Monday, January 07, 2008

Morten Lundal article in The Star

DiGi has been one of the most impressive companies in Malaysia, and Morten Lundal, its CEO, has been running it with lots of interesting characters. So, with Morten Lundal going to write on his column in The Star fortnightly, I guess it would be suitable for me to highlight it to all my blog readers too.


The Star article

Management demystified

Managing Mindset: MORTEN LUNDAL

This is the first of a fortnightly column where the DiGi.Com Bhd CEO will explore some of the most established truths of business life.

YOU have heard about him and read about him, yes, maybe even seen him. He is everywhere.

He – always a man – smiles at you from book covers, he presents with confidence at a conference and appears in glossy business magazines and newspapers. He is most likely American, around 50, married, with two or three kids.

He might not be the Master of the Universe, but at least he is a CEO of the Moment. He holds a very visible job and he has done something right. He is portrayed in interviews where the journalist, clearly in awe, is asking, “How do you do it all?”

The CEO may be a subject for a business school case. The professor thinks he has identified the formula behind the success, and wide-open minds sit in the classroom and take it all in: the vision, the strategy and the flawless execution.

The students take it as semi-divine truths and are eagerly looking forward to leaving school to apply it all. The CEO stares at you from attractive book covers at the airport or in your favourite bookstore in town, teeth always surprisingly white.

You’ll likely find titles like 7 Ways to Huge Success, 8 Ways to Lead, 9 Ways of Winning, 10 Ways to Be Rich and so on. They tend to display supreme, unchallenged confidence combined with colourful examples of companies which have followed just that prescribed way and then spectacularly succeeded.

This is the eternal search for the business formula (and CEO) that will all but guarantee success. That basically sums up most business research, business school cases, management consultants’ justification for their advice and management books. They all look for correlation between action and success, and they all claim to have found it!

The only slight problem is, none of these are really close to any universal truth, nor are these very trustworthy recipes for your own efforts. Such “truths” should be like milk, stamped with a “best-before” date. There are countless examples of business heroes on the front page of Fortune who are the following year’s outcasts – Enron’s glamorous previous CEO just happens to be the most prominent of them.

And the business cases also get tired quickly. Throughout the 90s, computer giant Dell was used as the “business redefinition” example for all management consultants and students.

I guess right now it is the case for “how a previous advantage turns against you”. Dell’s CEO said many years ago that if he was CEO of Apple, he would close shop and return the money to the shareholders. Look who’s laughing now.

The world has throughout times always been receptive to illusions, and the business world has more than its fair share of them. All history shows that business formulas for success get dated rather quickly, but the audience still seems to fully believe it in that moment.

I recently shared some of these simple thoughts with the Senior Business Editor of The Star. I’m not sure if she was intrigued or shocked, but either way, she invited me to write a column. I played hard to get for a few seconds before I quickly accepted.

Why? I have had three (mostly unfulfilled) dreams in my life. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a pilot, and I did take a pilot licence while living in the US, exploring the northern east coast from the air.

I wanted to become a musician, and at least I have a guitar. And I also wanted to be a writer, and here you are, reading my words. So, maybe my three dreams are still just that – dreams – but at least I have lived out a micro version of them.

What I will aim to do in these articles is to try to unmask some of the hype and illusion surrounding management, point to some of the vast dysfunctionality so prevalent in modern business life and also dare to give my own two cents’ worth of advice to the reader.

I will try to avoid management jargon, lingua and slogans, and I will try hard to not give you the five-step roadmap to anything.

In the space of this column, I will explore some of the most established truths of business life, hopefully challenging some of the assumptions we all live and work in, all-too-often unaware.

I will travel into many broad and narrow topics and, hopefully, some will end up with a slightly renewed perspective on business life and maybe even some aspects of life in general.

Full disclosure: I am Norwegian and I am the CEO of DiGi.Com Bhd. Having the privilege of being an expatriate in Malaysia gives me, maybe, a unique opportunity to look with fresh and open eyes at some of the existing organisational mindset in this country.

And you must allow me to use my experience from DiGi now and then in my writing, as that company is such an interesting, ongoing experiment of new ways of working in what used to be a very traditional company.

I don’t have a PhD and I won't give you a lot of numbers showing correlation between a leader’s actions and business results.

I won't give you endless anecdotes of business and examples of actions supporting any theory because I don’t support a particular theory.

I just want to share with you my personal views and experiences, and, maybe even more, ask some key questions.

And yes, I do write this myself. It is me pounding my keyboard ... this is not written by some hardworking soul in the corporate communications department.

I aim to make this a fortnightly column. It will last until The Star throws me out or I run out of ideas. So, we’ll see.

I hope you’ll look for this space in the paper every alternate Monday, and I also hope some of you will send me comments, questions and views.

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