“You have to continuously shift,” said Count Anton [Wolfgang von Faber-Castell], … “If you lean back and say, ‘With my products I can be happy,’ then it’s the first step to hell.”(New York Times, December 3, 2013, “Hands-On Bavarian Count Presides over a Pencil-Making Empire”
The spirit of innovation in the 21st century for economic survival is so aptly described by Count Anton’s quote above. There are so many old fashioned, antique features about this company: the CEO, Count Anton, is 72 years old, the company has existed over 400 years, it began as a pencil manufacturer in the 16th Century– which pencils, at that time, became a huge innovation for people to communicate on paper. How this company survived for 400 years and attempts to exist for hundreds of years more, is well versed by this CEO — through continuous adaption to innovation. In this current competitive environment where consultants fear that pencil writing will disappear in a digital world, they studied and concluded the right approach for the marketplace was to migrate those market sectors where digital technology will have the least impact.
I have heard of consulting groups in Silicon Valley, like Jump, that supposedly trains management teams about innovation – believing that it is only a youthful skill set. The Bavarian pencil manufacturer, Faber-Castell, proves that any senior manager from any market sector or age group can integrate new strategies into their portfolio. And proves what my earlier blogs discuss – innovation is a disciplined approached to market strategy with the innate capabilities of execution. Faber-Castell had hired a Boston consulting group to evaluate the opportunities for the company. At least the company acknowledged that future survival of the established pencil manufacturer depends on finding new products to compete with technology (Computers) and competition (Asia). Not many companies begin that first step. Yet, if you don’t change, you head to “hell”.
I also insist that speed to execution of the strategy is also a key to survival. We talk about “snap counts” and “speed to execution.” I meet too many companies that hesitate to execute, prolong the decision process, or even pass the burden to the Board of Directors. These are simply excuses. If a 72 year old CEO can act quickly in the modern world, why cannot a 25 year senior executive? Again, companies cannot survive unless they are profitable, winning market share, not by lying still. and ignoring innovation.