Brian Petersen

Brian Petersen

  • Brian Petersen works with leading compa­nies who want to turn stra­tegy into results faster and better than compe­ti­tion. His track record in this area includes 20 years with Procter & Gamble, where his last achie­ve­ment was to take P&G to market leadership in China. As CEO of Copen­hagen Airports, he then turned the airport into the fastest growing airport in Europe. The key to success was to acce­le­rate the organisation’s ability to adjust to disrup­tion, new stra­te­gies and acqui­si­tions faster than compe­ti­tion. Brian now shares his exper­tise in this area on boards and through consul­ting. His board expe­ri­ence includes global leaders in Pharma and Medical Devices as well as regional leaders in tourism, media and elec­tro­nics. Sepa­r­a­tely, he accom­pa­nies CEOs in their efforts through the entire journey from stra­tegy through execu­tion to results.

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Which CEO can say that the execu­tion of the company stra­tegy is going fast enough? Which CEO can say that every single leadership team member is deli­vering on his/her part, that most mana­gers know and follow the new stra­tegy, or that the company lives up to its values in the majo­rity of daily inter­ac­tions between company mana­gers, or that the new capa­bi­li­ties required to win in the future are well under way to being fully inte­grated into the company? According to corpo­rate advisor Brian Petersen, not many. And when it comes to trou­bled compa­nies, the news is equally unplea­sant. “When I look at the statis­tics, whether you look at McKinsey or Price­wa­ter­house Coopers or Harvard Busi­ness Review, what you always see is a failure rate around 70 per cent for company trans­for­ma­tions,” Petersen says. Despite this rate of failure and general disori­en­ta­tion, corpo­rate heads are better trained than ever, they have access to better consul­tants than ever and have imple­mented more advanced human resources processes – evalua­tions, deve­lop­ment plans, leadership pipe­line, stra­tegy commu­ni­ca­tions and such – than ever. So what’s missing?

According to Petersen, the missing ingre­dient is a second or third pair of eyes. He is not talking about the kind of eyes that come from your typical consul­tancy orga­ni­sa­tion. “What the tradi­tional consul­ting compa­nies do is sell teams of young graduates for a limited period of time,” says Petersen. “And they will say, ‘alright, you need to figure out whether try to go big in China or not, whether to build a new factory or what your overall stra­tegy should be, you have to figure all of that out, so we’re going to go and analyse ever­y­thing there is to analyse, the market, the consu­mers, your compe­ti­tors, your profi­ta­bi­lity, your costs – ever­y­thing to figure out what are the right deci­sions.’ And they’re going to come back and recom­mend deci­sions. ´When they’ve done that, they leave.” In other words, consul­ting firms plan, but they do not imple­ment. And that is what the typical execu­tive needs. According to Petersen, there needs to be the reali­sa­tion that while the skills needed to achieve an acce­le­ra­tion of stra­tegy execu­tion can be described in books and Power­Point presen­ta­tions so forth, they cannot be mastered at a personal level in the same way as tech­nical skills.

In Petersen’s opinion, consul­tants provide road maps, and no algo­rithm or road map can help in stra­tegic execu­tion, which is funda­ment­ally vola­tile, uncer­tain, complex, and ambi­guous or VUCA. “Driving a car was like that. You had to keep your eye on the road for ever­y­thing that happens around you, your hand on the stee­ring wheel and basi­cally adjust every second of way to get to your desti­na­tion. Now recently we are about to have driv­er­less cars. It’s now more or less possible to turn all of that comple­xity into an algo­rithm, into a computer programme that can actually be programmed and navi­gate you through the land­mines, the problems and so on. That’s not where we are in the execu­tion of company stra­te­gies. We’re still back when you needed the driver to adjust every second of the way.”

One way of looking at a 70-percent failure rate in company trans­for­ma­tions is that 7 out of 10 CEOs should have their driving licences revoked. An alter­na­tive view is that leading a company through a stra­tegic trans­for­ma­tion is compa­rable to driving a thousand cars, so as Petersen says, the CEO “will have more blind spots than a normal driver would have. And blind spots are what are causing the failure of this company’s trans­for­ma­tion.” That’s what makes imple­men­ta­tion of those detailed consul­tants’ plans so diffi­cult. “If you look at the road­maps that do exist, they say things like make sure your stra­tegy is simple enough that ever­y­body can under­stand it, make sure that your teams work well toge­ther and so on. How do you know when that’s the case? How do you know as the CEO that the stra­tegy is simple enough? ´It should be under­s­tood by thousands of people. How do you know that your team is effec­tive enough? How do you know when you have the right people in the right jobs?” For Petersen, the solu­tion is another acronym CAD – context, awareness, and diffe­ren­tia­tion, or in simpler terms, the CEOs adju­sting their actions to the specific context. This means that the CEO needs to learn to diagnose the situa­tion constantly (overall and for every touch­point he has with the orga­ni­sa­tion).

That means pulling out from a very large arsenal the exact skills that fit in the parti­cular context. That’s a tall order, which may call for that second pair of eyes to see the blind spots. “What the outside person can also do is to set a bench­mark, so he can look at the character of his stra­tegy, the choice of company values, the prio­rity setting all these sorts of things, and tell him that he is not actually at the level of most successful compa­nies. And so, the outsider spots the issues the CEO can’t see and gives him a bench­mark to let him know when you’re stan­ding in the green zone and when you’re in the red zone.” But who are these famed outsi­ders who see these blind spots?

There is a growing list of compa­nies offe­ring the services of such people, not tradi­tional consul­tants but former execu­tives who under­stand the full scope of the execu­tional issues that a corpo­ra­tion might run into. They are not specia­lists in any parti­cular facet of corpo­rate trans­for­ma­tions, as they will not know in advance which issues that will come up. They need to be able to see any and all of them and be able to help us with any and all of them. As an execu­tive, they ideally would have gone through 3 or 4 company trans­for­ma­tions, and after­wards have helped 10 other compa­nies in doing so. As these compa­nies deal speci­fi­cally with execu­tion of company stra­tegy, they will work comple­tely differ­ently from the typical consul­tancy, which is why consul­tan­cies don’t want to be part of the imple­men­ta­tion process. ´“The help the CEO needs during imple­men­ta­tion is some­body to help him out for week here, a day there, a phone call here and then maybe nothing for a month and so on. And that doesn’t fit with selling a team of 10 graduates for 3 months,” says Petersen. And the solu­tions they come up with tend to be more crea­tive. Petersen gives as an example, the dilemma of one medium-sized company that he counseled.´One of the company’s divi­sions was headed by a salesman who grew the company’s sales by 25 percent a year, but at the same time, produced very unsa­tis­fac­tory results in fulfil­ling orders, with custo­mers some­times complai­ning that they did not get what they were sold.

The execu­tive consul­tant, who in this situa­tion as Petersen himself, talked with the divi­sion head to learn more about him, and came to the conclu­sion that the iden­tity of the man in question was bound up in his ability to make sales, and he would thus sell anything and ever­y­thing, despite the fact that he was no longer a mere salesman but the head of a divi­sion. On the other hand, the thought of actually mana­ging the deli­ve­ries filled this manager with horror.

In the end, Petersen advised against demo­ting the manager, as this would have stripped him of the moti­va­tion that made his sales work so commend­able. Instead, he advised the firm to provide the manager with a frame­work for what he could and could not sell, put someone else in to take care of opera­tions, and to do it all in a way that it did not make him feel like he had been put on notice or that he was somehow “a loser”. The point is in cons­i­de­ring VUCA, there are no rules or road­maps. In the context of imple­men­ta­tion of company stra­tegy, the company, its CEO and if need be, an external consul­tant, need to look at all the context each time a deci­sion is made, and then make the deci­sion that is best overall. “The world is ever-chan­ging and execu­tion does not accept algo­rithms and road­maps,” Petersen says.

Brian Petersen

Brian Petersen

  • Brian Petersen works with leading compa­nies who want to turn stra­tegy into results faster and better than compe­ti­tion. His track record in this area includes 20 years with Procter & Gamble, where his last achie­ve­ment was to take P&G to market leadership in China. As CEO of Copen­hagen Airports, he then turned the airport into the fastest growing airport in Europe. The key to success was to acce­le­rate the organisation’s ability to adjust to disrup­tion, new stra­te­gies and acqui­si­tions faster than compe­ti­tion. Brian now shares his exper­tise in this area on boards and through consul­ting. His board expe­ri­ence includes global leaders in Pharma and Medical Devices as well as regional leaders in tourism, media and elec­tro­nics. Sepa­r­a­tely, he accom­pa­nies CEOs in their efforts through the entire journey from stra­tegy through execu­tion to results.

Want to get to know Brian Petersen?

Get in touch

Still curious?
There is more to see here:

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