Successful Executives Must Master Technology Leadership

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

— Niccolo Machiavelli


In 2008, Apple became the top retailer of music in the world.  They passed Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon and they did it without shipping a single CD.  Coinstar, who owns Redbox, is participating in a $7Billion industry and is attempting to unseat Netflix in its distribution model.  Redbox has 28,000 kiosks and has rented 1.7 Billion movies.

What happened to Tower Records and Circuit City and Wal-Mart?

In a board room somewhere, the board of directors at Blockbuster Video failed their shareholders, probably 10 years ago.  The company was committed to a certain way of doing business and didn’t leave any way to evolve easily.  They may have been profitable at the time, but they failed to develop a strategy and marketing plan that would allow them to compete in the age of broadband against Netflix or against distribution convenience at Redbox.  By the time they developed something, it was too late.  They were too slow to change and those that did were more successful.

Apple, a technology company, figured out how to harness technology to sell music on devices that they developed.  iPod’s are extremely well designed and easy to use.  By developing the music distribution model to go with the device, the were successful in selling both.   By increasing the number of iPod users they were able to increase the amount of music available.  Their strategy created a network externality that allowed Apple to benefit exponentially as they sold more devices and made their music compatible on other devices.  (and others made their devices compatible to Apple’s format).  Microsoft tried a similar strategy, but folks didn’t like the device enough to generate the same market share.  Somewhere in a board room Sony must be kicking themselves.  When I was a teenager, the Walkman was everything.  Sony had the technological know-how, they had the content, but failed to deliver a device.  They were outdone by a computer company which is now a consumer product company.

It’s not just about strategy, marketing and finance, good leaders have to see the future and not be afraid to act.  I was fortunate enough to see Scott Klososky speak this year and he talked about this.  (visit his blog here:  He offered that a leader that doesn’t understand technology and trends is only 60% of a leader.  Companies can no longer afford to ignore this or risk failure.  He mentioned Apple and Blockbuster and these concepts resonated with me.

I teach Marketing and Economics but this only offers a part of the picture students and business leaders need.  You need good strategy, good marketing plans and you need to understand your markets.  Most importantly you need to understand where the market is going.  Trends become magnified and more important.  It creates a lot more risk and uncertainty.  Redbox could have easily failed as could Apple, but by not acting, you could end up like Blockbuster.

Jim McClenahan is the Director of Management and Executive Programs for Extended Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, responsible for more than 150 professional development courses annually as well as several major conferences. He serves as the Treasurer to the Northern Nevada Chamber of Commerce, chair of the Schools to Careers committee for Washoe County and on the advisory board for St. Albert the Great Catholic Church. He completed his MBA at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2006.

About Bret Simmons

Nevada Management Professor

Posted on December 15, 2011, in Marketing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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