The strategy expert who made it happen

Feb 13 2008 by Robert Heller Print This Article

Sir John Harvey-Jones, who died in January at the age of 83, was a company man whose rise through the executive ranks culminated in his promotion to ICI chairman.

Suffering from inertia, ICI was a top-heavy corpocracy, on its way to recording unprecedented losses. It was in this climate that the board were prompted to appoint Harvey-Jones, a dissident who had shown his dissatisfaction with the company's strategy, the work of his colleagues and, perforce, himself.

Personal responsibility is a key factor in Making It Happen, three words which formed the title for Harvey-Jones's deservedly successful book. His time as ICI chairman showed his leadership talents and the great scope available for revival.

Harvey-Jones was like a breath of fresh air at ICI. The organisation, like so much of British industry at the time, had become unenterprising and introverted. In contrast, the new chairman was adventurous and extroverted; his warmth and openness was in contradiction to his corporate personality.

Those same qualities spurred him on to more success in his retirement as TV's Troubleshooter, a programme that saw him visit small to middling companies that had asked the Great Man for help.

Some were quite surprised to receive a kick up the backside instead of the pat on the back they had expected for their achievements. A prime example was the Morgan Car firm, producers of cars with obsolete technology to fit its vintage marketing platform. The family management saw the waiting lists that had built up as an asset rather than failure.

In reality, of course, a truly successful business both creates and satisfies high demand, making the most of a fully balanced, highly modernised supply.

Harvey-Jones represented a rare breed. What made him stand out wasn't just his management know-how – it was also the human dimension. Strategy isn't the cold subject many people believe it to be. On the contrary, strategy requires emotional drive to turn plans into action.

Cynthia A. Montgomery argues in the Harvard Business Review that planning is insufficient on its own. Strategy, she says, must also guide a company's development, its identity and purpose over time. Strategy is a dynamic process as opposed to the prevailing approach that looks upon it as a set solution.

What's more, the traditional objective of a long-term, sustainable, competitive advantage should now be replaced by value creation. Montgomery adds that strategy should not be outsourced: leadership demands that the CEO is the Chief Strategist. And the time-frame must be 'everyday, continuous, unending' instead of jumping from year to year.

This is the way to go about making it happen – as demonstrated by the dynamic powers of Harvey-Jones.

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About The Author

Robert Heller
Robert Heller

Robert Heller, who died aged 80 in August 2012, was Britain's most renowned and best-selling author on business management. Author of more than 50 books, he was the founding editor of Management Today and the Global Future Forum. About his latest title, The Fusion Manager, Sir John Harvey-Jones wrote: "The future lies with the thinking manager, and the thinking manager must read this book".