Only the Paranoid Survive

By Mac M. Martirossian, CPA

It is unfortunate and painful to watch the demise of a company that re-shaped the automotive world, with great cars which you could buy, often after being on a waiting list. The company that delivered on the promise of “Delighting the Customer” seemed unstoppable in gaining market share everywhere on earth.  In 2009, Toyota accounted for 1.3% of Japan’s GDP, making it the single largest company in that country. The dynasty that was built by Kiichiro Toyoda is now in spin control.

So what happened? The press has done a good job of telling the story, thus we will not do it justice here.  Instead, we should reflect on what we an learn from this crushing blow to a corporate icon.

How often do we have to be reminded that quality can not be sacrificed?  We have seen this fatal mistake occur on numerous occasions, including the errors in judgment and the lack of oversight that brought Arthur Andersen to its knees.  Quality programs sometimes get mistaken for “insurance”….you don’t need it until there is a catastrophe.

Here are some ways to ensure that your brand, personal or corporate, is protected:

  • Take responsibility for quality.  The final product, whether it is an automobile or a one page report, is the imprint we leave with an internal or external customer.  That final scrub has to be done in an organized and diligent manner.  If the job is delegated, make sure the person in the quality role is competent to do the job and confident that exceptions will be brought to your attention, without penalty.
  • Never get comfortable.  Once we have gained the confidence of our internal or external customer, it is easy to take it for granted.  The stronger our prior attention to quality, the more vulnerable we are, because the customer’s expectations have risen geometrically above our peers and competitors.  Therefore, diligence has to grow exponentially.
  • Stay glued to the customer.  The further you are from the customer, the more vulnerable you are to quality deficiencies.  The silent killer is the customer who leaves you for the competition and does not tell you about their expectation gap, or if they do express dissatisfaction, their voice never reaches you.  Culture, ego, rank—nothing should keep you away from the voice of the customer.

Frank Blake, CEO of The Home Depot, needs to be recognized as a leader who has taken responsibility for the customer experience in the stores, has not allowed the designation of “second largest retailer” comfort him and has listened with intensity to customers during his store visits.  Their most recent results show the difference he and his team have made.

Protect your brand….with a healthy sense of paranoia.

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