Going the Distance: Why Some Companies Dominate and Others Fail

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9780130461209: Going the Distance: Why Some Companies Dominate and Others Fail

Going the Distance identifies eight key obstacles to the long-term success of great businesses—and shows exactly how to overcome them. Former Cisco SVP Kevin Kennedy and leading consultant Mary Moore show how to assess corporate health and correct weaknesses in leadership, strategy, product, marketplace alignment, governance, and more—before it’s too late. Going the Distance provides a total framework for maintaining market leadership into the next generation!

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About the Author:

Kevin Kennedy, Chief Operating Officer for Openwave Systems, Inc., has served as a technical advisor to Congress and is on the boards of Quantum Corporation, JDS Uniphase, and Openwave Systems. He is also currently an advisor to Braven Capital. Prior to joining Openwave, Kennedy spent seven years at Cisco Systems, driving Cisco into new billion-dollar markets. Most recently, he was Senior Vice President of Cisco’s Service Provider line of business. Previously, during a 17-year career at Bell Laboratories, Kennedy was responsible for establishing technical vision, shaping strategy, and driving the product delivery of communications software and hardware programs.

Mary Moore has worked as both an executive and consultant for more than 25 years, primarily in high-tech environments. Formerly Vice President of Operations and Director of Human Resources at Stanford University, Moore has managed her own consulting practice for more than 12 years. She specializes in providing organizational development services to startups, venture-capital firms, and large enterprises.

Kennedy and Moore have spent more than 50 combined years living the challenges and solutions discussed in this book, in both large and small companies with widely diverse cultures, leadership, and markets.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Foreword by Don Valentine, Sequoia Capital

Where was this book when I needed it? In 1977 when we started Apple? In 1982 when we started 3Com? In 1983 when we financed Oracle? In 1982 when we started Electronic Arts in our office? In 1989 when we took control of Microchip from General Instruments? In 1994 when we financed Network Appliance? In 1987 when we started Cisco? In 1995 when we started Yahoo?

This book is an ideal distillation of the lessons of company success and failure, many of which I have learned the hard way, in more than 30 years of nurturing venture-backed companies. As I read it, I found myself wishing that such a handbook had been available to help me diagnose and repair problems so many of our promising companies and founders faced over the years.

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of watching the evolution of Silicon Valley, almost since its inception—1960. Despite an everincreasing number of motivated, talented, and entrepreneurial managers, high-tech companies have a mixed history of commercial success, with only a few reaching the state of dominance enjoyed by Intel, Cisco, and Oracle. The majority fail to “go the distance.” Not only does conventional wisdom tend to distill the lessons of success and failure into over-simplified premises—the choice of a particular CEO or a late product transition or a failed merger, for instance—but it also appears to blame the symptoms rather than the causes. What underlies these failures? What early signs might be read before the last straw breaks the camel’s back? How can management do a better job of learning from the past to improve the future?

In a meeting some time ago with one of the authors, I posed this question: “Why do great companies fail?” This was at the beginning of the current economic downturn, and given the graveyard of historical failures, it seemed to me none too soon to pose the question. Imagine my surprise when I received an email almost two years later, requesting that I review a book that offers real answers to that very question.

A distinguishing feature of Going the Distance is that it avoids the oversimplification of offering a single principle that promises salvation. In fact, this book effectively organizes the experience and observations of two people who have collectively logged more than 50 years in complex organizations. The complexity that gradually develops in a successful company brings with it both opportunity and peril—it is a double-edged sword that can make the difference between winning and losing. The authors describe two categories of challenge—governance and execution—that provide guideposts to longevity or, if neglected, become the fault lines of eventual failure. These two categories encompass eight critical challenges in all. This presentation makes it clear that it is seldom a single occurrence or characteristic that brings a company to its knees; rather, the book makes clear that it is the buildup of unmet challenges that choke a company over time.

A second distinguishing feature of this book is its description of stages of evolution of companies, contrasting the nature of challenges experienced in startups, in companies on the rise, and in well-established, multibillion-dollar companies. These challenges are possible during all stages of a company’s evolution, but some are far more likely to present themselves at certain stages than at others. Just as important, some challenges, such as establishing a learning culture and a bias for constant innovation, are critical to meet early, as they are very difficult to address once the wrong DNA culture is formed. In fact, it is notable that throughout this book, the authors emphasize the importance of a learning organization as central to the adaptability necessary to survive quickly changing markets at any stage of a company’s life.

Third among this book’s distinctions, I particularly appreciate the authors’ awareness that success depends on attending carefully to what’s really going on in a company—facing the harsh facts as they are. One of my jobs as a board member has been to counsel management to avoid distraction and to execute with constructive paranoia. Going the Distance provides detailed practical application of these ideas.

The unique and pragmatic insights necessary for success are here—for new and experienced CEOs, for other executives, for venture capitalists, for students of business, and for anyone interested in the dynamics of corporate success and failure.

This handbook is so fundamental to the process of creating world-class companies that I may continue in the venture capital business another 30 years!

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