The spring power lunch season has officially begun at Michael’s with plenty of famous faces and talking heads (Charles Grodin, Star Jones, Lawrence O’Donnell) mixed in with the usual suspects today. None other than Meg Ryan turned up with Judith Regan and slipped in practically unnoticed. Ah, but it’s my job to tell you these things.
In the ‘six degrees of separation’ world that is the dining room at 55th and Fifth, Judith and I grew up in the same hometown of Bay Shore on Long Island. Her mother was often my substitute teacher in high school, and we’ve always had interesting chats whenever our paths have crossed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the famously fiery ex-book publisher and she told me she’s adapted a new approach of “staying well below the radar” while working on her Sirius XM show. “No one even knows where I live,” she said. I knew better than to question the strategy of staying out of the limelight by sitting at Table One on a Wednesday at Michael’s, so we talked about mutual friends and exchanged pleasantries about our families. When Meg showed up, she couldn’t have been nicer as we chatted about our daughters who we adopted from China the same year, are the same age and both wear glasses. (Sorry, but it’s all OTR.) Later, on the way out, we talked a bit more and I suspected she had plenty more to say on the subject but didn’t want to get caught it the crush of folks lining up for their coats. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
I was joined today by Stu Zakim, public relations vet and “transformational executive” (How’s that for a title?) Mike Berman. Stu, a veteran marketing guru who has helped shaped the image of Showtime, Universal Pictures and Wenner Media, struck out on his own in 2010 with his own firm, Bridge Strategic Communications. His current clients include the Montclair Film Festival, now in its second year, and Mike, a turnaround specialist and business blogger who dispenses straightforward strategies on his blog, Berman Means Business. Stu has been working with Mike since last fall to extend the reach of his no-nonsense messaging espousing a holistic approach to building businesses. With recent headlines on media mash-ups and corporate meltdowns, we had plenty to talk about. Since Mike penned his first piece for CNBC’s website entitled “Five Turnaround Tips for Ron Johnson, JC Penney and Others” earlier this week, I thought a discussion about JCP’s embattled CEO was a good place to start. In a nutshell, says Mike, Johnson “was set up to fail — he can’t fix Penney’s.”
Mike Berman, Diane Clehane and Stu Zakim
He explains, “What’s happening with Ron Johnson is a metaphor for what’s wrong with business today. You can’t hire a rock star as if he’s just come down from the mountain top with the solution to every problem. No one person is able to do what he’s saying he can do.” According to Mike, Johnson’s first mistake was expecting an already beaten down team to buy into widespread change without first stabilizing the organization and clearly articulating a long term vision for the future. Letting 10,000 people go among a shell-shocked workforce didn’t help matters, either. “In the classic turnaround, you can be a hero by coming in and reducing staff, closing under performing stores or factories for the short-term, but in the long-term that doesn’t create value and kills the economy. Executives have to ask themselves, ‘How can I make sacrifices for the benefit of the entity?” Because so many companies rely on the slash-and-burn strategy as an immediate solution to stem the bleeding of their bottom line, Mike tells me he no longer works on “classic turnarounds” because he finds them “totally souless.” Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.