEOs —than you will talk to all year.”
MALAY KARMAKAR / MINT
Enron-level scandals are not averted by talking to the receptionist alone but Harrison, speaking at the 11th annual Wharton Leadership Conference, contended that small acts like this are part of what makes for an ethical corporate culture—a key safeguard against moral lapses.
Harrison, who is now the chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, pointed to the failure of Sarbanes-Oxley to stop incidences of corporate fraud and misconduct, citing a 2005 Pricewaterhouse-Coopers survey that reported a 22% increase in global fraud over the previous two years.
Prior to becoming chairman, Harrison was appointed worldwide chief ethics and compliance officer of Lee Hecht Harrison’s parent company, Adecco—a position mandated for publicly-traded companies complying with Sarbanes-Oxley.
But Harrison believed the word “ethics” seemed too abstract; he replaced it with what he sees as a more intuitive, common-sense word: decency.
“Decency is not just about being nice,” noted Harrison, author of The Manager’s Book of Decencies. Rather, it is about creating a “bubble wrap” of good deeds that will protect a company in hard times.
“Our willingness to be decent at work cannot depend on whether business is up or whether we’re in a bad mood or whether it’s raining. Decencies don’t amount to anything unless we take the trouble to make them come alive through concrete acts in all kinds of weather.”
For Harrison, decency includes being generous with praise and recognition, remaining accessible, and answering his own phone.
A key test of a leader’s sensitivity comes at layoff time, he said. “It takes courage to put your chest out, shoulders back, and be there to deal with this. It’s a decency, and people will appreciate it.”
Why are brands managed over quarters?
In 1993, as store-level scanning data started to become widely available, Wharton marketing professor Leonard Lodish co-authored an article outlining the power of this technology to gauge the effect of price promotions on revenue.However, he also insisted that there are other, long-term measures that may not be as easy to collect, but are just as important, perhaps more important, to sales, market share and stock price over time. Brand managers heard the first part loud and clear. The second part? Not so much.
In a new paper titled If Brands Are Built Over Years, Why Are They Managed Over Quarters? Lodish and Carl F. Mela from Duke University show how widespread adoption of easy-to-harness, short-term measures has made it more difficult for brand managers to maintain pricing power and compete in the marketplace.
The authors point to research indicating that market share for branded products is declining, and that consumer sensitivity to price has increased in the past 25 years.
Meanwhile, between 1978 and 2001, trade promotion spending—or discounts— has increased from 33% to more than 60% of marketing budgets. At the same time, spending on advertising, which is hard to link to sales but can build brand power more effectively over the long term, is down from 40% of marketing budgets to 24%.
Lodish says much of the trend towards promotional discounts may be attributed to scanner technology which provided brand managers with data that clearly tracked the impact of price reductions by comparing stores that ran promotions against those that did not. The authors note that the nature of the data itself has an impact on marketing decisions that can actually impair brands over time.
To correct some of these problems, Lodish and Mela recommend that brand managers take a quarterly look at metrics that can help them assess long-term prospects for a brand, such as estimated brand sales at a constant, non-discount price and the change in brand price response over months, quarters and years. “By creating hard numbers about long-term effects, which are available as short-term metrics, firms can avoid some of the myopia inherent in their short-term measures,” the authors note.
Sushi: A fish tale on a macro scale
Over the past two decades, sushi—a familiar, accessible and immensely desirable food that can be found in supermarket aisles and fast food outlets as well as high-end restaurants—has become a staple of cultures around the globe. In his new book, The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, Sasha Issenberg argues that sushi reveals the “complex dynamics of globalization” and shows against all odds that “a virtuous global commerce and food culture can exist”.
While sushi’s roots go back hundreds of years to an era when fish was packed in rice to ferment and preserve it, today’s sushi is only as old as the technological means of transporting highly perishable fish swiftly and efficiently from one end of the world to the other. Originally devised to keep the Japanese in tuna, the transport system that evolved around bluefin has helped sushi spread far beyond Japan. And sushi is at once preserved and reinvented in every new market it meets: Crab and avocado found their way into rolls in California, because that’s what was available. In Brazil, California rolls are made with mango rather than avocado—again, because that’s what’s available.
Issenberg argues that sushi is an index to a nation’s worldliness, expressing not only the sophistication of a country’s taste, but also an equally sophisticated confidence in the procedural purity of an industry with great potential for corruption and adulteration. Combining a hunter-gatherer purity with an international market organized around swift transit and state-of-the-art refrigeration, wealthy consumers and artisan chefs who continually reinvent sushi according to local tastes and ingredients, sushi extends the possibility that we might actually be able to have our globalization and eat it, too.
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