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Outsmarting the competition

Outsmarting the competition

Jim Champy, who co-wrote Reengineering the Corporation, says CIOs should not be intimidated by a recession.

Leadership expert Jim Champy, who co-wrote Reengineering the Corporation, is chairman of Perot Systems consulting practice. His latest book is Outsmart!: How to Do What Your Competitors Can't.

Technology enables business change. Most of the business models in Outsmart! could not have been built without a sound and innovative information technology infrastructure. And in almost every company, the CIO and the CEO were close operating partners. But the most important lesson a CIO has to learn is that, although planning is virtuous, it may slow you down. There are times when you must trust your intuition and act quickly, even if money is not in the budget. But if you throw the budget away, be sure that you can deliver on what the business needs.

Be inspired by your team. It's inspiring to see a management team that has a great ambition for their business. I'm always looking for the kind of ambition that leads to a genuinely competitive and sustainable strategy. It's not a personal ambition but an ambition for how the business will perform, and it is usually centered on a very substantive idea of how to compete. The Shutterfly case in Outsmart! is a good example of great ambition: create a social expressions company that connects communities - and make it work for customers and shareholders.

Learn from the experienced. I dedicated the book to my father because he was my first real teacher in business. He taught me about self-reliance and to select my partners carefully. He was also a pragmatist, and having lived through the depression, he believed that hard work - and some smarts - could get you through almost any challenging economic condition. And I have learned that any great business requires hard work and persistence.

Greatness emerges in times of crisis. The business leaders whom I admire the most are not necessarily the ones appearing on magazine covers. There are some good leaders who are big names, but I most admire the leaders who are working quietly to build a great business. I will go back in business history, and tell you about Jim Burke. Burke was the CEO of Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol contamination disaster. He handled the crisis brilliantly and reinforced the company's commitment to its values. I also admire Alfred Sloan, who saved GM many years ago. He taught us almost all we need to know about management - except when to change a strategy.

Innovate through the hard times. I would tell the CIO not to be intimidated by a recession. Even during a recession, good companies grow. They find a new idea that drives growth, or they take customers away from frightened competitors by operating better. There is always opportunity - go find it.

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