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Business Strategy

Plan, Execute, Win!


Patrick J. Stroh




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The original working title of this book was “The ‘S’ Word: Parables on Business Strategy.” It ended up being revised to the current title, Business Strategy: Plan, Execute, Win!, but the origination of that first title sets some interesting context for the introduction of this book. Business Strategy is important; few senior executives and CEOs would disagree with that. So if it is important, why does “strategy” have a bad reputation in many companies and circles of executives? In the original title, the play on title was that “S” stood for strategy, but there are some who think it stands for another “S” word; you know, the four-letter profanity. Well, it could just as well be that sometimes.

It seems that the concept, function, and consulting around “strategy” has fallen so far from grace that the word “strategy” could be considered a four-letter profanity. Again, it’s not that leaders don’t agree that a strategy is needed and critical to achieve success, but they have gone through too many exercises and experiences where a five-year strategic plan was painfully created over six months with exercises like “If you were a tree, what type of tree would you be?” (That was a serious example.) Some executives may equate the pain of going through a strategic planning process akin to implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in a manufacturing environment. Many executives have war stories of the increased time and cost of implementing a new system, how the “synergies” didn’t really pan out as expected and how many of the touted features were postponed.

Strategic planning in businesses, if done poorly, can feel the same way. You can go into the process feeling good, “Boy, are we going to sit down and really debate our strategy finally. I have a lot of ideas I want to get on the table. I want to look at some new product lines and maybe an acquisition or two.” Then, reality sets in. Finance tells you what the “corporate template” needs to include for your submission to them. A customer is having an issue that needs immediate resolution so you’re going to have to miss the first two planning sessions. Then, the healthy, strategic debate you expected turns into a round robin free-for-all of ideas, but no structure as to what to do with them, how to evaluate them, or what to explore further, and, worse yet, an all-out verbal lashing with two of your peers. Possibly then, the sessions are shelved, and you go back to “last year’s plan” and simply make some updates. What a depressing process. It doesn’t have to work this way, but all too often it does. Hence why it’s the “S” word at some companies.

Tune in to station WIIFM – WIIFM, “What’s in it for me? Ok, I get it you say, but do you want to spend part of your most precious resource, your time, to read more? Why? What should you hope to take away from this book?” Who was this really written for? I wouldn’t promise to give you that one, singular, secret process or golden rule that works for all companies around business strategy, and since there is not one, I will promise to give you some golden nuggets in creating, applying, and executing business strategy. I am writing this book to share 20-plus years of experience in this space. I am NOT writing this book as a Harvard Business Case Review (nothing wrong with those; actually I really enjoy them), but I want this to be more of a “practitioner’s guide” from a practitioner’s viewpoint. Think of this book like a fireside chat with Roosevelt. The fireside chats were a series of 30 evening radio addresses given by U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944. This was not about politics; this was about Roosevelt simply telling the people what he was doing and why. This style and level of intimacy with him made people feel as if they too were part of the administration’s decision-making process and many soon felt that they knew Roosevelt personally and, most importantly, they grew to trust him. I hope that over the course of reading this book, you come to trust me and are intrigued with the discussion. More important, I hope you learn from my learnings, accelerate your business strategy through good practices, and avoid the pitfalls that I have encountered. As far as who would benefit most, we are aiming at the C-suite or those that strive to be there:

This book has been written purposely to a length of a three-to-four-hour plane ride, and it won’t add ten pounds to your bag if you have a hardcopy. I travel a good deal, probably like you, and I’d rather have an informative, entertaining, “light” book in my bag to read on the onboard leg of a trip to psych myself up, or on the return leg to rejuvenate myself. Is investing one plane ride in yourself worth it? I think so, so get comfortable, adjust your pillow, and settle into these pages.

Learning StyleParables—I am a big proponent of learning via storytelling. Especially in today’s day and age, with Google, Bing, and other search engines at your fingertips, memorizing facts and figures is an archaic learning style. But the learning style of storytelling, while thousands of years old, is as applicable as ever. You’ll find that this book is a collection of parables. Defined by, a parable is a short tale that illustrates a universal truth, one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results.

  1. A short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.
  2. A statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like.

This is the style of I have chosen to convey these lessons learned and thoughts around business strategy, its creation, application, and execution.

Ideas that Stick—Another premise of this book is retention. What good is reading a book that, when you finish it, you say, “That was great. I’ll have to remember that,” then you don’t. I’m hoping that through the storytelling aspect, some of these ideas will better “stick” in your memory. A great book on this concept is Made to Stick. One of the best examples from this book talking about creating visual pictures versus facts is from the movie Armageddon. An over-caffeinated, stuttering scientist is trying to describe to the President of the United States the size of the asteroid that is about to obliterate the Earth via a figure of square miles and size that is incomprehendible. The President isn’t getting it, so the scientist’s boss steps in. “The asteroid is the size of Texas, Mr. President.” Now that sticks!

Gold Nuggets—At the end of every chapter, you’ll find a conclusions section that will prompt you to consider, based on the chapter you’ve just read, to write down two “gold nuggets you took away to share with your board of directors or your staff, or for personal reflection.” Remember taking notes in college? Taking notes helps with retention. And listing only a couple of nuggets forces you to reflect and prioritize what you just read. But don’t just list the nuggets and stop, share these nuggets with your board of directors, your staff, your team, whomever makes sense, or take a couple away for later personal reflection. If the nuggets stay in your book, they don’t advance any strategies; use them! I don’t anticipate every story will have an ah-ha moment or learning, but over the course of a chapter, you should at least be able to reflect on two gold nuggets to take away for yourself and to share with others.

Business Strategy/Leadership/General Management—Early readers of this book gave good feedback on the book, style, and insights, but questioned, “Is this a book about business strategy or is it a book about leadership and general management? Because I feel the examples and insights apply to both.” My response: I wholeheartedly agree—business strategy, leadership, and general management are all inextricably linked, or at least should be. Much of the advice and insights you read about what it takes to be a great leader is similar to what you’ll read about how to be successful with business strategy. I can’t prove this via a mathematical proof, but I can attest to it through experience. Strategy starts at the top, as does leadership and general management rules of engagement in a business. Good leaders understand strategy and good strategists need to be good leaders and understand what it takes to be a good manager else their strategic plans can be flawed and unobtainable. Therefore, as you read this book, be attentive that business strategy, leadership, and general management are all inextricably tied together and all are needed in unison to be successful in business strategy creation and execution.


I’d like to thank a number of people for helping me get this work to see the light of day.

Thanks to some of my early editors and advisors who proofed early versions, offered their opinions for improvements, honestly and gently, and gave me encouragement multiple times. Thanks to Jerry O, Alice D, Vicky C, Ben S, Phillip S, Dan K, Pat H, Meredith B, and Neil O.

Thanks to my mentors and prior leaders, who I have enjoyed working with and learning from—part of the success I’ve had is because I paid attention to what you said and did, even when you didn’t know I was looking: Jackie K, Jim H, Ken H, John W, John S, David S, Todd B, and my parents.

Thanks to Jeff T and Greg B for their guidance and advice on publishing choices, process, and partners.

Thanks to Wiley, and specifically to Sheck C, who helped make this process as painless as possible and guided me through the publishing process.

Thanks to my personal chief editor and sounding board, my wife, Michelle, who listened to so many stories, read so many versions, and bit her lip when I repeated myself for the twentieth time telling a story.

Thanks to my kids, Alex, Rachel, and Jake, for inspiring me and encouraging me to write this book, which I’ve wanted to do for some time. I see them excel in high school and college and I aspire to learn like they do—persistently and relentlessly every day.

To anyone I have mistakenly omitted, please accept my apologies. There is no shortage of people whom I respect, seek the counsel of, and whose ears I bend from time to time—thank you!


Part I of this book is a baseline for Parts II and III. I will set some context and give a little perspective on how strategic planning needs and processes have evolved and what the role should be for a person who is responsible for strategy today. Many companies have created and hired positions now for chief strategy officers (CSOs). I myself was a chief strategy and innovation officer in a Fortune 20 company. I have some strong feelings based on experience regarding what this role should and shouldn’t be, and I discuss the rationale for my opinions in Chapter 1. I also believe CSOs must possess certain key traits to be successful, which are discussed in Chapter 2. As we get into this discussion on strategy, sometimes we find a negative connection around its success and usefulness. Consider the conclusions of a recent survey of 300 chief executive officers (CEOs). The key takeaway is that 72 percent of these CEOs believe that U.S. companies do a better job of developing corporate strategies than implementing them. The best military analogy I’ve heard that depicts this is: “The best strategy in the world can’t take the hill.” Translation: Strategy without execution is worthless. Creating a three-to-five-year strategy for a three-ring binder once a year that sits on your shelf is archaic. Creating a strategy that you in turn drive into actionable plans and goals with associated metrics is invaluable. Execution is everything. Great executors of business strategy create conditions where people:

Now, in Part I, let’s take a quick assessment of where we have come from, where we are at, and how to move forward and learn from Part II.