BMC vs. Sun: Focus Is Key

I’m at BMC Engage this week at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas.  One of the nicest venues I’ve been to despite the fact that the hallway outside of the best suites smelled like a cat had been living there without kitty litter.  (Trust me that smell sticks with you).  This got me thinking about Scott McNealy and his excessive focus on Microsoft (he referred to them as a hairball, or what my cat used to do to my printer regularly.)  Which kept him from taking Sun where BMC is now going, to the heart of the digital enterprise. 

What Scott used to do at keynotes was focus on how Microsoft sucked and Microsoft is still around while Sun is not.  What Bob Beauchamp is talking about is the changes going on in the world and the need for companies to wrap their arms around that future an how BMC is focused on helping customer wrap their arms around the massive changes and bring control into a world of massive complexity and solution diversity.

Scott failed because he forgot about what Sun’s goal was, it wasn’t created to put Microsoft out of business; it was created to provide solutions for companies that desperately needed them.  Bob, in contrast, is focused on what their customers need not on any named competitor. 

Let’s talk about focus and execution this week.

The CEO’s Conundrum

A CEO is torn between the day to day duties and responsibilities and long term strategic planning.  Their compensation typically consists of a salary and incentives which can include bonuses based on quarterly performance and stock or option grants.  From a financial perspective this locks them pretty solidly into the tactical and you could see that Scott, at Sun, saw Microsoft’s incredible success and both wanted a piece of that and saw them as an obstacle to overcome.  So he focused on them and, as a result, drove Sun into the ground.  This would be like a runner in a race focusing on tripping the leader of another race, regardless of their success in the trip attempt, they would lose (and probably badly). 

Beauchamp, in contrast, focused on the finish line and everything he is doing at BMC is focused not on tripping up his competitors but getting to the finish line, customer success, more quickly.  Everything from staffing, taking the company private, mergers and acquisitions, and reconciling the products were focused on that goal and in less time than it took Sun to slide from success to failure, BMC recovered and at BMC Engage you can see that success in spades. 

Driving Strategy Down Into the Business

Years ago, while at IBM, I studied why Thomas Watson Jr. was successful in making IBM the major power in technology in the 1960s and 1970s.  At the heart of this was a personal practice of making sure every IBM employee understood what the firm’s focus was, what it’s strategy was, and what their roll was in that big picture.  Beauchamp in his keynote talked about a similar process where every employee at BMC knows where the firm needs to focus, what the firm’s strategy is, and where they personally fit in it.  

That is a formula that you don’t see very often today.  Often you see big companies where the employees don’t seem to really understand what the firm does and have no concept of the importance of what they do.   This is often why you see companies struggle, if a large number of folks working there have no idea where the firm is going it shouldn’t be a surprise that the firm struggles with getting there.   It is nice to see a CEO grasp how important it is to assure his folks understand how important they are to the overall goal and actually recognize that importance.  I’ve seen a lot of CEOs kind of treat their employees as an impediment as well, and it is especially nice to see a CEO recognize how important his employees are as well. 

Recognizing Outstanding Customers

One of the things that often are forgotten at events like this is that this is about the customers it isn’t about filling time with speeches and sessions.  This is a huge opportunity to recognize customers who are doing innovative things with the host firm’s products and to share best practices across the base.   Success is far more likely if the customers feel they were smart investing in the host firm’s products and not that they think the host CEO is smarter than they are yet, often, these things seem to be organized to showcase the executives and not the customers.

BMC is one of the few firms that does this right.  They have an innovation award where they recognize their most innovative customers and they spent a great deal of time showcasing customer solutions that are creating competitive advantage, not for BMC, but for the customers.  And, for IT, it is far more interesting to hear how their peers are solving problems than it is to just get a detailed verbal list of products and features most of which don’t apply to them.  Fixing problems is what IT does, not buying products.  For a vendor the product is the end, for IT products are a means to an end and for them a firm that understands this is rare and precious.  

Wrapping Up:

Losing track of what is important is at the heart of most company failures I’ve followed, particularly focusing excessively on a competitor rather than customer problems.  Sun died because their CEO couldn’t maintain perspective.  BMC’s turnaround is successful because Bob Beauchamp has recrafted the firm to focus on what BMC’s customers think is important, making their complex environments manageable.  

In the end that is my first big takeaway from BMC Engage this year, that Bob and his team are avoiding the problem that killed Sun Microsystems and have become, and remain, focused on assuring their customers are ready for the future changes that are coming almost unbelievably quickly.  That’s a timeless goal and the only way to assure it can be met is to have everyone focused on reaching it and there to BMC stands out as unique.  It is great example for the rest of us.