This one thing


Having vision and mission statement(s) has become such a cliché. Now, everyone makes it a point of duty to articulate them. Ask any business executive saddled with the responsibility of leading a business or any organisation what the greatest challenge is. The response you’ll get depends largely on a number of factors ranging from industry, segment, stage e.t.c. From a general point of view though, businesses and organisations grapple with similar problems. Changing customer behaviour, tougher regulations, commoditization of competitive advantages and general level of uncertainties are some of the broad issues. The response of most businesses is to create ‘winning strategies’ (cost engineering, revenue enhancement, supply chain optimization e.t.c) and these and other affirmative actions are crucial to enterprise success. However, there is a certain issue that should be closely considered. It is the subject of blind spots. One of the biggest blind spot(s) of most leaders especially business-type leaders is the often too narrow definition of what their business is. This blog post examines this by looking at interesting case studies.


A transformer called Bruno.

He had made a guest appearance during my graduation from Orange Academy; Africa’s premier school of branding and storytelling. We call it (i.e. graduation), ‘immersion’. He was soft spoken, dressed in a tight fitted custom crested jacket. Under his jacket, he wore a deep brown long sleeve shirt. His denim trouser was a low rise sitting perfectly on his brown suede shoes. Of course, his belt was brown. He left me with an impression that night. In few words, he introduced himself and spoke about how Orange Academy had changed his life. He is an ex-banker who once lost his job but later found his way back into the system but dared to better his life. His name is Bruno Oaikhinan. His business is called Bruno’s Place; a unisex salon at the heart of the Ikeja City Mall in Lagos, Nigeria. What is it about Bruno’s Place that makes it such a delight? We’ll come back to him – the man whose story inspired this piece.


A brew that nurtures.
The aspirational purpose of Starbucks  Coffee Company according to Joseph Michelli who authored the best seller; Starbucks Experience is “to nurture the human spirit”. The first time I read it, I had to remove my eyes to be sure I was not making up those words. Sometimes, it is important that we apply some reality check on ourselves to be sure we are not hallucinating. I have since read about this overtime and heard many-A-speakers talk about this. How can a coffee company have this for a statement of purpose? From a humble beginning, Starbucks has become a fortune 500 company with more than 16,000 stores (Cafes) in America. Its business model today has evolved so much that it is almost difficult to simply refer to it as a Coffee company. So what has this got to do with anything?


Happiness in a bottle.
Let us talk about the world most influential beverage company and one time most valuable brand. Without gainsaying, Coca Cola is an undisputed titan in the business arena. The power of this behemoth of a company is simply breath taking. I dare say without any fear of reprimand that after Jesus, the next most popular brand on this planet is Coke. I know people who can literarily swear by Coke. To these people, Coke means more than soda water mixed with sugar. So, does sugar really cause happiness?.


Proudly made in Cupertino.
Apple of Cupertino, California in the U.S of A is the world’s most valuable brand. There’s no other word I know that stands for innovation. Its difficult to talk about Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction in this era without bringing Apple in as a case study. Apple Inc. is the perfect poster child of disruption. It is the symbol for everything cool. For a company that began as a PC maker, Apple has gone beyond making boxes to creating next generation products in adjacent industries. Think iPod. Apple has a Grammy award for distinguished contribution to music. So, what is it about this American icon that brings out the genie in its believers?


More than a bank.
What happens when a financial institution decides to become the third place? This is exactly what Umpqua bank in Portland, Oregon has done with its store concept. Community is at the heart of what Umpqua bank is. The new Umpqua bank is anything unlike what a typical bank is. It branches which it refers to as stores is somewhat between a typical Starbucks café and a show room in Las Vegas. Cool is simply just an understatement here. Umpqua is a very profitable bank. While legacy banks filed for bankruptcy at the peak of the last global financial crisis, this bank grew in leaps and bounds. The then CEO, Roy Davis has authored two profound books sharing his experiences on managing in boom and bursts.


This blog post began with the assertion that narrow definition of business is one the biggest  blind spots for most businesses and business leaders. The next time I saw Mr. Bruno (remember him from the story), I had an unceremonial but deeply profound conversation with him. We were standing some 200 meters away from his Salon at Ikeja City Mall. I asked him a very direct question “what is the secret of your business”? He took a deep breath and answered me. He began by saying to me “Femi, between you and I, the success of the Bruno brand is in the way we have defined what our business is”. Confused, I prodded for clarification which he was more than kind to provide. He said “to simply define Bruno’s Place as a unisex salon, is an abuse of purpose. We are in the business of transformation”. He went ahead to share some of the very interesting plans in the pipeline and some of the  rituals they observe. He looked at me pointing at his shop  “I promise you one thing. Come back here next week, you won’t meet us the same way. We are in the business of transformation and that means we must live and breathe change. We change by every means necessary even if it means changing the position of the chairs”.


In all the above examples and there are more, the one thing that differentiates these businesses from others is how broadly they have defined their business. Starbucks is more than coffee. A bottle of Coke although contains sugar is a product of a company whose ethos is happiness. Apple stands for empowerment. The company was born out of a counter-culture era. This is why it is a sworn rebel to everything called status-quo. Ask IBM what Apple means. They sure know better not to mess with Steve’s greatest creation. Umpqua bank is re-defining what the future of banking is. Nike is not just about apparel but superior athletic performance. Same for Under Armour Sports; a company that is obsessed with protecting this house..


So, what is your business? Really?


Image Credit: Google

Femi Oni

Femi’s overarching purpose is to inspire brands (individuals, organisations and nations) to unlock potentials to achieve sustainable growth and impact. His mission is to mentor 1000 brands in Africa and beyond by 2025.

Specialties and Interests: Business Model Design & Innovation, Visioning, Strategy Design & Execution, Project Management, Change Management, Strategic Branding, Operations Excellence, Process Modelling, Product Management, Productivity Management, Entrepreneurial Leadership (Startups), , Social Evangelism, Education, Sustainability, Cybernetics, Risk & Compliance.