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Inspiration breeds innovation. Great business leaders not only disregard the status quo for higher standards, but they routinely encourage their employees and team members to do so as well. They promote, rather than punish, innovative thinking and transform their workplaces into inspired incubators of fresh ideas and insights. This type of leadership ensures that top employees feel challenged and valued, which translates into tangible value for the company.

The most successful leaders often exhibit similar core characteristics. They have a vision and passion that inspires the individuals with which they work. They also consistently and reliably deliver excellent results. Inspirational leaders with whom I have worked, such as Ted Forstmann, Bill France, Jr. and John Portman, have articulated and executed innovative visions, and have instilled in others their passion for those ideas.

During my tenure at IMG, Mr. Forstmann was able to create added value for the company by envisioning new growth areas. He first identified the potential for reinventing IMG, the company known primarily for its representation business, and creating additional shareholder value by introducing new strategies that would improve earnings. His foresight was proven right when Forstmann Little sold the company for more than triple its initial investment.

Mr. Forstmann challenged his team to execute his vision by identifying businesses that had growth potential, such as the college sports fan audience, an under-realized resource and revenue potential. From 2007 to 2013, IMG College revenues grew from zero to $484 million. During the same time period, earnings increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 38%. The future growth potential of IMG College remains strong, proving the exceptional value creation that Mr. Forstmann developed.

Leaders Question the Status Quo

Bill France, Jr., former CEO of NASCAR, was the first to recognize that the company could be transformed from a regional sport into a robust national platform through the right marketing. In 1995 when I joined the company, NASCAR’s live events were primarily in the Southeast and broadcast on six different television networks, including 16 races on The Nashville Network. With a relentless focus on its core racing product, aggressive marketing, and improved distribution of its live events in media, NASCAR became the number-one spectator sport in the U.S. by 2005 and number two in television viewership.

John Portman taught me how great leadership inspires equally great work. During the Portman Co.’s $2 billion debt restructuring — one of the largest restructuring deals in the world at the time with 42 lenders and 132 partners — John Portman, who was in his late 60s, worked six or seven days a week through the entire process. The fact that the company’s leader unwaveringly logged the same hours as the rest of his team, if not more, proved that we were true partners and fostered a sense of collaboration and value.

All three of these leaders share the ability to use unconventional thinking to create a unique, new value proposition for their brands. Their actions have challenged me to do the same with my own team. To quote Robert Jennings: “Some people look at things and ask why; I thought of things never thought of and asked, ‘Why not?”

The most valued CEOs today, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (whom Forbes called a “veteran disruptor”) and Tesla’s Elon Musk (who is pioneering autonomous car technology and recently admitted to speaking with Apple, one of the most innovative companies ever), lead their respective industries by constantly questioning the status quo and collaborating with other talented and innovative individuals.

Whether the product in question is a cutting-edge car technology or new tablet, it is the ability to question the status quo that makes a leader great. When asked, “Why are we doing this?” the answers are opportunities to identify new areas for innovation. That innovation must be inscribed in corporate cultures and routinely encouraged and rewarded.


Our newest Outthinker, George Pyne, is president of IMG Sports and Entertainment, IMG board member and board member of 24 Hour Fitness. He is also the former chief operating officer and a board member of NASCAR.



photo credit: Sky Noir via photopin cc

“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?