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Business Growth - Examining Five Killer Strategies For Trouncing the Competition

Aug 17, 2007
Winners in business play rough and don't apologize for it.

Toyota has steadily attacked the Big Three where their will to defend was weakest, moving up the line from compact cars to mid- and full-size vehicles and on to Detroit's last remaining profit centers, light trucks and SUVs. All the while, Toyota has dared its rivals to duplicate a production system that gives the company unmatchable productivity and quality.

Dell is similarly relentless, and ruthless, in dealing with competitors. Last summer, the day after Hewlett-Packard announced weak results because of price competition in PCs, Dell announced a further across-the-board cut - delivering a swift kick to a tough rival when it was down.

Wal-Mart is well known for its uncompromising stance toward suppliers. In 1996, Rubbermaid, a $2 billion business that a few years earlier had been Fortune's most admired company, ventured to contest Wal-Mart's pressure on suppliers to lower their prices - and Wal-Mart simply cut Rubbermaid off. (Newell acquired a struggling Rubbermaid in 1999.) Wal-Mart doesn't pull punches with competitors, either. In recent years, as Kmart floundered in bankruptcy proceedings, Wal-Mart rolled out a knockoff of Kmart's Martha Stewart product line, putting pressure on one of the tottering retailer's few areas of success.

Hardly anyone would dispute that Toyota, Dell, and Wal-Mart have epitomized corporate success over the past decade. But the raised eyebrows they provoke - recent BusinessWeek cover articles have included "Can Anything Stop Toyota?" "Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?" and "What You Don't Know About Dell" - suggest there's something not quite kosher about the way they achieve that success.

That's because Toyota, Dell, and Wal-Mart play hardball. What do we mean by this? Hardball players pursue with a single-minded focus competitive advantage and the benefits it offers - leading market share, great margins, rapid growth, and all the intangibles of being in command. They pick their shots, seek out competitive encounters, set the pace of innovation, test the edges of the possible. They play to win. And they do.

Softball players, by contrast, may look good - they may report decent earnings and even get favorable ink in the business press - but they aren't intensely serious about winning. They don't accept that you sometimes must hurt your rivals, and risk being hurt yourself, to get what you want. Instead of running smart and hard, they seem almost to be standing around and watching. They play to play. And though they may not end up out-and-out losers, they certainly don't win.

This may reflect the recent emphasis of management science, which itself has gone soft. Indeed, the discourse around a constellation of squishy issues - leadership, corporate culture, customer care, knowledge management, talent management, employee empowerment, and the like - has encouraged the making of softball players.

"Hardball", George Stalk, Jr. and Rob Lachenauer, Harvard Business Review, April 2004.
About the Author
Melih ("may-lee") Oztalay, CEO
SmartFinds Internet Marketing
Web: www.cjps-enterprises.com
EMail: melih@hsfideas.com
At CJPS Enterprises, we specialize in execution. Getting things done. Our approach is designed to give your company an unfair advantage.
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