At the height of the dot-com revolution, the business world was awash with self-appointed gurus, new age advisors and visionaries. They were not all the same, but they came from the same playground. Liberated from the need for lengthy CVs or management qualifications to give them credibility, they spoke with both the naivety and the energy of inexperience, if not youth.
For a short burst, their credo almost became the modern orthodoxy: They favoured counter-intuitive strategies, fast and daring strikes, scorned stuffy tradition, rejected permanence, and they just loved the noise and colour of the revolution.
René Carayol, the IT director turned author and business transformation specialist, also speaks of ‘fast business’, he cajoles his listeners
to be bold, and he takes damning side-swipes at the hidebound attitudes and business practices of many executives and their companies.
But Carayol is not, he insists, one of the shooting superstars of dot-com business gurudom – even if his attitudes and his style sometimes suggest it (his book Corporate Voodoo, for example, is accompanied by a CD soundtrack packed full of high-energy soul and funk classics). Rather, he was able to exploit the new openness of the Internet age to make his own transformation.
Carayol’s background supports this view. His perspectives are drawn from years of service – initially in IT but later in general management – at companies such as Marks &Spencer, Pizza Hut, and IPC Electric. And while many new economy books were embarrassingly out-of-date even as they were being published, Corporate Voodoo: Business Principles for Mavericks and Magicians, with its peculiarly inspirational style, has outlasted the dot-com revolution with demand in 2002 triggering a reprint.
Now Carayol has entered the premier league of business influencers and doers, at least in the UK – one of the first ex-IT directors to do so. He is a non-executive director of the Inland Revenue, where he advises on corporate change programmes; his second book, My Voodoo, came out in August 2002; and he is making a TV series on leadership, due for screening in mid-2003. Carayol even turned down an offer from Royal Mail Group chairman Allan Leighton to become the human resources director of its change-retardant Post Office division.
Carayol’s message is not complicated, nor even particularly original. But it is powerful – as dozens of executives from many bluechip organisations have publicly testified. That is partly because of Carayol’s enthusiastic, motivational style, but equally, it is because many business people like what he has to say: that bright, bold, aggressive leaders – those that play to win – usually will win. Those leaders, he stresses, need to be spread throughout an organisation, and should be actively recruited from a range of backgrounds.
This, he says, is more important now than ever before. Globalisation, argues Carayol, has led to over-capacity in almost every single industry, putting the customer in an unprecedentedly powerful position. Companies that sleepwalk through this will be successfully attacked, especially by companies from Asia with their much lower cost bases more aggressive business leaders.
The role of technology in this is, in Carayol’s view, much less important than the talent and strategies of the leaders. But successful use of IT is so key that he advocates a technology strategist should hold at least one board position – nominally but not necessarily the CIO.
But this person, he stresses, must not be the old-style IT director. Instead, he says, they should be a leader, willing to “shake off the functional mantle” of technology; they should be commercial; they should be aggressive; they should have a will to win; they should speak in English (not techno-babble); and they should be willing to fail – not exactly the central tenets of the dot-com economy.