Brokerage Ops the December 2013 issue

Charting Your Course

Learn to question what’s crucial while always staying afloat in uncertain times.
By Ken Crerar

This particular member explained the Naval Academy teaches the ship is more important. “Their reference point,” he said, “is that without a ship there can be no crew. The crew plays an important role, but the foundation of protecting the ship and its sustainability is crucial.”

He went on to share with us a high-energy memo he wrote to his employees, posing the question and his reasons for answering it the way he did. Taking the Navy’s lead, he too said the ship is more important “because we are about perpetuating the future—creating a great ship for the future of a great crew!”

He made a lot of valid points, and his comments got me thinking.

My initial instinct was along the same lines, but I gave more weight to the crew. If the industry is the ship, I thought, it’s well known that the crew built it, and therefore people are the key ingredient. The crew accomplishes the mission, and often the “right crew” drives the mission. Your team is central to your business’s evolving transformation. When the tide shifts, the crew has to respond. The ship can’t sail without a crew steering it.

There. I solved it, but I wasn’t totally convinced.

I thought about the symbolism of the ship and the fact that it represents the foundation of your respective firms and goals. The ship’s mission, in our industry’s case, is mitigating risk for the people it serves and keeping murky problems at bay. It was hard to split the two, and I found myself stuck.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s not about the ship because the ship might have to change. What if you no longer need to float or sail atop the ocean? What if a dynamic industry change affects the ship, the weather and the water, and you now need to fly?

At the same time, if the vessel changes, your crew might have to change. You may need a pilot or a driver instead of a captain and a first mate. To stay relevant, you need flexibility. The ship and its crew are both important, but innovation calls for something more. Perhaps it’s a different vehicle or different people at different times to do different things. It’s not about getting from Point A to Point B solely on the ship; it’s about figuring out how to get to Point B faster with less risk. If you box yourself into a corner with the ship as your only option, you may miss the chance to use a jet ski or a helicopter.

To stay relevant, you need flexibility. The ship and its crew are both important, but innovation calls for something more.

In our industry, the business is yours to determine. As it changes over time, our job is to provide as much insight and information as we can to help you design (or redesign) your ship and its mission. There may come a time when your ship takes on a different form and your crew has to chart a new course. Your business model may evolve into a new platform and appeal to a different customer base. Your flexibility will serve you well, and we’ll be there to help.

Completely exhausted from the original question, I determined that there might not be a right or wrong answer. The ship, the crew, the mission—they’re all interchangeable. As our member said in his memo, “One without the other is doomed.” I also determined that, regardless of the answer, uncovering the “Why?” of our business needs to be at the core for our future to remain strong.

The exercise is a worthwhile one for you and your leadership team. Give it some thought. Just be sure not to go down with the ship.

Ken Crerar President & CEO, The Council Read More

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