usiness reading for uncertain timesFor market watchers, these are uncertain times. The market boom, so spectacular in its sunrise, has faded to pale twilight. Reassessment is the watchword at many major American companies as terms like e-commerce, e-venture and Internet-drivenfade from glory. Surely those concepts will re-emerge in a short time, dusted, retooled and remodeled. In the meantime, a period of corporate reflection settles over American business. This month we look at three books and an audiotape whose ideas seem relevant for this reflective era. Beginning with a book about the Federal Reserve and how it drives the markets to an exploration of new research on customer value and marketing, each title reflects new ideas American businesses must consider as the post-New Economy world reconsiders itself.
The Fed: The Inside Story of How the World's Most Powerful Financial Institution Drives the Markets by Martin Mayer is a powerful book written with rare insight and aptitude by a longtime business journalist. Much has been made of Alan Greenspan, and much has been attributed to his acumen as the chief of the Federal Reserve. Mayer expands that view, giving us a historical account of the Fed's role, from the 1920s through the1970s banking regulation to the 1987 crash and into the present century. Well-cited and carefully researched, Mayer's book warns that while Fed policy has supported the past weight and inequities of the U.S. banking system, like Atlas holding the earth, it "may not support tomorrow's" problems. He calls for the Fed to bring the hidden maneuverings and derivatives dealings of the markets into public view, but says, "the Fed has never believed in sunshine as a disinfectant." Historically significant and timely, The Fed is an eye-opening reminder that the future of the markets is not always in our hands.
Game, Set, Match: Winning the Negotiations Game by Henry S. Kramer describes the "game we all play." Whether we're talking about haggling over the price of a car, the outcome of a job raise or the sale of one corporate entity to another, negotiation is a prime activity for anyone entering the marketplace. Why is it important to plan a strategy for successful negotiation? What are the legal and ethical pitfalls of managing a negotiation? Kramer, an attorney and professor of negotiations simulation classes, argues you will not "end up where you want to be" if you do not prepare to ask for and creatively negotiate for the things you want. In an uncertain era, Kramer says "commercial and labor relations transactions involve fairly large sums of money, in which even the terms won by a good negotiator in a single negotiation may well reach six or seven figures . . . A good negotiator can be a real contributor to the bottom line." Clearly written with helpful tips, Game, Set, Match defines a new watchword as businesses look at new ways to reduce costs.
ValueSpace: Winning the Battle for Market Leadership by Banwari Mittal and Jagdish N. Sheth argues that a new paradigm is emerging in marketing. While most marketing programs rely on price points in the marketplace, Mittal and Sheth show real-market examples where the 3 Ps of marketing (price, performance and personalization) combine to create what they call ValueSpace.
ValueSpace, simply put, is a whole package of values customers want when they shop among major brands, services or products. Currently, many marketing managers focus on offering the lowest price for their product to win market share. Mittal and Sheth say successful brands offer more than low prices, they also offer great performance (think of the constant Palm Pilot innovations) and great "personalization" (Microsoft Outlook is appealing because it works easily with other computer programs). At core, the authors say, ValueSpace energizes quality and innovation practices within a corporation. From Xerox to Hilton to 3M, the authors document ValueSpace initiatives at many major American companies, highlighting innovation and quality control as key company components. For innovative companies, these ideas are nothing new; for everyone else, they will be keys to the future.
Free Agent Nation by Daniel H. Pink has just been released on audiotape. Pink's fast-forward approach to the changing nature of employment is de rigeur listening. Termed "dis-organization" men and women, the ranks of 21st century employees may well include a mom-preneur, a consultant with flexible work hours or a freelance technology guru. Talented workers don't need company loyalty, don't expect it and are having a great time fending for themselves in the great wide world. Read by the author, a 30-something willing to challenge the status quo, Pink describes the coming work generation to a frightened corporate hierarchy and hopes Free Agent Nation will shake up corporate America.