01 Sep 2015
InkRe: John Young (MBA 1987); Tom Witt (MBA 1987); Meg RithmireTopics:
Book Review: Mix Master
by Sean Silverthorne
In contemporary culture, a remix is the bringing together of assets in new ways—a song that combines recording samples from Otis Redding or Brenda Lee, say, placed in a new Kanye West wrapper.
Remix is the coin of the realm in business strategy, too, says Benjamin Gomes-Casseres (DBA 1985). In his new book, Remix Strategy: The Three Laws of Business Combinations, the author defines the business remix as “the mixing of resources, assets, and capabilities of one organization with those of another to create value.”
Remixes can include M&As, partnerships, alliances, cross-industry joint ventures, and consortia, but whatever the form, Gomes-Casseres argues that success requires the same three things: The total value created must be more than the sum of its parts; the combination must be designed and managed to realize this joint value; and each participant must earn a sufficient return to justify the investment.
The second element—managing complex collections of people, products, and partners—presents a formidable challenge for executives. Take the “double-margins puzzle.” When Xerox and Fuji Photo Film combined interests to steal low-end printer share from Canon, both companies wanted to have a markup over their own separate costs, which would have created an overpriced product. The eventual answer was a carefully crafted partnership that “consolidated all costs in the chain and final revenues, with a formula to disburse the ultimate profits. In this way, the partners were able to focus first on the total value chain and, only after that, on the division of profits,” writes Gomes-Casseres.
The final chapter is especially valuable, offering 20 tools for creating a remixing strategy and assessing your place in the competitive landscape. Tool 15, “Taming Co-opetition,” helps one determine the risks and rewards of sleeping with the enemy. Essentially, the advice is, don’t. “With few exceptions, being in competition with your partner is not helpful for a combination.”
In the end, though, all the tools in the world won’t make you a successful mix-master. For that, you need to bring your own creativity and insights to the table. The master? Steve Jobs. When the exiled CEO returned to yank Apple out of near bankruptcy, he did it not only with innovation inside the company but with outside technology and partnerships across industries as well. “He mixed and matched these elements brilliantly, of course, infused the remix with Apple’s unique design sensibility, and created a new business model that totally transformed Apple.”
What I'm Reading
“This novel set in North Korea is one of the best-imagined pieces of literature on life under authoritarianism I have encountered. The protagonist, Jun Do (think ‘John Doe’), goes from obscure orphan to absurd hero, all the while exposing the fragility of the regime and the myths on which it is built. The book is as hilarious as it is sad.”
—Assistant Professor Meg Rithmire, on The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson
“One of the things that this question around art in South Asia often brings up is the notion of when there are so many other challenges—social, political, economic—should we even be thinking about the ways and means of fostering art, which is often seen…as a sort of afterthought of Maslow’s hierarchy, so to speak: Get your basic needs done and then move on to art. And yes, it often happens that way…. But I often think of [poet] Bertolt Brecht:
‘In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.’
And that’s sort of the role that art plays.”
—Associate Professor Mukti Khaire, discussing the role of arts in regional education during a panel discussion at the South Asia Institute’s annual symposium at Harvard
Author Q&A: Business at Bedtime
by Dan Morrell
We talked to Jack Young (MBA 1987) about his first foray as an author: It’s Freezy Frosty and the Great Wiener War, a children’s book about a price war between two rival hot dog sellers—Freezy Frosty’s one-man operation and Bob Beta’s big chain.
THE IMPETUS FOR THE BOOK
“Tom Witt [MBA 1987] originally told me the story of how his father had owned a small, family-run grocery store and successfully fought off a big, new competitor over the price of sugar. The new store trumpeted a big special: 49 cents a pound or whatever it was back then. Tom’s dad would send employees and supporters over to the big chain store to buy it, bring it back, and sell it for a penny less.”
THE MARKET TESTING
“I told this Freezy Frosty story to my kids for years. And they would tell their friends, who would come over and say, ‘Tell us the story.’ Soon almost all of my two daughters’ friends knew it. And I said, ‘I’m going to write this down while I can still remember it.’ ”
Class of DBA 1985