Episode: 22 |
Christopher Fox:
Commercial Due Diligence:


Christopher Fox

Commercial Due Diligence

Show Notes

Chris Fox, an alum of McKinsey and Marakon, has held executive leadership roles at Xerox and MeadWestvaco.  Since 2014 he has been operating his own consulting practice, Meridian Strategic Consulting, based in Richmond, Virginia.  In this episode, we discuss the range of Chris’s practice, with a particular focus on strategy and due diligence assignments.  Read more about Chris on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/chrisjfox


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Will Bachman: Hey there podcast listeners. Welcome to Unleashed. The show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. I’m your host, Will Bachman.

Our guest today is a good friend of mine, Chris Fox, who I got to know several years ago first through his work, before I had even met him. He served a client and I subsequently served the same client, who shared some of Chris’ work with me and I was blown away with how awesome it was. It really set the bar pretty high, for what I had to do. And then I was delighted to get to know Chris subsequent to that.

Chris does a ton of work in commercial due diligence, in market landscape assessment. He’s really expert at quickly diagnosing and understanding strategic forces in an industry. We have a great discussion today. He is a graduate of Harvard and MBA from Wharton. He’s been an engagement manager at McKinsey, senior strategy roles at Xerox and MeadWestvaco, and he’s been independent running his own successful practice for five years. 

We have a great discussion today and I hope you enjoy it.

Well Chris, hey welcome to the podcast. I’m really psyched to have you on.

Chris Fox: Well thank you Will, I’m excited to be doing this, and I’m looking forward to getting into some great discussion with you today.

Will Bachman: You and I have known each other for years, and I think I first came across your name when we had both served the same client but not chronologically, I served him after you did, and saw a piece of work that you had done with your name on it, and was like wow, this is a really nice piece of work, and it kind of set the bar pretty high for me. So I knew your work not even by reputation but by your work before we met, and we’ve had a chance to do some work together over the years, so thrilled to have you on.

Rather than me introducing you, why don’t you give us your quick thumb nail bio and your path to independent consulting.

Chris Fox: Happy to do that. So my background, like a lot of us, is in the world of professional services consulting. My training was with McKinsey, I was with the Los Angeles office for about seven years. I left as an AP. I was one of those strange birds at the time that was much more functionally focused than industry focused. I was a leader of the west coast Corporate Finance and Strategy practice, so I did a lot of work in the strategy arena but also a significant amount of that work was downstream around actual or contemplated acquisitions, alliances, etc. So certainly a mix of both strategics and private equities in that capacity.

I also worked for a while, on a couple of occasions in fact, with Marakon Associates, which was a strategy boutique that was quite prominent in the 90s and early 2000s. They cut their teeth around what was known as value based management, so that was a seminal part of my education as well.

Since then I’ve had a couple of roles in industry as well. I was a Director of Strategy at Xerox for several years, and then most recently, until about three years, I was leading the strategy team at a company called MeadWestvaco, which is about a six billion dollar global packaging company. So I had eight or nine people working on my team, scattered across several continents, in that capacity.

So I left there three years ago and I have continued to really do the same thing that I have always done, this time as an independent consultant, but I continue to focus on strategy primarily. I focus in particular on growth, whether it’s organic or inorganic. The mix of work that I get to do, in an ideal world, it’s sort of soup to nuts. So think about your classic eight to 10 week strategy study that really helps to guide the direction of either an existing or a potentially new business. 

But in many instances, clients are interested in picking off maybe just one element of that overall strategy to execution value chain. So I’ll get to work on very specific market landscape assessment, or maybe there’s a target in mind, so commercial diligence for example. You know, new market entry strategies, the elements that you can cobble together to put it together in full strategy but not necessarily me executing the whole thing.

So it’s a variety, from soup to nuts, to just nuts and bolts at certain points.

Will Bachman: The nuts industry, the soup industry.

Chris Fox: Yeah. I’m mixing metaphors here I guess.

Will Bachman: I think not everyone knows, tell us a little bit about what is the term ‘commercial diligence’ mean? What would a project like that entail?

Chris Fox: So yes, I do a fair amount of work around commercial diligence. That could be work either for strategic, but more typically for a private equity investor that’s really interested in understanding a specific target in more depth. And very often this involves a significant component of primary research, which could be customer or competitor interviews, it could be customer survey work, it could even be web-based data mining. All with a view to really better understanding the competitive position of the target company. Competitive position in terms of value proposition, how that’s perceived by its core customers, and how that value proposition might compare to the value props of its own competitors.

Will Bachman: Can you walk us through some examples from one or two examples that you’ve done of this, of what sort of web-based data mining you would do, or what kind of customer surveys and how you would actually execute those?

Chris Fox: I think probably the most common thing that I’ve done around these, is to orchestrate expert interviews. So typically working with an expert network, it could be an organization like GLG or AlphaSights, but probably about a half a dozen of these that will help to facilitate interviews with folks that are in their network. Or if folks are not in their network, can actually go out and they can locate the right types of people to interview. So these are gonna be people who have very specific insight on an industry or a company, you know typically the company that’s under diligence. Or even more generally just have an awareness of what is going on from a competitive market dynamics perspective in the space in question.

And so what I will do, is I will work with the client to help frame the set of issues that they’re interested in, to really get specific around those, and then I would work with one of these expert network organizations to go and identify experts, schedule them and interview them. And typically an hour long interview if it’s productive, maybe less if it’s not. I will interview them, I will take copious notes, which will make it in to an eventual leave behind deck, but also, and this is probably the more interesting and higher value, part of my role is synthesizing across what ends up being often a very disparate set of perspectives. To draw conclusions that are robust around the questions the investors are interested in.

And often times, if I’m doing let’s say a couple of dozen interviews over a two week period, it is very striking how you will get different perspectives. And you’re gonna need to push and pull and prod to corroborate what’s really going on. I liken it to the parable of the three men and the elephant, right. So you’ve got three people, one guy’s got the trunk, one guy’s got the ear and one guy’s got the tail and they’re all describing some different sort of beast. But of course they’re all right, they’re just looking at it from their own perspective. This’ll sound silly but I see myself as the integrator who’s got to figure out what that elephant looks like, based on the interviews with those three blind men.

Will Bachman: Any tips and tricks on how to use those kind of interviews effectively? Any phrases that you use or questions that you ask, that you found are particularly good at yielding insights?

Chris Fox: You know I think the key to good interviews obviously is preparation and being really clear on what it is that you’re trying to answer, the questions, the issues you’re trying to answer. But having said that, I find there’s a lot of value in asking questions that tend to be more opened ended, particularly at the beginnings of a study when you’re still trying to get up to speed and you really don’t know typically exactly what all is going on in this space. And so asking open questions, for example you’ll ask an interviewee, let me understand a little bit about what’s going on in your industry. When you look at what’s happening in this space today, what are the two or three key trends that you think are important and noteworthy?

And so starting off like that, oftentimes it’ll lead to a set of questions that you weren’t previously contemplating, some very fruitful threads. That’s where you can generate a lot of the insight and insight that perhaps your client hadn’t expected.

Will Bachman: Yeah, I mean it’s also helpful to get people comfortable with the interview before you dive into super detailed questions like that.

Chris Fox: Well I agree and I’ve found … it’s interesting, having done a bunch of these now, I always ask the interviewee whether they have done something like this before. And the funny thing is that most of them have. Most of them are not new to this, but I just try to gauge their experience and their comfort with this process before we start into it. So if someone tells me he’s done 12 of these in the last six months, I know what I’m dealing with. If it’s somebody who says, well this is my first or my second one, then I’ll take a little bit more time to get ’em comfortable with the parameters of what we’re doing. 

And there are actually a lot of parameters that are placed around these interviews. First and foremost is that you simply cannot and should not solicit any non public information. That is the cardinal rule of doing all of these.

Will Bachman: You mentioned also web mining, or data mining. Can you tell us about any examples of that that you’ve done?

Chris Fox: Yeah I haven’t done a lot of that yet but I’ve seen … it’s been coming up as a technique for getting information that would otherwise be buried, if you will, about the position of a company, the perception of a company. And so really what it is, there are a number of specialized firms that have the ability to go out and troll the web. You give them a series of key words, the name of the target for example would certainly be one, and maybe its competitors. And what it’ll do is it’ll basically go out there and look for all of the references it can find with respect to that organization. This could be information that’s out there on social media, so it could be customers on social media talking about their reactions and perceptions of this company. It could be employees of the company, and think about glass door, but all of the social media information that employees might put out onto the web with respect to a particular company, and that could give you some insights into employee morale for example, organizational stability or brittleness if that’s the case.

Will Bachman: Yeah, I’ll look at LinkedIn and sometimes you look at people’s job description, and it’ll give you stuff that’s kind of confidential. It’ll be the warehouse manager for the country, and it says, I manage 19 million dollars worth of inventory that turns six times a year, or something.

Chris Fox: Yeah those are always gold when you find them out there. But I think the notion here is that increasingly a lot of information is out there, on social media and in a more unstructured form, but with a set of key words and the right algorithms, you can actually go out there and scrape it and then assemble it into something that hopefully is somewhat meaningful.

I don’t have a lot of experience with that. I think it’s the next thing that’s coming, so it’s an area I’m trying to learn more about.

Will Bachman: Yeah I think you’re right, I think it’s gonna be huge. So do you have any case examples that … obviously we need to keep it sanitized but maybe you could walk us through a case example to help us understand the steps that you’d follow.

Chris Fox: Yeah, so if we want to talk specifically about commercial diligence, I actually did one last month which was for a private equity company, and it was focused on a target that was in the lighting space and I probably shouldn’t go much deeper than that. But suffice it to say, the private equity company was very interested in understanding how this company was positioned in the market place, and with respect very specifically to two or three of the most prominent brands. So it was a company that had I think overall maybe eight different brands, each with a very specific positioning, but three of them were more material to the performance of the portfolio and the question at hand was, how was each of those brands performing? Specifically, are they growing with the market or above the market or below the market, and why? What is driving that?

So information that you’re not going to find in any secondary market research report. Our approach to getting at this was to go out, identify and then interview … I think we ended up with 22 interviewees across the activity chain and the lighting space. So it’s actually a pretty complex ecosystem with a variety of different go to market channels, including Internet, showrooms, designer channels, competitors obviously were also of interest, ex employees. We talked to a very significant and diverse group of folks to really drill down on the performance of the three brands in question.

I don’t know how much detail you want me to get into around that process.

Will Bachman: Maybe talk to us a little bit about what the output of one of these efforts looks like. So what are all the different pages if you will, in an output? So you don’t need to get into the specifics of what you learned, but market size, competitor profiles … what are you typically producing?

Chris Fox: Yeah, it depends a little bit on what the brief is, but the way I’ll usually organize the content on one of these is around the very specific questions that were asked. And those will fall into a bunch of generic buckets. It’ll fall into, what is the overall market look like, what are the key dynamics in that market, what’s the growth rate and what’s driving that growth rate? So there’s the market piece.

You then get into competitive position. And then that’s almost always something that these guys are interested in. How’s our target company positioned relative to its competitors and why? Do they have momentum behind them? If not, why not? If they do, what’s driving that?

There’s also often a bucket around customer needs. And actually I found it difficult to really do justice to a description of a target’s competitive position unless I understand the customer needs and behaviors and buying factors. So that’s usually something that I would build into a more complete diligence effort.

So those three things generally. And then the actual deliverable  itself for me, three things. There’s an executive summary. I always write a one or two page executive summary that’ll go deep on those three buckets of issues and what we found. There’s then an elaboration of the executive summary, which might be 10, 20 pages, it depends. What I will typically do is highlight a conclusion or a theme that’s emerged from the interviews. So I will describe what that theme is, what our finding is, and then I will have a series of supporting quotes. So literally left side of the page is, here under this topic these are three or four findings, right hand side are the illustrative quotes. And I found that a very powerful way of discussing findings with the client and bringing them to light, because it’s not just me saying, we discovered that the target company’s competitively advantaged because they have this propriety process. It’s illustrating that with three or four really pithy and poignant quotes from, it could be from an ex employee or a competitor or a customer, whomever.

And then the third part of these deliverables is inevitably a much more detailed, almost transcript, of the interview itself. So sometimes I’ll just append raw interview notes. Other times I might actually try to synthesize those a little bit, it depends to some extent on how much time I have. And there’s always value in doing a little bit of synthesis. 

But I will literally have a page or several pages for each one of the interviewees, where I’ll go through and almost have verbatim what the discussion was around each question.

Will Bachman: Yeah I do something very similar, where just a very simple page, it’s like a table with two columns. On the left it’ll be what’s the topic and then on the right it’ll be several bold points, either a direct quote or a paraphrase. And then from interview to interview I’ll try to keep the categories somewhat consistent but they won’t necessarily be in the same order, or always be the same. But I find that’s a nice kind of raw way to have it be more than just … a little bit more than a transcript, so you can find stuff. And then having that when they’re going through the main deck and someone says, where did you get this? You can actually then go find it in those interview notes and see it in context from that discussion. And it just adds a ton of credibility.

Chris Fox: Yeah and different clients have different appetites for detail. So I’m sure there’s some clients where there’ll read the executive summary and maybe a few pages of the main body of the deck and they’ll be, that’s great thank you. There are others who I know will literally spend time even over the weekend poring through the detailed notes and really sort of, you know. So people want to absorb information in different ways and in different levels, but I think the way I described it and you described it Will, provides people the ability to engage in the way they want at the level they want. So it’s a pretty robust process too if you think about it. Obviously starting with your raw notes, some level of synthesis, a couple levels of synthesis.

Once you’ve done a number of these, the process becomes pretty rote.

Will Bachman: Mm-hmm. I’d love to hear about some of the ways beyond executing specific projects, how you think about building your visibility over time, doing client development over time. I’d love to hear how your projects come to you. Maybe some come through various brokers, do some come direct? How do you get in touch with these PE firms and stay in touch with them over time?

Chris Fox: So I would say half of my business is independently sourced, that is I source and develop the clientele. And then the other half is through agencies or third parties, so folks like HighPoint Associates, Business Talent Group, GLG special projects. And I found over the years that actually having a mix of those, it’s pretty healthy, at least from a utilization perspective, ’cause there’s always ebbs and flows in my own personal pipeline. So I like the idea of being able to outsource pipeline development to others.

Will Bachman: Yeah they do a great service. How do you develop relationships with PE firms? A lot of consultants want to know how to do that.

Chris Fox: Yeah, I’ve actually found that as I think about most of the work that I do with PE firms, most of that is actually through the agencies. ‘Cause I think that there’s a bias amongst PE firms to use agencies, for what I think are a couple of good reasons. I think one, they do a lot of these things. They have a lot of deal flow and they need to standardize work flow, and that’s what they get by working through an agency. So I think that’s why most of the PE work that I have seen, I’ve done over the last few years, has been through those agencies.

The other thing that I see is … and this gets the standardization of the work flow and the nature of the work itself, GLG special projects seems to be growing quite rapidly and I think one of the reasons or that is they can actually put together that end to end set of sources and activities that might be harder for someone else to do. And the reason they can do that obviously is because they’re leveraging their core business, which is that expert network.

To continue to answer the question, most of the clients that I serve on my own are strategics and those relationships come through a variety of ways. I make a concerted effort to stay very close to colleagues that I’ve worked with in the past, so these could be people I work with in industry who are still in industry and maybe have moved on to other companies as well. But I stay very close to them because they’re often in the same space I’ve been in, which is around strategy. So they are working through some of the same issues that I could be helpful with.

And then I also make sure I stay very close to clients that I’ve worked with in the past. I really do believe that the best source of the next piece of work, is your existing client, or someone who has been a client. Because there’s very little friction in finding or transacting with somebody like that. Whereas going out and having to find and build trust and get the O1 engagement with a new client is a rarer occurrence.

Will Bachman: That’s certainly right, and good work sells itself.

Chris Fox: It does, and it leads to more work. That’s what I try to shoot for. It’s self evident that what we sell is very intangible, it’s very trust based. The first one getting the foot in the door is the hardest. If you do good work at that point though then that work sells itself. It sells itself in other parts of the same organization and it becomes very powerful.

Will Bachman: Yeah. It sounds like you do a great job of staying in touch with folks that you’ve worked with in the past. How do you do that? Do you have a rigorous tracker, or is it more intuition? Do you call people periodically?

Chris Fox: Yeah I reach out periodically, and I’ll do that a couple of different ways. One thing I’ll do is with a set of clients or prospects, I’ll simply set up a Google news alert. So I get a weekly feed of relevant articles, and depending on who that company is, sometimes there’s some interesting things in that feed and a lot of the time there isn’t. But whenever there is something that is material and resonates, and maybe even touches on the area where my contact is working, I can use that as a lever or maybe as an excuse to reach out and say, hey I saw that this is happening. Sounds like you were probably involved, or sounds like, whatever. But it provides me with an excuse, if you will, to reach out in a way that then feels more natural. That’s one tool. 

And beyond that though, I just make a point of staying close to folks on a regular basis. So maybe on a quarterly basis if I haven’t had any interaction, I’ll shoot somebody a note and just give them a brief update on what I’ve been doing and suggest that we have a 30 minute catch up call. So I’m not trying to do anything with the email by itself, except to set up the telephone interaction, or if they’re local it could be a cup of coffee, breakfast sort of thing.

Will Bachman: Yeah and you don’t always need to be generating some massive value every time you contact them, just staying in touch and saying hello.

Chris Fox: I don’t think it’s easy to generate, or even necessary to generate value with every touch point. Although it’s great if you can do it and it does happen sometimes. Sometimes you’ll find your timing’s right and there’s a quid pro quo. But a lot of it is just simply maintaining awareness. Hanging around the hoop. At any point in time these guys aren’t necessarily gonna have something that works for you, but they will over time. And when that thing comes up, you wanna be top of minds as the guy who can help solve that.

Will Bachman: How do you over time think about managing your own professional development? When we were at firms, they took care of it for us, but when you’re off on your own it’d be easy to sort of flat line. So do you do anything intentional and deliberate to identify skills that you wanna work on, and then go work on them over time?

Chris Fox: Yeah. I think a big part of personal development is putting yourself into uncomfortable situations. Everybody has their own definition of what an uncomfortable situation is. For me, I was … and I continue to be interested in consulting primarily because I like the problem solving. Really rolling up the sleeves, getting into the data, getting into the dialogue, and engaging with business teams. I’ve always, historically at least, shied away from the aspect of a job that is more business development in orientation, and I’ve realized that that can work I guess when you’re at a bigger firm because there’s some people who love that stuff and others who don’t. But when you’re working for yourself, you really have to be all roles in one. So I very deliberately try to push myself in the direction of being more proactive on the business development front and for me I’d say it’s not a technical skill but it’s more a question of building confidence through multiple at-bats, and hopefully a few successes along the way.

Will Bachman: So what kind of uncomfortable situations have you got yourself into?

Chris Fox: Again everybody’s definition of what’s comfortable or uncomfortable may be different, but for me, and starting as an independent consultant a few years ago, the idea of going out there and pitching a full strategy study to a senior vice president. Sitting across the table and negotiating that back and forth with him was scary, frankly. But pushing myself to get out there and do it, and seeing that it actually works, it happens. So I continue to push myself into those types of situations, whether it’s around business development or other interactions with senior leadership in a counseling fashion. Those are the things that for me are maybe a little bit less comfortable. Again they’re not necessarily technical skills, although presumably you can get coaching around these things. But for me the way to get better is by simply going out there and taking some chances doing it, having some failures frankly, but maybe one or two successes that offset those.

Will Bachman: In terms of, certainly negotiating the project, one thing that I did, particularly early on and still do from time to time, is actually ask a friend to role play that negotiation with me so I can actually rehearse it one or two times, of how I want to think about it, to prepare myself. And that was hugely helpful when I first started and I’ll still do that. Calling up another independent consultant and explaining the situation, asking them to play the client and try and say the actual words a few times.

Chris Fox: I think you reminded me of a broader point, and one that I’ve enjoyed about independent consulting, which is the ability to collaborate with other colleagues, with colleagues from the Umbrex network. So without naming names, I think you’re aware that I work quite closely at times with another Ubrex consultant who’s based in New York City. He’s also an ex McKinsey engagement manager. And the interesting thing about our partnership, and we’ve probably done five robust projects together in the last 12 months, which we’ve sold and executed with team platforms, so meaningful stuff. The interesting thing about our partnership is that we are on the face of it so completely different, in terms of style, approach, personality. He tends to be very creative, blue sky, he’s the ideas guy. He’s no boundaries, nothing is impossible. Whereas I tend to be a little bit more of the pragmatic, process, type of guy. We’ve gotta make sure the trains run on time to actually deliver on what we just sold.

The discovery that we’ve had is that we’re so different, but we’re so complimentary that when we work together in a single client situation, it actually works very, very well. We sort of lever each other if you will, and we can dig in on different parts of the problem or the client relations challenges in ways that leverage our respective skills. So I can’t overstate the importance of partnerships, if you can find them and develop them. The power of partnerships in working and delivering really great work together.

Will Bachman: It sounds like you guys have a great relationship and I think that’s such an important point about being an independent consultant, it gives you the freedom to go out and work with other folks, and not even necessarily other former management consultants, but could be working with a designer or data scientists, the sky’s the limit … no rules, of the kind of work you can do with someone.

Chris Fox: It can be a little lonely if you’re just working on your own, and I certainly believe that you don’t do your best work if you’re working by yourself without having the far partner, but both of you are sub-optimizing.

Will Bachman: So I’m hearing skills, working on negotiation, business development, pushing yourself in those directions.

Chris Fox: The other thing I would say, Will, is in terms of personal development, one of the ways in which I parse through which project I’d like to work on … so I don’t always have a choice, but there are occasions when I’ll have two or three different things that I could do and I’m trying to figure out which of those is going to be the better fit. And there’re the usual considerations around the duration and the location and all that. But for me a bit component of it is, is this an interesting project and does it build my knowledge of a certain industry or of a certain functional area in a way that would be accretive?

So looking for clients who are working in perhaps some of the more interesting and dynamic parts of the marketplace is an important thing for me.

Will Bachman: Speaking of building knowledge, what do you read in terms of to try to just learn more about the world? Any kind of book recommendations you have? Any that you subscribe to?.

Chris Fox: I stay up on current events. There are three or four newspapers that I’ll read online on a regular basis, starting with the Wall Street Journal. I do think it’s important to be anchored in a broader political, economical context in order to do your best work. So all of that, Harvard Business Review, that’s probably an obvious one. I actually tend not to be a huge consumer of business books. My experience is that 90 to 95% of the business books published would probably have been better as just an HPR article, so I try to consume them in that format.

And really, a lot of them are just a puff piece for whoever’s writing them-

Will Bachman: The author.

Chris Fox: … Versus something that’s really profound.

Will Bachman: For sure.

Chris Fox: Yeah I think it goes back to some of the classics in the strategy field. So anything by Michael Porter. My thinking and my approach is very much shaped by all of Porter’s writings around competitive strategy and markets. More recently there’s a book called, Playing to Win, that’s been getting a lot of traction with my client network, and it actually draws on a lot of Porter as well. It’s co-written by Roger Martin, who used to be at Monitor with Michael Porter. So he’s one of the authors, the other author is A.G. Lafley, who was the CEO of Proctor and Gamble. And they’ve written a book about how they applied strategic thinking to Proctor and Gamble and bedded that process in that organization. A lot of it again is drawn from Monitor and from Michael Porter, but that’s probably the most interesting book I’ve read in the last couple of years and it’s one that’s getting a lot of traction, at least in my network.

Will Bachman: I like Playing to Win a lot. I have it right here in my bookshelf, and I particularly like the framework that it has. Before I read that I’d never really had a good sense of what strategy is, and that book walks you through five questions. If you can answer the following five questions you have a strategy, which is what is winning number 1, number 2 where do you play, number 3 how do you win, number 4 what capabilities are required, number 5 what management system are you using to drive all this. And I found that to be such a useful framework. I’ve used it anywhere from advising literally an Airbnb owner in Cuba on how to run her business better, to working with a 10 billion dollar business unit. It’s such a useful and flexible framework.

Chris Fox: I use it 90% of my engagements as well, my strategy engagements. I also think that it’s got some useful pointers from a process perspective, so all of those questions that you just mentioned are important but also the process that you choose to employ to bring along an organization or a client in the development of strategy. So how do you get engagement and how do you get by at all stages of the process, and what you’re answering those questions. Starting with developing a fact base, going on to think about alternatives, and then choices, but being very deliberate about phasing those things, because they’re very different in terms of the work itself. They’re very different in terms of the type of thinking that’s needed. And then how client executives need to be engaged. And so separating those things and bringing people along in each phase, I found is part of the softer magic of getting an organization to agree to a strategy.

Will Bachman: Yeah I totally agree. The whole alignment building piece is huge.

So Chris as we come here to the top of the hour, one question is how can people find you? Do you want to give out a website or Twitter? How can people find you online if they wanted to contact?

Chris Fox: The easiest thing is probably to just contact me by email, and it’s chris@meridian-strategy.com. Obviously folks can also find me on LinkedIn, I’m Christopher J Fox. They’re the best places to reach me. I don’t have a website. I’ve debated having a website, but the cost of discovery is largely insurmountable as in independent, so folks typically will find me through LinkedIn or they will know my email address.

Will Bachman: Yeah, some people invest in putting a big website together but you’re an example of how it is not necessary in every case.

So I guess one parting question is, you get to put whatever you want on a billboard for strategy executives driving to work. What would you tell them on the billboard?

Chris Fox: I actually have a Dilbert carton that I will put up in client meetings on the board, as an introduction to what strategy is and what it isn’t, and the process that we’re gonna go through. And the tagline is strategy is about choices. So the cartoon itself … and you should look up the cartoon at some point or I can send it to you, but Dogbert is shown at the top of the panel stating that all companies need a strategy so the employees will know what they don’t do. And then underneath there’s a panel that says, company with no strategy. And Dilbert is there, the phone is ringing and he’s thinking, oh oh, what should I do? His phone is ringing, what should I do? And he’s just looking at it. In the other panel you’ve got a company with a strategy. Dilbert sees the phone ring, picks it up and he says, we don’t do that. 

And so this is really actually profound because in my experience, executives and businesses have a really, really hard time of saying no. And strategy needs to be about not just about what we do, you do need to define your focus and do so very tightly, but it also is about the corollary, which is well we don’t do this. So we’re gonna get out of this line of business, or this product, or this service. Or we’re not gonna serve these customers. And so again it’s about choices and often difficult choices about what we’re not going to do. Until you’ve decided what you won’t do, it’s very difficult to be good at what you will do. That’s my parting thought.

Will Bachman: So strategy is about choices. Alright Chris, thanks. Great note to end on. Really appreciate you joining us today.

Chris Fox: You’re very welcome. I hope it was helpful. Thank you Will.

Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional.

Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned and collaborate. I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com. That’s u-m-b-r-e-x.com.

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Our audio engineer is Dave Nelson, our theme song was composed by Gary Negbaur, and I’m your host Will Bachman. Thanks for listening.

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