Innovative Strategies Trump Industry Experience

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Barry Horwitz explains why he believes industry experience is overrated and provides examples from Ford, Staples, and health organizations to back up the claim. 

 

“In September of 2006, Boeing executive Alan Mullaly was named the new CEO of Ford Motor Company. Not only did he have zero experience in the auto industry, he drove a Lexus (shocking!).

The hiring decision was widely panned by industry experts and “regular people” alike. But Mullaly wasn’t fazed. When asked how he was going to tackle something as complex and unfamiliar as the auto industry, particularly given the financial shape Ford was in at the time, he replied, “An automobile has about 10,000 moving parts, right? An airplane has two million, and it has to stay up in the air.”

In the end, Mullaly was credited with having led a significant turnaround of Ford, which was also the only major auto manufacturer that didn’t require a government bailout during the great recession.

Industry Expertise is Overrated

When speaking with prospective clients, I am often asked whether I am an expert in their particular industry. While there are a few industries in which I have spent a number of years (e.g., retail, consumer products, health & human services, disease-based nonprofits), there are many more in which I have not.

In practice, however, lack of industry-specific experience is not usually a limitation. While it’s true that some understanding of the industry is critical, an outside resource can draw on the expertise that resides within the client organization, and from speaking with industry participants and analysts.

The truth is, if you are seeking creative and innovative ideas, they often come from looking at things from a different perspective — a perspective that is more likely in the possession of those with experiences across multiple and different industries.

There are many examples of this…”

 

Key points include:

  • The benefit of a broad experience
  • The intersection of industry innovation
  • Hiring strategically

 

Read the full article, Respect the Unexpected, on HorwitzandCo.com.