Ram Charan lives nowhere and goes everywhere, consulting for the largest and most powerful companies seven days a week, 365 days a year. Work is all he does, and all he wants to do. But even more than his dedication, it’s his insights that have won him the ear of hundreds of top managers.
Unlike many consultants, who, as the old joke goes, will borrow your watch to tell you what time it is, Charan doesn’t reinforce his clients’ preconceived notions. Rather, he submerges his own ego, asks questions, and ultimately tries to bring the executive to his or her own “aha” moment. Although he has the stocky build and intense gaze of a prizefighter, his voice is low and unthreatening. Says Bossidy, former CEO of AlliedSignal and Honeywell and Charan’s coauthor: “Most [consultants] tell you what you want to hear. He doesn’t, but he does it in a very positive way. He’s not a ranter or a raver, but nonetheless he’s objective and honest.”
He also speaks in the language of a real person, rather than the Harvard-trained academic he is. Indeed, Profitable Growth is written so plainly that the lessons sound almost simplistic: To make your company grow, go for singles and doubles, not home runs; focus on organic growth, not acquisitions; get your customer involved through what’s called “upstream marketing” early in the process. Charan would rather distill a concept to its pure soul and put it into action than coin a lot of useless jargon. “This is nothing earthshaking,” he says. “When I teach, I start with the idea that every person in this classroom takes one idea home to practice. I don’t want to hear people say, ‘That was a great speech. What did he say?’ Conversion of learning into practice is what counts.”
Exceprts from an InternetNews.com interview:
We’re coming into phase two. It’s an exciting phase but we still have a long way to go. We have the foundation in place with the approval of RDF [Resource Description Framework] and OWL [Web Ontology Language]. In this phase, we can build up and out from those foundations.
In practical terms, it has reached a certain level of maturity. At SpeechTek here, there are a few people discussing the connection of speech to the Semantic Web, and that’s always exciting. There are some students independently at MIT doing some work and sparking a lot of discussion about the connection. There are a lot of programs coming out connecting a lot of data and a lot of ontologies.
I suppose it’s a lot like where we were in 1992 and 1993. Back then, the Web wasn’t stable, but we knew it was there and it held a lot of promise. We knew it would grow and mature, but there were a lot of things that we needed but didn’t have. This was pre-Google. Around 1991, you would go on the Web to look for something that wasn’t there. Today, that information is there and we can find it easily.
So, I think that’s where we are with the Semantic Web. We know it will mature, but we’re not quite there yet.
The excitement that it continues to generate is encouraging. The military needs it; the health sector needs it. There’s already an academic field around it. We have RDF and OWL as W3C recommendations, which are big pluses. To that extent, the Semantic Web has already reached a certain level of maturity.
Ed Sim has some advice: “Board meetings are like theater. Like any play, I expect the CEO to have a well thought out and scripted agenda for the meeting. The most efficient way to do so is to lay out an agenda and get feedback pre-meeting from the other board members to ensure that the board covers appropriate topics and allocates the right amount of time for each one. From an update and preparedness perspective, the CEO should always go into the meeting having a complete understanding of where the various board members stand in terms of any major decisions. There should be no surprises. This means that the CEO should have individual meetings and calls in advance of the board meeting to walk each director through any decisions that need to be made and the accompanying analyses behind them.”