Some people are skilled fixers; they’re not the people who fix things with their hands, but instead they’re the people who fix things with their heads. In politics, fixers are well-known as people who work behind the scenes to make problems go away (sometimes with questionable tactics). In business, fixers are often tough and tireless people at the front lines, dousing little fires to keep their companies on track.
Judy Smith, a well-known crisis management consultant and the inspiration for the ABC show Scandal, writes in her new book that “the root causes of most crises often lie in an imbalance in one of seven traits: Ego, Denial, Fear, Ambition, Accommodation, Patience, and Indulgence.” Smith should know. She’s worked as a crisis expert in the White House, tackling the SARS health care communication crisis, and weathering the media storm with infamous intern Monica Lewinsky.
However, as Smith explains in an email, “Fixing problems and handling crisis are two different things.” While most of us will never be at the center of a crisis that gets such national attention, businesses face big problems every day that often snowball out of control if not addressed in the right manner and with the right fix-it attitude.
Take BlackBerry, for example. In early 2012, Thorsten Heins was brought into the company as the new President and CEO. Unfortunately his fix-it strategy, which focused on winning over the touch-screen consumer instead of nurturing the keyboard-loving enterprise audience, failed. Moreover, his lack of charisma didn’t leave the media, investors, and BlackBerry users with much confidence.
Here are some high-profile executives that have seen better days in terms of steering their companies in the right direction.
Mayer has a lot of things to mend. From Flickr to Mail to Search to the company’s ad-buying platform, her fix-it list is long and complicated. At CES this month, Mayer walked the audience through Yahoo’s facelift, step-by-step ways that they’re working to re-imagine the company. She also profiled partnerships with content-creating personalities such as David Pogue and Katie Couric. While it’s too early to say if her fixing will be a success, she’s now taking some pretty dramatic steps to take the company in a brand new direction in 2014.
While CEO Tim Cook often dominates headlines, the company’s head of design is taking little bites out of Apple’s executive spotlight. Jony Ive now leads the charge on both hardware and software design, making him the visionary powerhouse behind recent and upcoming products. With Apple is under the microscope as a company that has lost its inability to innovate, it is Ive who has the potential to use his design chops to fix this perception–and to keep Steve Jobs’s genius alive.
Under Mindy Grossman’s leadership, HSN has evolved from a tired shopping show to an integrated content experience. As Grossman says about this redirection in an article in Harvard Business Review, “To fix it, I needed to dramatically alter the company’s culture. I also needed to understand and reposition the brand and then devise a product strategy that made sense. Not only did I have to do all those things at the same time, but we had to change the tires while the car was running. This was a 24/7 TV operation, so we couldn’t close the store while we prepared to relaunch.”
Aside from Grossman’s move to re-imagine the look-and-feel of the broadcast property, there are also a number of new digital assets, such as HSN Arcade. This means that you can watch on TV or online, shop in real time, and play casual games to boot. Her elaborate fixes mean this isn’t your grandma’s Home Shopping Network anymore.
Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as the CEO in 2008, after the company was struggling and its stock plummeting. In his return he did a number of things to fix the Starbucks Experience, an experience that he described was being commoditized. This included retraining employees and focusing on new offerings, such as instant coffee. Around this same time the company debuted its first online community, and joined Twitter and Facebook.
Schultz’s fixes, including a steady move into the digital space and mobile payments, led to a stellar 2013. In a letter to store managers and senior leaders in early January of this year, Schultz congratulated the team on the company’s 45% increase in share price anymore than $1.3 billion in Starbucks Card loads in the last quarter.
With less than a year under his belt as CEO, Brian Krzanich is determined to make some changes at the legendary chip-making company. However, beyond simply pushing new product, Krzanich’s fixes go one step further to ensure these products are also built with conflict-free minerals. As the company describes on its site, they are working to “make a positive difference in the lives of global citizens by changing the way it does business.” This fix involves creating a system to ensure that the minerals used in Intel’s products do not inadvertently support rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Corporate fixers come in all shapes in sizes. While company leaders often have the most to lose if their fixes don’t work, businesses big and small can reap the benefits of hiring fixers at all levels to find strategic solutions that make problems disappear–problems that can easily become the root of a crisis if left unatttended.