A couple years ago after forming my own company I met with a CEO of a company I had worked for in the past.
He was someone I had admired for some time and had known before working for his company.
Our meeting was the first time we'd spoken since I'd left his company. And I was curious to get his reaction to some of the theories I had come to hold.
The first concept I wanted to test was my notion that organizations are either growing or going. The growing can be a function of revenue, margin, productivity, product line.....you name it. But there had to be a focus on and creation of growth. If not, in my view entropy sets in. Granted, the "going" can go fast or take a long time. But the dying process has begun once the aspiration of striving for more is removed.
He disagreed and dismissed the idea that anything other than revenue growth can be seen as growth. And, as I recall further expressed the notion that any business motivation that was aspirational was contrary to the profit motive; the true purpose of any business activity.
And, to be honest, I think I was far more interested in the discussion than he was.
But I was not then and have not been since, swayed from my premise. And ironically, my former boss and his company illustrate my point.
As mentioned earlier, I had known and admired my former boss before working for him. We had a number of engaging conversations about a range of business strategies over the course of a few years before I accepted a position at his company. I thought of those conversations as the kind of "what if" debates out of which creative strategic solutions and directions arise.
But when I got there, that's not what I found.
The firm had just completed a transaction that more than doubled its size. It was struggling with integration challenges and the corporate culture was in flux. (A prime example - half the company relied on voice mail and the other half email for most communcation.) As a new member of the staff, I had a sense that once integration challenges were overcome, the culture would become more what I had anticpated from my earlier interactions with the CEO.
But it never really did. Instead, the company felt defensive. More worried about what it would lose than what it could gain. As time progressed, the environment become more monolithic and insular with an air of superiority.
From the time the company doubled its size until today the firm has completed no significant acquisitions or transactions or entered into any new product lines and has struggled with its financial performance. It has meandered through four different capital structures, sold many assets, endured a bankruptcy, survived significant legal challenges and came within an eyelash of being broken apart.
In its new iteration under new ownership and new leadership, the company is communicating the desire to innovate. To be creative. To become aspirational.