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A&W Chose Purpose. I Chose It For Dinner.

You probably eat fast food. Many people do so daily.

According to a CDC report, almost 40% of Americans consume fast food on a daily basis. Cheryl Fryar, CDC health statistician, said, “On any given day in the United States, an estimated 36.6% or approximately 84.8 million adults consume fast food.”

That’s a lot of fast food being eaten.

Recently I was in the position of deciding to eat fast food. Pressed for time and travelling with children on a three-hour journey, I did what many parents do: we stopped for a quick meal to save time.

I don’t eat fast food every day. It happens on occasion, but it’s not a regular habit.

Given I was in a position to spend money in my home province of British Columbia, I consciously chose to feed the family at A&W, Canada’s fastest growing restaurant, now with over 950 locations. Why A&W?

It came down to how they operate, how they are treating planet-conscious, community-caring citizens like me. A&W earned my business because of its higher purpose. Other businesses might want to take note. I don’t believe I’m the only one thinking this way or voting with my wallet.

I figured I was going to spend about $50. As I was driving and coming to the conclusion that one business was going to earn my dollars and a bunch of them were not, I started thinking about why one should get my cash over the other.

In the case of A&W, I remembered the company had announced in January that they were banning the use of plastic straws in favor of marine-degradable paper straws. They did so in a unique way, gathering the remainder of their plastic straws and creating a sculpture outside of Toronto’s Union Station spelling the words “Change is good.” (See photo above.)

My children—aged 12, 13, and 16—have started berating restaurants serving plastic straws, so A&W’s tactic struck a chord with me. Paper straws are a big issue for Gen-Z. The Great Pacific garbage patch is laden with plastic straws. My Gen-Z kids saw this as a huge issue (thanks Instagram) and blamed any restaurant using plastic straws. Put one in the win column for Dad.

You might claim that “Dad didn’t want to upset his children,” I suppose. But there’s more to A&W’s story and my decision to eat there.

I also recalled a program in which A&W began donating food to local agencies. In partnership with its supply chain and local grassroots organizations focusing on food donations, A&W has donated over 55,000 pounds of food across Canada since 2016. When I relayed this story to my children of the good that A&W is doing in the community, they were elated.

Finally, while the drive continued and one of the children was plugging in A&W to our map app to find the nearest location, I remembered a friend telling me of a different kind of app that the company had recently introduced.

In partnership with Magnusmode—a company that specializes in creating a world “where people with special needs can fully participate with independence and inclusion”—A&W integrated the MagnusCards® app into its dining experience for guests with developmental or cognitive disabilities.

“The app’s step-by-step instructions guide guests through everything from ordering their burger to separating out recycling after they finish their meal,” states the company’s website. Ultimately the free app makes an A&W dining experience more accessible for everyone. I found that quite heartening.

Does A&W need to hit its annual revenue and profit targets? Of course, it does. But it has chosen to operate its business in a way that serves a higher purpose, a greater cause. It’s not just about money. The environment, community and assisting those who are less fortunate are a large part of its higher purpose.

When I knew $50 was going to be spent on fast food, I found myself thinking more about A&W and less about its competitors almost solely based on how it operates in society.

I suspect I’m not the first. I also believe more people will eventually make decisions this way, too.

And if you’re curious, the Beyond Meat burger is simply fantastic, and the rootbeer is second to none!


AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Tiger Woods: What An Incredible Story Of Resilience

I found myself teary-eyed after the 2019 Masters golf tournament. 

Tiger Woods won his fifth green jacket and fifteenth major golf tournament. I, on the other hand, was a puddle of tears. How could I not be?

Here is a man who shot onto the scene of golf in 1997 like a cannon on the battlefield. He was fast, furious, and nothing was going to come in his way of scorching success.

Until it did.

Ever since he became a professional golfer—perhaps beforehand, too—Woods wanted to eclipse the record held by Jack Nicklaus of most number of major golf tournament wins. Perhaps Woods wanted to annihilate it.

The path seemed easy, at least for Woods. Fourteen majors were racked up in a short period. Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors was well within reach. After all, Woods was only 32 years old at the time of his 14th win.

And then the proverbial wheels fell off the golf cart.

Woods was alleged to have committed adultery. His marriage fell apart, and two kids were left to split their time between two households. He infamously hit a tree near his home except it wasn’t with a golf ball. It was with his vehicle.

From there it was as though Woods suffered from what John Lennon once experienced: the “lost weekend.” Over an extended period of time in the early 1970s, Lennon moved to Los Angeles—separated from his wife, Yoko Ono—and he entered a state of hopelessness. There was no music, only wasted months of debauchery and imprudence.

Lennon came to his senses. The former Beatle snapped out of it after a few years of his “lost weekend.” Woods, on the other hand, seemed to be drifting into obscurity as “that guy who wasted the chance to beat the record of Nicklaus.” Ambien, Vicodin, booze; it was all adding up to a “what could have been” storyline.

Then, rather remarkably, the comeback came into focus. With his head screwed back on straight, Woods began the process of redemption. He worked with several coaches, psychologists, and aimed to right the wrong of his own version of Lennon’s “lost weekend.”

But unlike Lennon, Woods is an athlete. If health got in the way of the comeback, there’s no telling if another major tournament could be won. Golf is not guitar playing or singing.

Unlucky as it was, health became the new bunker for Woods. In fact, the PGA set up a site to list the entirety of his injuries.

Multiple back operations were needed not to play golf, but simply to walk without pain. Woods just wanted to pick up his kids, maybe give them a hug. The ordeal would have been excruciating, particularly if you have the drive—pun intended—of Woods.

He last won a major—the US Open—in 2008. As his personal life careened off a cliff and his health deteriorated, the quest to beat Nicklaus’s record lost interest with the media and golf enthusiasts. There was a five-year period when he didn’t win a single tournament, let alone a major. This is Tiger Woods! He always wins.

Fast forward to Sunday, April 14, 2019. Wearing his customary red Nike shirt for the occasion, he willed himself to the win in Augusta, Georgia. It was one of sport’s most incredible moments. The hero was back, conquering a multitude of terrors that laid in his path for nearly a decade.

You don’t even have to be a golf fan to be moved by the moment. And that moment taught us a few lessons.

Woods expression of love for his children was touching, if not utterly moving. Coming off of the 18th green you could see how incredibly poignant it was for Woods to hug those children, to share the moment of vanquished demons.

Hugs aside, the moment also teaches us the importance of resiliency. Woods has earned millions of dollars over his career. He doesn’t have to work. But for ten years, he willed his way from tragedy, stupidity, disappointment and unhealthiness to become a champion, again. The sweat, pain and tears he must have endured getting back to the summit are almost incalculable. Grit for the win!

And finally, what Woods also exhibited was humility. When he was younger and winning tournaments week after week, there was a wicked level of cockiness in his game, his demeanour. These days, and particularly after his latest Masters win, you can see how much more humble he acts with others. Modesty is oft overlooked as an important trait of genuine leadership.

Love, resiliency and humility: three traits we can learn from Tiger Woods on the occasion of his 15th major win.

I cried a few tears for Woods. I’m not ashamed, either. We all have our demons. It’s great to have another example through Woods of how to overcome them.

Book Review: The Good Fight

Conflict is a natural part of life. It happens at home, in the community, and of course in our place of work.

So why is it we tend to consider conflict as something that should be avoided like the plague?

Author Liane Davey believes it shouldn’t. In fact, in her new book, The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Organization Back on Track, she argues conflict is a natural and fundamental component to the organization. The book is an excellent field guide to not only help set the record straight about conflict; it provides practical, useful tips on how to get it right.

There are several terms Davey introduces upfront that helps to set the tone of the book. One of the best is “conflict debt.” She writes:

Conflict debt is the sum of all the contentious issues that need to be addressed to be able to move forward but instead remain undiscussed and unresolved.”

Using the analogy of financial debt, Davey helps paint a picture. If we continue to buy things on credit—failing to pay off the balance—financial debt is sure to occur. Similarly, conflict debt happens when we avoid either an issue (e.g. something is too hard to take action with) or the opposition itself. The latter being those people who might oppose your way of thinking, an idea, etc.

Conflict debt also happens when we avoid the potential for friction. You might be in discussion with someone chatting about a conflict, but you end up avoiding the core of the issue altogether. Davey cites the oft-used “let’s take it offline” phrase used by countless employees when they don’t really want to dig deeper into the issue at that moment for fear of more conflict. Thus, they avoid the friction, and the original conflict remains. It likely grows, too.

Conflict debt is born from conflict aversion, states Davey. But as she rightly surmises, “Conflict aversion doesn’t hurt you until it changes into conflict avoidance.” From there Davey pays homage to the fantastic work of Thomas-Kilmann and his Conflict-Mode Instrument where levels of assertiveness and cooperativeness are used as the basis for one’s penchant for avoiding an issue or for being collaborative.

As the book shifts to solutions, I found the simplicity of establishing lines of communication a beautiful reminder of its importance in leader-employee relationships. So too, Davey explains the significance of getting it right within your team as well as cross-functional teams if one wants to be free of conflict debt.

One of the best lines in the book comes from a call-out and stresses the impact of communication.

Communication is, by definition, not something you can accomplish on your own. You can’t communicate to someone; you can only communicate with them.”

And when we communicate with someone, we are proactively beginning the process of paying back our conflict debt.

Establishing lines of communication is the first step to what Davey calls the “Conflict Code.” From there, strong connections are required—basing things on facts, being attentive to emotions, and validating what you’ve heard—and then the parties must contribute to a solution. She provides several useful tools and tactics in which to make this happen including Two Truths, Root Cause and the Hypothetical approach. (More details in the book, obviously.)

Part III—Codifying Conflict—is a full-frontal assault on the ways to get teams out of conflict debt. The highlight and main method come from what Davey calls the “U Tool.”

I found the “U” to be very helpful when I thought about the executive teams and business units that I work with. First, it’s a prescriptive yet transparent tool for all levels in a team or organization such that everyone will understand what types of conflict have been brewing or sitting in the background. From there, the U Tool can be used to discuss the issues at hand, deliberate potential solutions, and find ways in which to be ready for future conflicts of this type potentially.

The Good Fight contains not only well-documented tools and processes to mitigate concerns with conflict; it is written in a very personable manner. You’ll step inside of Davey’s vast client situations where she has successfully deployed the tools she outlines. Plus, some wonderful personal anecdotes help the reader know that Davey—like all of us—has lived a life full of conflict.

There is nothing to be ashamed of conflict. The Good Fight wonderfully outlines how to manage it.

Boeing’s Attitude Reminds Us Of The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

A few weeks ago Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed, killing all 157 people on board. Ever since, the makers of the 737 MAX aircraft, Boeing, have slowly but surely exhibited signs that reveal questions about its leadership capabilities. It can also be argued that there are systemic problems with the company’s corporate culture which may prove to be its greatest weakness.

I suggest to you that these same issues are found in many companies today. Indeed the concerns can be cited in several historical examples suggesting we have not learned from previous mistakes.

But first, to the issue at Boeing.

Investigators continue to piece together the cause of the crash in Ethiopia, but early indications suggest the aircraft exhibited the same fatal behaviors as Indonesia’s Lion Air Flight 610. It too was a 737 MAX aircraft that plummeted to the ground shortly after takeoff in October of 2018, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Flight data for both airplanes now seem to be eerily similar.

The evidence against Boeing’s lack of leadership—and not pilot error—is mounting. Governments worldwide seem to feel the same way. All countries have grounded the 737 MAX while investigators and engineers continue their sleuthing.

Ever since launching the 737 class of aircraft in 1967, Boeing has built and shipped over 10,000 of them to airlines globally. It was and continues to be a cash cow for the company. Things changed, however, in 2010 when the company discovered its main rival, Airbus, had launched the A320neo, a far more fuel-efficient short-haul airplane.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, knowing one of its largest customers, American Airlines, had struck a tentative deal to replace its short-haul fleet with the A320neo, senior leaders at Boeing jumped into action. In fact, American Airlines asked Boeing to come up with something similar to the Airbus offering. Boeing made quick work of the opportunity and launched the 737 MAX nine months after Airbus’s announcement.

To appease the airlines it would eventually sell the 737 MAX to—and the potentially prohibitive cost of pilot training—Boeing exhibited its first leadership calamity. The company ignored its own “enduring values.”

Boeing claims to operate “by a set of core values that not only define who we are but also serve as guideposts to help us become the company we would like to be.” Many companies have a value that is centered on integrity. Boeing is no different. It defines integrity as taking “the high road by practicing the highest ethical standards.”

Another value is safety. “We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly,” the company suggests, and that “by committing to safety first, we advance our goals for quality, cost, and schedule.”

Several media outlets have reported that the technical modifications made to the 737 MAX airplane came with no requirement for pilot training. Could it be that both integrity and safety were sacrificed to attract new customers or to protect existing ones? “And we aspire to live these values every day,” maintains the company. I am reservedly unconvinced.

It’s one thing to overlook the need for pilot training and the egregious ignorance of its values; it’s another to determine how that decision came to be. Sure, one might argue Boeing simply snubbed its values. But what if there was something entirely more sinister at play?

There is a case to be made that the following scenario might have played out with leaders at Boeing.

The company was desperately worried that the A320neo was going to cut into its 737 revenue base. Airbus had already announced its intention to produce a rival plane to the 737 with 15 percent fuel efficiency. Boeing had to take quick and decisive action in order to compete with its Airbus rival who had a head start. But how?

How could it produce an airplane that was 15 percent more fuel-efficient on a timeline that allowed it to compete with Airbus? The company thought about designing an entirely new plane but settled on an upgrade to its cash cow; the 737.

To accommodate the need for the 737 aircraft to become more fuel-efficient and hit the timeline targets, several technical changes were needed. For starters, it moved the engine forward & extended the nose landing gear by eight inches. This required the introduction of an anti-stalling mechanism known as MCAS— Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.

With the urgency to meet market and competitive demands, did the company rush the design and production such that there might be a hidden fault? Could it be that the newly designed MCAS anti-stalling system was imminently set to fail or its related Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor might be feeding bad data to the 737 MAX’s flight computer?

Ultimately, did the company know about its flaws?

Now, about those values. Surely integrity and safety would come to the forefront when an airplane is designed, tested and then shipped out, ready for commercial flight, right?

Enter the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA.) Also reported by The Wall Street Journal, it seems the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had already launched an investigation into the FAA after the Lion Air crash. The Department is seeking answers on how the 737 MAX received its safety certification. The investigation, according to The Wall Street Journal, “is being conducted by its inspector general, which has warned two FAA offices to safeguard computer files, according to people familiar with the matter.”

The FAA is under investigation by the DOT about the Boeing 737 MAX, all of this occurring before the most recent Ethiopian Airline crash, in which the same aircraft acted and behaved erratically just like the Lion Air disaster.

All of this points to a second major point and accompanying leadership calamity.

Boeing pushed for (and received from the FAA) a much lighter and faster safety certification approval. Perhaps because the 737 MAX was a so-called “derivative” model of the main 737 line, everyone on both sides of the leadership aisle at the FAA and Boeing got what they wanted. A quick and speedy safety approval.

The FAA with its reduced staff and growing lists of actions to take care of might have simply been fine with it. Maybe it even freed up time to get other actions completed on their lists. Boeing—in a herculean race to keep pace with Airbus—were likely keen to ensure that the plane made it to market as soon as possible, and with the least amount of disruption and cost overruns. (Let alone pilot training cost concerns from the airlines.)

It was reported by The Seattle Times that even after those MCAS and AOA modifications were made to the Boeing 737 MAX, pilots continued to be uninformed. Capt. Mike Michaelis, chairman of the safety committee of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), said, “We assumed they [major changes to the flight control system] were mostly cosmetic differences.”

But they weren’t.

The changes were very material. Those changes affected how the aircraft operated. It is now a question for authorities and others to determine if Boeing and the FAA knowingly (or unknowingly) rushed the design and the accompanying safety certification. The Wall Street Journal also states that Boeing knew the FAA might approve the safety certification quickly if the plane was considered a “derivative” rather than a major change or new aircraft altogether.

There is also that question about pilot training. Boeing knew that the technical modifications were material to the operation of the aircraft. Then why did the company knowingly fail to a) inform pilots of the changes by at least updating the Flight Crew Operations Manual or b) provide mandatory flight simulator training on the new MCAS and AOA changes? In either case, the pilots would surely be in a better position to know what to do should the plane begin to behave unpredictably after takeoff due to the bad sensor data.

Not only did the company (and FAA, arguably) ignore integrity and safety, perhaps Boeing leaders were incentivized by speed.

Recall the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. While revenues and profit were not the motives—as is the case with Boeing—NASA was certainly up against the leadership traits of speed and power. The now infamous O-ring pressure seals served as the cause of the crash, but it was Utah-based contractor, Morton-Thiokol, that supplied the seals to NASA.

The O-rings had been tested to perform in 40-degree Fahrenheit or above weather conditions.

On that fateful morning in Florida in 1986, it was only 18 degrees. NASA knew it was an issue, but hours before the launch pressed the contractor to “green light” the launch, and thus the condition of the O-rings in 18-degree weather.

Robert Ebeling, one of the Morton-Thiokol employees experienced with the O-rings was the individual responsible for highlighting the potential for disaster. He got his team together at NASA’s request and debated (again) whether they could knowingly approve that the O-rings would not fail.

In the end, the team wanted NASA to wait until the afternoon when temperatures would be closer to 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the pressure exerted by NASA—in addition to the capitulation of Morton-Thiokol senior managers—the company reversed its original decision and ended up giving the go-ahead for launch. As Ebeling and his entire team at Morton-Thiokol watched the launch, he said to himself, “Lord, make me and all these other engineers wrong, let it go.”

Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight killing all seven members on board.

With what seemed like the entire world watching the launch, in part due to a civilian school teacher being one of the crew’s astronauts, NASA chose to ignore the evidence, rushed to launch, and the result was catastrophic.

Samsung has its own horror story about speed and power. In this case, similar to Boeing, it demonstrated a willingness to do whatever it takes to beat your competitor to market.

Knowing that Apple was set to launch the iPhone 7 in the fall of 2016, Samsung leaders instructed its organization to do whatever it could to bring to market the Galaxy Note 7 before Apple. It also wanted a more creative phone. Analysts were suggesting that Apple was not only outsmarting Samsung, but it was also demonstrating more innovative practices.

Within weeks of the launch, the phones started catching fire. A recall ensued with over 2.5 million phones sent back to Samsung. The company lost billions of dollars in the recall, let alone billions more in lost revenues. What happened? In a rush to get the phone to market before Apple, a design flaw in the battery was overlooked. Safety checks were sub-par. Employees slept under desks to make the stringent deadline. It was an avoidable calamity, one brought on squarely by leaders.

Be it NASA or Samsung or Boeing or the FAA, when our corporate culture—and the behavior of senior leaders—is one that focuses solely on speed and power, the results are often telling.

When a for-profit company (like Boeing) is further incentivized by time-to-market factors, revenue quotas and profitability targets, if the values are ignored, danger is likely imminent.

In the weeks and months ahead—should the investigation confirm that the two crashes are related and it was an MCAS/AOA issue—Boeing will be asked a million different ways why it looked past its values of integrity and safety. It happened at NASA. It happened at Samsung.

The values of an organization are important. But if senior leaders demonstrate they are but words on the wall or images on a corporate website—and not actual behaviors to exhibit daily—what’s the point?

“And we aspire to live these values every day.”

The Sorry State Of Wells Fargo Continues

What a mess. Wells Fargo is an unmitigated disaster example of culture, and senior leadership gone wrong. Its board of governors is now in the crosshairs of negligence, too.

In the latest plot twist to this sordid management tale, the bank’s CEO, Tim Sloan, abruptly announced his retirement for the end of June. His duties as CEO ceased effective immediately.

The company has been mired in scandal after scandal for the better part of three years. Its corporate culture has suffered longer. Suffice it to say; Wells Fargo is in dire need of a factory reset.

Even before Sloan’s early retirement notice and immediate resignation as CEO, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) was “debating the rare step of forcing changes to Wells Fargo’s senior management or board.”

It’s the “or board” throwaway comment that got my attention.

OCC went so far as to state via a spokesperson, Bryan Hubbard, the following:

We continue to be disappointed with Wells Fargo Bank N.A.’s performance under our consent orders and its inability to execute effective corporate governance and a successful risk-management program. We expect national banks to treat their customers fairly, operate in a safe and sound manner, and follow the rules of law.

Before any ejection by OCC played out, I suspect Sloan and the Wells Fargo board took proactive evasive action. Why?

When a meteorite is heading straight for your hull, the human condition is to get out-of-the-way.

First, for Sloan to be removed by the OCC—with an additional shove from the Federal Reserve—the result would have been personally humiliating. Imagine working 31 years of your life for a bank only to see yourself forcibly removed from the big chair that you’ve worked so hard to attain.

Second, if the Fed and OCC were indeed plotting a modern-day coup d’état, Wells Fargo board members were likely to be implicated forcing another dimension of personal embarrassments. There are several high-profile members from organizations such as PwC, Deloitte, Staples, Edison and Kellogg on the Wells Fargo board. Don’t think for a second that these people want to be swept up by an OCC investigation.

Indeed Sloan and the board members had to act to preserve any shred of dignity.

We might never know the truth but somewhere between Sloan falling on his sword, the board’s insistence, and an agreement between the two parties is where things have landed.

During a conference call discussing his resignation, Sloan said, “I just care so much about this company and so much about our team that I could not keep myself in a position where I was becoming a distraction.”

One might argue the “distraction” has been his inability to rid the organization of its unethical management and sales practices since becoming CEO. What if he was part of the problem from the start?

When news of the bank account fraud scandal broke in 2016—a practice known as cross-selling—Sloan was its chief operating officer. In that role, he was responsible for the operations of the company’s four main business groups:  Community Banking, Consumer Lending, Wealth and Investment Management, and Wholesale Banking.

The scandal crossed both Community Banking and Consumer Lending. Thus two of the business units implicated in those unethical sales behaviors reported directly into Sloan. After longtime CEO, John Stumpf left the company in 2016; the board still appointed Sloan to the top job. That decision, in retrospect, seems rather odd.

Before his time as CEO and COO, Sloan was CFO at the company. When the Los Angeles Times first reported on the crisis at Wells Fargo (in 2013!!), Sloan, as CFO, said, “I’m not aware of any overbearing sales culture.”

To recap, Sloan worked at Wells Fargo for 31 years. His career saw him lead units such as Capital Markets, Commercial Banking, Commercial Real Estate, Asset Backed Finance, Equipment Finance, Corporate Banking, Investment Banking, and Treasury Management. For a time he also led Corporate Communications, Corporate Social Responsibility, Enterprise Marketing, Government Relations, and Corporate Human Resources.

Then he became CFO. He eventually grew into the COO role. But he wasn’t aware of “any overbearing sales culture?” That too seems odd.

And yet, the board thought it would be a good idea to promote Sloan to CEO following the disgraceful departure of Stumpf. At the time it looked like the board was putting a fox in the henhouse. Now, that henhouse needs a complete rebuild.

Moving forward the board indicated it would hire someone from the outside as CEO. In a press release, board chair, Betsy Duke, said by hiring an individual not currently employed by the bank that it will be “the most effective way to complete the transformation at Wells Fargo.”


Perhaps the board has finally awoken to the madness that is the Wells Fargo culture. However, it is nowhere near completing its transformation. It’s not clear if the transformation has even begun.

It brings me to Alan Mulally. If I were Duke, my first call would be to him.

The former CEO of Ford and Boeing Commercial Airplanes might be the ideal candidate.

His work as a collaborative, no-nonsense yet compassionate and innovative leader is legendary.

At Boeing, he became CEO of the division just after 9/11 struck. He brought to market its most profitable airliner, the 787 Dreamliner. As fellow Forbes contributor, Bryce Hoffman writes:

His unshakeable confidence, commitment to transparency, and insistence on teamwork carried the company through that crisis and the painful restructuring that followed. Mulally relied on a powerful new management model to save Boeing: articulate a clear and compelling vision for the company, develop a comprehensive strategy to deliver on that vision, and execute on that through a relentless implementation process led by a team of talented people working together.

When Mulally left Boeing to head up Ford in 2006, he instituted ONE FORD (see graphic below), an organizational ethos that ensured everyone was working together in an ethical, collaborative, and efficient manner. Fast forward eight years when he retired as CEO, and you witness one of the greatest transformations of a company, under some of the most difficult economic, cultural and societal conditions.


Wells Fargo desperately needs Mulally. The customers and employees of Wells Fargo deserve his leadership.

Make the call, Ms. Duke.

PS. Read my 2016 Forbes piece entitled “Wells Fargo Proves Corporate Culture Can Also Be A Competitive Disadvantage” for early indicators of the organization’s problems.

Dan Pontefract April 2019 Playlist (for the weirdos)

I’ve always been into the “weirdos.” Be it the artists, poets, designers or musicians. I’d even classify myself as one, although I’m not as clever as those weirdos I look up to.

Maybe it’s why I curate a monthly music playlist. That’s weird, isn’t it? Curating a monthly music playlist that nobody needs or cares about?

But, perhaps, there is that one person who cares. Another weirdo, someone needing a boost, a jolt of weirdo adrenaline.

I see you, weirdo. I am you.

This one is for you.


This High-Tech Company Is Using Artificial Intelligence To Hire, Fire And Promote Employees

Ginni Rometty is CEO, president and chairman of IBM. She has held the top job since 2012.

When she joined the company in 1981, total headcount across IBM was roughly 350,000. By 1994, under the direction of CEO Lou Gerstner, headcount dropped to around 225,000.

When she took over as CEO from Sam Palmisano—who had enjoyed a ten-year run as IBM’s top dog—the global employee population at the company had swollen to nearly 450,000 people. Some of it was organic. A lot of it was by acquisition.

Today and under Rometty’s leadership, IBM headcount has dropped approximately 25%. There are now less than 350,000 people. How? In part, artificial intelligence.

Rometty recently spoke at a CNBC event titled “@WORK TALENT + HR: Building the workforce of the future.” It’s her comments that got me thinking about the impact that artificial intelligence is going to have on an organization’s HR strategy and employee population.

First, Rometty indicated that 100% of all jobs will be impacted by artificial intelligence.

I agree. Every role in the corporate hierarchy will in one way, shape or form be affected by the introduction of AI over time. She went on to say that job losses as a result of AI is a “red herring” and that we really shouldn’t “follow that logic all over the place.”

Not so fast.

There are millions of people in need of retraining and reskilling as a result of AI. If they aren’t at least partially taken care of by the organization, society will be overrun by people wondering what happened to them. It will become a zombie-like apocalypse of people wandering the streets looking for work.

In Rometty’s defense, she pointed out to audience members that organization’s ought to be considering three tactics to help with the transition to AI:

  1. Retrain current employees;
  2. Embrace people with less than a four-year degree;
  3. Reskilling employees by apprenticeships.

Somewhat ironically, however, Rometty indicated that skills were going to become the lifeline of an employee’s relevancy. “If you have a skill that is not needed for the future and is abundant in the market and does not fit a strategy my company needs, you are not in a good square to stay inside of,” Rometty said. “I really believe in being transparent about where skills are.”

Again, transparency is one thing but helping employees with their transition under the shadow of AI, in my opinion, has got to be one of the organization’s top strategies going forward.

By example, IBM has reduced its global HR workforce by 30% through the introduction of AI into the company. But did it do anything to help those who were packaged out to learn a new skill?

Perhaps it did and those HR employees simply decided to leave. After all, Rometty suggested that transparency is key to IBM’s workforce planning and skills gap. She also said that the AI that’s in place “infers” through the analysis of data, networks, relationships, skills, rankings and education what jobs are possible for internal candidates.

Maybe Watson felt those HR employees at IBM just didn’t have it in them to take on a new role.

That being stated, Rometty’s love for HR and the potential benefits of AI is demonstrable.

She alluded to other traditional HR systems being uprooted by AI for the better. MYCA—IBM’s internal career platform called My Career Advisor—no longer acts as a self serve system; instead the AI proactively recommends jobs to you based on skills, tenure, project work, rankings, and so on.

The company’s learning management system has become the “Netflix of Learning,” again proactively recommending courses and skill upgrades based on your progress at the company.

In an apparent knock to the antiquated way that HR organizes itself, Rometty believes that HR has got to become employee centric. “We have to do things for employees not to employees,” she said. She wants to see co-creation become a large part of its culture.

She wants companies to move away from centres of excellence to solution centres. Perhaps we should be thinking about pop-up solution shops. Using agile skills and collaborative team processes, these pop-up solution outfits allows her teams to come together for specific HR-related issues rather than the centre of excellence model.

Rometty rightly believes HR should be the role model for agile, AI, design thinking, net promoter score, and putting skills at the center of the organization. She believes it is an underutilized department. No complaints from me on that point.

IBM’s talent strategy also involves the proactive retention of people. Its HR AI system accurately predicts 95% of the time if people might want to leave the company. “It has saved the company over $300 million,” said Rometty, specifically due to proactive retention practices. It’s the artificial intelligence that tipped off IBM executives to take action—be it adding more compensation, skill development or a job change—before the employee might have left.

According to Rometty, this new way of operating at IBM has delivered a 20% bump in employee engagement scores across the company.

It’s still not clear how the changes in HR AI helped those folks in HR itself who lost their jobs due to AI. Irony aside, on the whole, I agree with Rometty.

Artificial intelligence is a must for any HR team if it wants to survive not only the pending talent war but its long-term existence, too. The big question is whether it will put that technology to good use to assist all employees, or will it simply be used to trim costs and total headcount numbers.

Qantas Airways CEO Delivers A Great Example Of Love-Based Leadership

Irishman Alan Joyce is the CEO of Qantas Airways, the $16 billion company headquartered in Sydney, Australia. For more than ten years as CEO, Joyce has led the company to dizzying heights of growth in the incredibly turbulent airline industry.

His most recent leadership act, however, may be his best. It has a lot to do about emotional intelligence and the importance of customer relations even in the crosshairs of competitive threats. But I believe there is something even greater that Joyce is demonstrating.

Alex Jacquot is 10-years old and the self-appointed CEO of Australia’s newest airline company, Oceania Express. Seeking advice on how to run his new airline, Jacquot wrote a letter to Joyce. In it, Jacquot announces he has appointed a CFO, vice-CEO, a Head of IT, and even a Head of Legal.

I’m certain the Oceania Express’s Head of Legal approved the letter to Joyce.

The questions this ten-year-old aviation boy wonder asked Joyce were wide-ranging:

  • First, being on school holiday, Jacquot wonders what he should be doing as CEO, given he has “more time to work with.”
  • Second, Jacquot is looking for a few tips on starting an airline, stating, “I’d be very grateful to know what you have to say.”
  • And third, Jacquot is curious about the Sydney/Melbourne to London flight on the new A350 airplane, and is “having a lot of trouble thinking about sleep.” He wishes for advice from Joyce on what to do for the passengers over the gruelling 25-hour flight.

With over 30,000 Qantas employees to deal with, thousands of suppliers and partners throughout the globe, let alone the more than 55 million passengers he is ultimately responsible for on an annual basis, clearly Joyce is a busy CEO. Why bother answering Jacquot’s letter, when a) he’s only 10-years old and b) he’s an up-and-coming competitive threat?

Did the CEO of Qantas Airways throw Jacquot’s letter into the bin?

Not a chance. On February 19, 2019, he wrote back. Here’s how the letter opened:

“Thank you for letting me know about your new airline. I had heard some rumours of another entrant in the market, so I appreciate you taking the time to write. First, I should say that I’m not typically in the business of giving advice to my competitors. Your newly-appointed Head of Legal might have something to say about that, too. But I’m going to make an exception on this occasion, because I too was once a young boy who was so curious about flight and all its possibilities.”

Not only did Joyce take the time to write back, but he also demonstrated what so many senior leaders forget about: love.

By simply writing to the boy, Joyce demonstrates a love for his role, his industry, and that of people interested in aviation. In this case, that love extends to Jacquot, his ten-year-old rival CEO. If Joyce didn’t love his role—or possessed a deep love for Qantas, customer relations, and aviation in general—I suspect there would never have been a return letter.

Further down his response, Joyce tackles one of Jacquot’s questions about the long flight between Australia and London.

“This is something we are grappling with too, as we embark on Project Sunrise (which is our plan to fly passengers non-stop between the east coast of Australia and London.) To help with sleep, we’re looking at different cabin designs that give people spaces to stretch out and exercise. We want to think up as many ideas as possible to make the journey more comfortable for all.”

When you love what you do, I guess you’re keen to share it with whomever.

By example, Joyce then invited Jacquot to Qantas headquarters for “a Project Sunrise meeting between myself, as the CEO of Australia’s oldest airline, and you, as the CEO of Australia’s newest airline.”

No word yet on how that meeting between CEOs turned out, but at the very root of this story is Joyce’s touching example of compassion.

It’s also a clear-cut example of love-based leadership, the basis for my next book currently under development.

I’m Raising A 13-Year-Old Boy And It’s F*&^ing Hard

I’m only two months into being CEO of The Pontefract Group, but so far it feels as though running a company is far easier than raising a teenaged boy. Perhaps it’s supposed to be this way.

For those of you who are entrepreneurs—and who are also raising teenaged boys—I wonder if you feel the same.

After 25 years working for large organizations, this past January I went out on my own and started my first business. I’ve learned about taxes, insurance, and how to correctly invoice. What lessons!

For the past 16 years, I have also been a parent of three children. It’s been a rewarding decade-and-a-half—with the normal gong show moments of parenting—but it’s the most recent times with the middle child (our only boy) that has got me thinking.

Raising a teenaged boy these days is an exercise in leadership. Perhaps it’s leadership in its truest form.

Upon reflection, so far it seems far more difficult to be leading/parenting a teenaged boy than it is to start up a company.

First, there is Fortnite. In my mind, Darren Sugg and the folks at Epic Games who designed this viral juggernaut of a cooperative online game are both friend and foe. Friend because they’re teaching boys how to work together and be collaborative. Foe because they have singlehandedly invented the electronic version of crack-cocaine.

I suppose if I had the type of focus (ahem, addiction) that my teenaged boy has for Fortnite I would have closed $5 million in business after two months.

While the boys may be able to focus their attention for hours at a time on Fortnite, motivating them to do anything different feels like an exercise in futility. It’s as though the tractor beam from the Death Star has locked them into all-Fortnite all-the-time defiance.

Unless of course, you set up Fortnite limits—as my wife and I have done as co-CEOs of our house—and then observe their attention shift to the mobile phone.

It’s like watching Bruce Lee’s nunchaku scenes from his films. Replace the nunchaku with a mobile phone, and you get the picture.

The best way to describe how the mobile phone has become another draw on the attention span of a teenaged boy is through a different film; this one titled “Pocket.”

If you want an incredibly fascinating and graphic insight into the life of a young teenaged boy—hooked on technology—watch this 17-minute short film starring Nickelodeon actor Mace Coronel.

The directors, Mishka Kornai and Zach Wechter, said this about Pocket.

“Part of the initial impetus to make this film was the growing sense that each new generation seems to be changing so quickly because of the exponential acceleration of technological progress. Did you have Tinder in college? Did you have Snapchat in high school? Did you have Instagram in middle school? Differing answers to these questions represent markedly different life experiences and drastically different ways of growing up. None of that existed when we were in high school, and we started talking about what our experiences would have been like if it had.”

Pocket was shot vertically and is meant to be consumed on your mobile device. The lead character, Jake, played by Coronel, navigates the highs and lows of home, school and friends. It details in full not only his addiction to the mobile phone but how tethered it has become with his way of being.

He tries to use it to cheat on a test. Going through puberty and the normal emotions and changes that ensue with such a transition, Jake gets into awkward situations with girls, classmates, and his family.

At one point, Jake uses his phone to film a fight that is taking place on the school ground. Later he finds out that after his posting of the fight onto social media, the boy responsible for the fight was expelled by school officials. Jake caused the expulsion. Nonplussed, he moves on to the next photo in his Instagram stream.

The directors hold no punches either when it comes to the direct and open access to pornography. Its availability is unnerving, and his addiction is unwavering.

The directors said:

“The film is not seeking to make a moralistic judgement about Instagram or pornography, but when most kids are spending six hours a day in a space that includes this collision of soft porn and their yearbook, sexual objectification and commodification seems like a worrisome possibility.”

As the CEO of a new start-up, my days consist of thinking, wondering, planning, strategizing, conversing, writing, executing, and failing. I’m having a blast.

As a parent of a 13-year-old-boy, my time is spent educating, preventing, cajoling, supervising, talking, reprimanding, and helping. It is difficult work.

I love being a new CEO, but being the parent of that teenager is way harder right now.

Dan Pontefract March 2019 Playlist (for Claire and Cate)

I am the lucky father of three children. Two of them are girls.

It wasn’t planned this way, but four years and four days separate their birthdays. Both Claire and Cate were born in March.

I just love being their father.

My March 2019 playlist is dedicated to them.

Love you, Claire and Cate.

Daddio. xxx

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