Fast Talk: Doing the Unthinkable

Their actions are making the competition–and customers–scratch their heads in wonder. But these leaders may not have a choice if they want to have a business tomorrow. Here’s the inside story on how and why they’ve made their moves.


Laurent Detoc

Ubisoft Inc.
San Francisco, California

Detoc, 39, is betting that the award-winning French video-game company’s next big hit will come from an exclusive game not with Sony or Microsoft, but with also-ran Nintendo.


“You have to have a certain kind of stomach to survive this business. You’re spending at least $20 million to make a game. We’re the No. 5 game maker in the United States, so we can’t be afraid to go where nobody else goes. This year, we’ll be the only publisher besides Nintendo that’ll have an exclusive title–Red Steel, a first-person shooter game–released for the new Revolution console when it debuts [in November]. People think this is crazy. Nobody is paying attention to Nintendo. Everyone has been obsessed with the Xbox 360 and Sony’s [upcoming] PlayStation 3.

But a year ago, we decided that the Revolution could be a huge product. Nintendo invented video games and consoles as we know them today. People look at Nintendo, they think of the GameCube [which didn’t succeed], or they think of a bunch of Japanese guys who don’t understand the U.S. market. The partnership with Nintendo didn’t come easy, but we stuck with it, because Nintendo offers something different. The two other consoles compete for the same customer, and they’re heavy on processing capacity. Nintendo is saying, ‘I’ll let these two big guys fight this battle while I focus on good old-fashioned game-play fun.’ Its portable business has been very healthy lately: Nintendogs for the DS handheld has sold 6 million units so far. And the Revolution’s new cordless hand controller means a whole new way of playing games. It seemed like a good place to put our money. For my competition, it’s too late to have a game out for the Revolution by Christmas. They can’t do it. But we did it. We will be there. Maybe the Revolution will fail, and I’ll look like an idiot. But if it succeeds, then we will have a new brand on our hands that could be worth up to $100 million.”

Tom Rogers

TiVo Inc.
New York, New York

Last fall, after just four months as TiVo’s CEO, Rogers, 51, weathered an Internet firestorm over chatter that the service is tilting toward advertisers. Rogers discusses his controversial bid to woo advertisers while leaving viewers in charge.

“I think we have four TiVos in our house. And that’s on the low side. I’ve come across people who have 9, 10. I had been in television for a long time, launching and running CNBC and MSNBC, then running NBC as executive vice president. People find great TV experiences there. But I have never gotten the kind of feedback that comes from TiVo users. Several times a week, someone tells me, ‘You can’t understand how much TiVo has changed my life’ in total earnestness. It’s gratifying how deeply people connect to our product. From the advertising community, however, it’s been all negative vibes. TiVo’s a pariah. They say, ‘TiVo’s eroding our business’ and ‘You guys are making our lives really difficult.’

We’re trying to go from pariah to partner. Advertising has to come to terms with the fact that we’re living in an era of more viewer control. Skipping commercials is a given. The future, then, is not to disrupt the viewer experience. We figure TiVo can give people a new way to watch television and also give advertisers a way to reach those people. We asked ourselves, Why shouldn’t viewers be able to find ads through TiVo in the same way they search for programs? The result is ad search, a feature that’s being described as Google for TV.

Partnering with advertisers isn’t a contradiction for TiVo. It would be if we force-fed ads to our users, if we took away our users’ sense of control over what, when, and how they watch TV. Last fall, there was some discussion about more-prominent logos from advertisers popping up during a fast-forward. People heard ‘pop-up’ and assumed it would be as disruptive as it is on the Internet. When people realized that it didn’t interfere with their ability to skip commercials, the issue went away. As long as we create more options for viewers while maintaining their control and don’t cross that line, TiVo will remain the best way to watch television.”


Trudy Sullivan

Liz Claiborne Inc.
New York, New York

Sullivan, 56, joined Liz Claiborne Inc. in 2001 to help turn a single label selling wholesale to department stores into a multi-label company that includes Lucky Brand Jeans and Juicy Couture. It will open 130 to 150 stores per year over the next four years.

“To be one brand in one chain is an outdated strategy. I shop in multiple ways, don’t you? Department store chains have consolidated, so you have to structure your business differently. You have to be where your customers are. Not so long ago, it was taboo to open your own stores, because department stores would see that as direct competition. But in the next four years, we plan to open our own stores around our ‘power brands’–Juicy Couture, Lucky, Sigrid Olsen, and Mexx.

We made it a point to be very forthcoming with our department-store partners, to help them understand that we could be powerful allies even as we pursued our multichannel strategy. As we build our stores, we share data that shows what their business did prior to the opening and after. We show department stores that when we open a store next to theirs, invariably, sales rise for both of us. Having the right blend of brands, from the high-end Juicy to the international Mexx, has proven a real advantage for us. It’s why we can remain a strong partner for someone like Federated, the broadest customer of our brands. Department stores have to figure out how to bring back consumers. With the retail expertise we’ve acquired, we’ve been able to advise them on what styles are popular, or in certain cases–Lucky being a terrific example–help them merchandise their floors similar to our boutiques. We can’t ignore that they have a lot of doors in places where we’d never put a store. We’d like to see department stores grow because that means growth for us as well.”

Liz Vanzura

Global marketing director
Detroit, Michigan

After successful stints running marketing for Volks-wagen and Hummer, Vanzura, 41, joined Cadillac this past January with the directive to make the very traditional Caddy resonate with a younger generation.

“Cadillac is a symbol of having made it in your life. No one really needs one; you reward yourself with one or work toward getting one. The job at Cadillac was so attractive to me because it was a chance to refresh the marketing around all of the great products that it has recently released, the Escalade being our biggest hit. Now we need to invite younger people in who haven’t experienced Cadillac. And also women. Cadillac has been a very male-oriented brand. A lot of our problem is that the 30-year-olds don’t know we have cars they can afford. The CTS [an entry-level midsize sedan], for example, starts at $30,000. How do we get people who don’t have us on their list at all to think about us? We’re really competing against people’s time, especially for dual-income-with-kids-type families. To engage those people–to take time out of their day to learn about us–you have to find ways to interrupt their busy lives in the right way, in the right place, at the right time, and make Cadillac something they want to be a part of.

Marketing is tricky nowadays. The name of the game is experimentation and trial. We have a partnership with Microsoft and its video game Project Gotham Racing. When you hit a certain level in the game, you can drive cars from our V-series [Cadillac’s performance line, which boasts 0 to 60 mph in five seconds]. You’ll see a dramatic change for us on our Web site. We’re going to make content out of our presence at the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Tonys. To be part of Cadillac, you’ll get invited to experience those events. I give GM a lot of credit. It’s doing a lot more than ever, letting us experiment and then move on.”