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Richards, Peters lead forum

Talk feature innovtions, marketing in business survival


by Sally Claunch
The Shorthorn Staff

Business and motivational speaker Tom Peters and former Gov. Ann Richards said current business leaders will have to discard convention and take risks in order to be competitive. The pair were keynote speakers Thursday at the university's Lessons in Leadership seminar held in Dallas.

Six hundred people from area companies such as Texas Instruments and PrimeCo. attended the seminar at the Hotel Intercontinental at $500 per ticket.

Nancy Kinsey, manager of corporate education here, planned the event, which the university has sponsored for the last six years. She said the event is held to get the university involved in the community and provide area business people with invaluable information.

"This adds to our image to hear one of the greatest thinkers (Tom Peters) in the U.S.," she said. "It provides state-of-the-art leadership and management training for people."

Peters, co-author of "In Search of Excellence," has conducted motivational seminars nationwide and in 22 countries. He said business is in a state of flux, and the Internet will take away white-collar jobs just as automated tools took away blue-collar jobs.

"Grocers are necessary grocery stores are not; banking is necessary bankers are not," he said. "Many industries are about to be fossilized by the Internet. It is do-it-yourself time."

Peters said the service industry and information brokerages are going to be the most profitable businesses in the future.

He said the only way to survive in the business flux is for an organization to turn into a constant innovation machine.

"Find cool people, find cool clients and go after really cool projects," he said.

He said the people must be rebels and non-conformists, and he quoted former President John F. Kennedy: "Conformity is the jailer of freedom, the enemy of growth."

Peters said a company or an employee must either be "distinct, or become extinct."

He presented two tactics of differentiation: innovative design and marketing to women.

He said a product's design needs to sell not only the product but an experience. For instance, he said, Harley Davidson motorcycles sell an attitude, not just a machine.

Peters said that the president of Harley Davidson said the company sells the ability for an accountant to dress up in leather and drive through a small town and have people be afraid of him. It's the experience of the motorcycle that attracts the buyers, not necessarily the machine itself, he said.

He said the attitude Harley Davidson sells is a "branding element." Potential buyers do not just see the motorcycle, but are looking to buy the experience as well.

He said that because women are making 94 percent of the home furnishing purchases, 92 percent of the vacation decisions and 91 percent of decisions about which house a family buys, businesses that want to be competitive must target women as a big part of their demographics.

Richards, who spoke after Peters, said that as a woman, she was glad business was in a state of flux.

"I am happy as a clam to be in uncertain times," she said.

She said that by the year 2007, 200,000 more women will graduate from college than men.

"You'll be hiring women because that's where the brains will be," she said.

Richards said she has learned about leadership from her own personal experience, and that a huge part of getting things done as a leader involves simple action.

She said that failure is fine and that a person should take risks and accept responsibility for failures.

"I was willing to take whatever risks were necessary to take to win big," she said, speaking about her run for governor.

Richards said that a person shouldn't be a "yes man." She added that people of principle command respect from others.

She said the best leaders do not accept the status quo and leave options open. She gave the example of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. He paid his workers more than any other car manufacturer and the Wall Street financiers called that a bad idea. Ford knew that one day his workers would become his future market, and he wanted to be sure they made enough money to buy his cars.

Richards said that change is threatening, uncomfortable and unstoppable.

"Change is going to occur whether you occur with it or not," she said.

Richards explained that people cannot separate their personal lives from their professional lives. She said that one cannot lead a double life.

"Most of us don't want to hire schizophrenics," she said.

Catarina Wylie, director of corporate communication for PrimeCo., said she learned a great deal from the seminar.

"What popped out at me was what are new ways we can connect our marketing group to targets," she said.

Wylie said she would seek a strategy to market their phones to women. She said she was going to talk to her team about the design of their phones.

"How to make something basic and black into a fashion statement and something that's fun to use," she said.

Wylie said she liked the seminar because Peters preaches that innovation and new ideas are good things.

"He gives you permission to think outside the box," she said.

Danette Hardin, Richland College marketing director, said she has attended several of Peters' seminars and followed his management theory.

She said Richland College has more competition now with new innovations such as distance learning, and she is going to try to figure out what her marketing team can do to reach their audience. She said she will look at Peters' theory of selling a college experience, rather than just a plain education.

"I need to identify what our branding element needs to be to reach our audience," she said.