How the mighty fall

Mission is everything. When you lose sight of your true mission, you are bound to fail.

Here’s a story about Johnny.

Johnny had a really good idea for a new widget that many people would need. Johnny was very innovative as a kid and his idea was something no one had thought about.

Johnny designed his widget in his basement and built the prototype in his garage. With patent pending, he sold his ideas to a few companies and Widget Corp was born. Johnny focused all his time and excess cash into this startup, but he was excited.

Flash forward two years.

Demand for Johnny’s widget exploded and, after hiring a small team, he was able to meet delivery. Johnny was so excited about helping these companies in this area and, along with his select team, they were able to come up with three other widgets that were equally as innovative. Widget Corp customers were excited about the new widgets and Johnny’s was able to quickly start selling them. With the demand, came the need for more people than his small entrepreneurial team–he started hiring people focused on producing widgets under his supervision. With all the new people, Johnny needed special talent, and he hired someone to help manage people because he made widgets–he knew very little about human resource management. Supplies for his growing line of widgets were becoming an issue, so he brought in an expert in supply chain management to help out. Widget Corp was making a lot of money and Johnny loved that. To allow himself the ability to still invent and sell widgets, he hired a CFO to manage the money Widget Corp was making.

Flash forward three years.

Widgets from Widget Corp have gone international in several companies. Johnny hasn’t had a lot of time to create new widgets because he’s been focused on selling and expanding markets. Instead, his early team has made modified actions to the original widgets and are selling the new improved ones as the 2.0 model. Widget Corp is rolling in money and the CFO moved them to IPO status to leverage capital–something Johnny barely understood, but was excited about making more money from the money they were making. Widget Corp has such a large manufacturing process that they needed a COO and the operations were broke into teams to manage 24 by 7 operations–they were making more widgets than were needed so they would have them on hand when the customer ordered them because they had so many types of widgets now that it took a long time to make just one widget. Almost every widget that Widget Corp sells has at least three versions and they stock them all. Customers like the widgets, but many of the original customers have gone to small look a like competitors that are making new and inventive widgets that meet their needs. To manage the growth of Widget Corp, Johnny stood up a Sales and Marketing department and expanded financial management and human resources. It’s getting harder to make money I the market so he’s been selling off some original widget designs to competitors and reducing the sales price on the older versions of widgets. Johnny hasn’t developed a widget in the past several years, but he’s happy making lots of money expanding and selling.

Flash forward two years.

Widget Corp outsourced a large part of their manufacturing operations to an offshore company to reduce operating expenses. Johnny focused 100% on this deal to keep the flow of money to Widget Corp coming in. This allowed him downsize human resources and increase financial management. Right after the outsourcing Conglomerate Corp made Johnny a sizable offer to buy Widget Corp. They wanted to expand their operations into his market and he was the leader with the largest customer base. The price was right and Johnny jumped at the offer.

Flash toward four years.

Conglomerate Corp operated Widget Corp at a loss for three years, cutting quality and service, merging the sales with their sales department, and laying off all redundant labor. CC was only interested in expanding to the new clients and increasing how much money they made for their shareholders every year. By the fourth year, they liquidated Widget Corp’s assets, discontinued the line of widgets, which hadn’t been update for years, and made money off the sale of patents to smaller widget-making companies.

Widget Corp lasted 11 years as a company. Johnny’ s vision of making widgets for people that made their life better was dead. He was sort of happy making money and took a Vice President of Sales and Marketing position with a smaller startup company to keep his cash flow fluid. He came to work every day and dreamed of new widgets to make for the customers he sold to, but his new company wasn’t interested in spending resources on new widgets when they had a successful line that they were already selling.

What was Johnny’s mission and vision when he started?

How did that mission and vision change over time?

Companies are built off a solid purpose–they are designed to provide something specific that a customer needs. They are created because of customers. The vision of this company is to serve the needs of customers even better–to do great things for their customers.

When created, these garage front companies, many existing today, do not have a plan for the immense growth that will occur because they really do have a great idea. The founders know how to create the needs of the customers and are driven by the mission and vision.

Money–the making of it–slowly starts to become the “reason” for existing. Yea, Widget Corp had a mission and vision statement on the Corporate Office wall and it sounded great, but they stopped focusing on why they were created and started focusing on what they were getting out of it.

Never lose focus on why you exist. If your actions don’t represent that, then what are you doing and why are you doing it.

Look around at major companies today–some struggle with their mission and vision, often because the people who work there–especially the ones making a lot of money–just want to make money. It’s a job, just like Johnny at the end of the story.

This story is true of many companies that have come and gone and are even here today.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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