We can't say if readers have prayed to survive the Y2K bug, but we know that some are ready to genuflect before consultant J'Amy Owens, whom we profiled in our October cover story. Her worshipers, however, were way outnumbered by followers of a computer-world deity.
Leader of the Brand
In " The Diva of Retail," senior writer Edward O. Welles profiled J'Amy Owens, who, as president of $5-million Retail Group Inc., in Seattle, has helped well-known companies such as Starbucks, McDonald's, and Nike energize their brands. Awed by Owens's marketing tips, this reader, who runs a retail business, expressed his gratitude.
Your headline for "The Diva of Retail" intrigued me: "Why did Starbucks, Blockbuster, and Nike come calling on a little-known consultant? Because she knows how to make their cash registers ring."
I have owned and operated a retail business for 6 years now, plus four other companies in the past 14 years. I found this article on retail display and atmosphere to be one of the most informative that I've ever read. I love the real-life process people go through in changing their stores. Thank you for an excellent article.
CEO and President
In suggesting design changes for her big-name clientele, Owens is frequently a lone voice. (She calls the typical Blockbuster entrance "a submarine air lock" that traps the customer, and she says that RadioShack's interiors make it look as if the company "bought the patent on gray from the U.S. Navy.") This reader went so far as to liken her system-bucking style to that of a fictional architect, famous for his highly individualized thinking.
As I read Edward O. Welles's story "The Diva of Retail," I found myself thinking that in J'Amy Owens I was reading about a real-life, female version of Howard Roark of Ayn Rand's book The Fountainhead. God, I want to meet this person!
First Tier Books
How Do You Like Them Apples?
Dr. Steven Berglas, author of our Entrepreneurial Ego column, managed to bring die-hard Apple Computer fans out of the woodwork. In " What You Can Learn from Steve Jobs," one of our more controversial and commented-on columns in recent memory, Berglas suggests that charismatic Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs has the persona and leadership style to guide a company in adverse conditions but not when times are good. One thing is clear from the reaction to Berglas's column: Steve Jobs is impossible to ignore.
Berglas exemplifies the saying "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach (or consult)." While I'm no fan of some of Steve Jobs's reported antics, I would sell my Apple stock if he left. Besides, Apple will remain under crisis management until it can regain critical mass in the PC industry -- and that's a long way off.
My company recently paid thousands of dollars for me to attend a leadership workshop about "nice, cooperative, empowered leadership." At the end of the two-day workshop, I asked the instructor to cite one well-known high-tech company with a CEO who exemplified the instructor's vision of a great leader. No believable answer was given.
"Nice" is nice, but CEOs need to make hard decisions and provide strong leadership -- especially in the technology industry. Employee empowerment is certainly a necessary part of running a company, but strong, hard-hitting leadership is the core ingredient.
I found Steven Berglas's article on Steve Jobs interesting but a little shortsighted. Berglas says that the rules change radically once a business is established. But in Apple's case (or, one could argue, in the high-tech industry as a whole), the business is never established. With product life cycles getting shorter and shorter, high-tech companies are always on the run. If they pause to smell the roses, they will be stabbed by the thorns. Companies in high tech are always in crisis or at least what I call controlled crisis.
Regarding Jobs's famed ego, I have yet to meet an individual at his level who does not have a large ego. That by no means excuses any excesses in behavior. But you know how it is: give someone a little power, some press, and watch out. We can only hope that the individual in question is secure enough to keep his or her ego from running rampant.