Episode 0077 · September 26, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.


[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: There’s always, like, actors that survive, let’s say, across 20 years. Most actors fade out.

Paul Ford: Harrison Ford.

Rich Ziade: Harrison Ford is an unusual case because he kind of stayed at the same altitude pretty much his whole career, which is

Paul Ford: He’s still a superstar, even though he’s 250 years old.

Rich Ziade: a 250 year old. Most have their peak, especially, like, action movie stars or comedy stars.

Paul Ford: But he did have a point in the 80s where it’d be like, presumed innocent. Like, there were a lot of legal thrillers

Rich Ziade: legal, yeah, Tom Clancy movies and whatnot. But what usually their thing. Sort of see their, their, their stock value fall

Paul Ford: Yeah,

Rich Ziade: and then they come back and it’s this turnaround role. Like probably one of the most extreme examples is John Travolta in Pulp

Paul Ford: there is not a lot going on with, with John Travolta.

Like, you know the things they make chicken nuggets out of?

Rich Ziade: That sort of

Paul Ford: The pink slime? Yeah. That’s, [00:01:00] that’s where we’re at and then Pulp Fiction comes out and everybody’s like, John Travolta.

Rich Ziade: hard reset. That’s right.

Paul Ford: I have no idea why we’re talking about this given the actual topic of the podcast. You’re gonna get me there Anyway, that’s not what this is about.

what the hell is this about?

Rich Ziade: it’s about turnarounds. It’s

Paul Ford: Uh

Rich Ziade: everything falls.

Paul Ford: oh wow. Hey,

Rich Ziade: it rises, it’s gonna fall.

Paul Ford: the American Empire then? That’s

Rich Ziade: Oh, that’s not this podcast. That’s not

Paul Ford: We’ll get that done in the next 15 minutes. Um,

Rich Ziade: Uh, everything fall. Companies fall.

Paul Ford: yeah, they come and go.

Rich Ziade: yes, there was a chain of diners in the 50s Walgreens.

Paul Ford: Yeah, classic turnaround story.

Rich Ziade: And they

Paul Ford: get like a soda pop.

Rich Ziade: nobody sat [00:02:00] down, it was a meal, and then they saw this monster show up.

Paul Ford: Godzilla.

Rich Ziade: wasn’t Godzilla.

Paul Ford: but it was the

Rich Ziade: you didn’t sit down. And they were just popping up everywhere like a weed. It was called McDonald’s.

Paul Ford: Yeah, okay.

Rich Ziade: And they sat down and they said, We’re done. We are done.

Paul Ford: You know what’s interesting is

Rich Ziade: By the way, it was a third of the price.

Paul Ford: sure, they didn’t say we need to have hamburgers at a third of the price starting tomorrow.

Rich Ziade: Nope. They said, we’ve got a network, we’ve got a distribution network, and let’s shift. And they shifted to pharmacy, and that was… That, it wasn’t even a turnaround. They were like, they peered into the abyss.

Paul Ford: a hard pivot, actually, like to go, we sell one thing, and we’re going to sell a totally different, complicated category.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. And so, let’s jump to our industry, technology. Obviously, probably the most famous turnaround. I mean, it’ll be looked back on as one of the most incredible business turnarounds, period. Is, is the Apple

Paul Ford: mean, you had Wired Magazine with a [00:03:00] cover, and it’s an apple and a heart, and it just says prey.

Rich Ziade: How many do you have? Is that right?

Paul Ford: yeah. It was over.

Rich Ziade: It was over, they were in debt, they were borrowing money from Microsoft, which had to feel humiliating.

Paul Ford: weren’t good, right? They weren’t particularly good. And they, you know, they, and they were, they kind of kept pushing the stuff like the Newton and so on. And then Steve Jobs comes back and he comes back actually a little bit on a cloud. Like not, there’s a little bit of a dark cloud because he’s a tough operator.

The company is a mess. He starts cutting the hell out of the product line. They had all these products like Newton, all these different versions of Macs. They were licensing their technology to other companies. And he’s like, Nope, not going to be that. We’re going to do like three things.

Rich Ziade: They saw, he saw it was scattered, and I’d say, let’s come up with some hallmarks of a turnaround. First off, you need a tyrant. You need an absolute, or a leader who has the support of, like, it was a public company at that time. The board essentially told, they had, they said, this is our Hail Mary, [00:04:00] let him back in, let’s see where this

Paul Ford: let me just, ’cause you know, people hear you say you need a tyrant.

I, I know you really well. Let me say what you’re, I’m going to translate from Richie to, to like a young professional listening to this so that they don’t get confused. You don’t need someone to come in and hit you with a stick. What has happened though? Why are things not going well? Why do you have 20 products and none of them are selling that well?

Is that there’s all these little

Rich Ziade: many didn’t even make it out.

Paul Ford: They’re fiercely protected. They’re fiercely protected by really talented people and every single one of those people will say Unless we, unless you give me more resources, I can’t save the company. And so you have what is essentially at this stage a vast hallucination.

What is the mechanism for cutting through a vast hallucination? It is someone who, it’s not like you, I can say well It’s big dose of reality. The only reality facing Apple at that point is you’re gonna go out of business.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, but

Paul Ford: So a new reality had to show up.

Rich Ziade: All [00:05:00] exactly. That’s

Paul Ford: Steve Jobs is famous for literally, they called it the reality distortion field, where he would be like, here’s the rules, and everybody would be like, well that’ll never work.

He’d be like, yeah, but those are the rules. And everybody would be like, oh, okay.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. And, and, and, you know, uh, jobs and other leaders who were, frankly, they, they didn’t see pol. He’s not a political leader. He wasn’t a political leader. He wasn’t someone who knew how to get all the right votes on the

Paul Ford: He didn’t have the savviness about humans, actually. He was too narcissistic. He would get in his own way all the time.

Rich Ziade: too single-minded. And then, so when I say, you know, What I really mean is it’s someone that unapologetically embraces the concentration of power that they have to go do the thing,

Paul Ford: Well, and it’s to go do the thing. The people who embrace the concept… We’ve met CEOs of organizations who love the concentration of power but actually don’t have a thing to do.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: guy wanted to get essentially to the iPod. I don’t think he knew what it was [00:06:00] B, but he’s like, First of all, our computers should look like candy.

They should be Skittles.

Rich Ziade: There were a few phases, right? And he was a brilliant marketer. But I think,

Paul Ford: he also spent all the, I did a lot of research on this guy. Like he spent years in the wilderness making Next, which is now essentially the macOS operating system and the iOS operating system. He built like everything, he overbuilt, he built his own factory floor. He like made sure the robots were painted a certain color, right?

He just went off, took his Apple money and kind of like went all the way in. And I think he, and then he like invested in Pixar. Like the guy was right ahead of everything. And then he went, okay. I know what to do. He’s, he’d been craving to get this back, right? Like it was, and remember they brought him back in as like special advisor after they bought Next, and he was just going to kind of walk the halls and be helpful, and then suddenly, if you’re outside of Silicon Valley, which I was, I was young at the time, you’re like, boy, that’s a lot of blood for Apple, like just, Apple, they’re just squeezing that thing, they’re killing it.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. And, and the truth is, you know, the tyrant, [00:07:00] uh, metaphor. It works. He was not a good guy. Like, he was a mean, cruel, single minded, just… I mean, read the biography. This is not a friendly person.

Paul Ford: say something though. That is a really bad thing to do when you’re running, like, a diamond mine. But the reality is, everyone in that company was able to walk down the street and get a new job.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody’s

Paul Ford: It was an unbelievable expansion, um, so like, the rea like, he was a dick, but I actually think, like, he doesn’t come in for the heat that, like, a Jack Welch who went in the G and just fired everybody would take now.

Because ultimately, anyone who wasn’t working on an Apple could go get a re like, a great job somewhere else.

Rich Ziade: And look, I think there are many stories. Like, everybody has their rise and fall, right? You know, the motorcycle company Harley Davidson. Used to [00:08:00] be, I mean, an iconic American brand. American made. Uh, Japan shows up. Asia shows

Paul Ford: Kawasaki, Yamaha.

Rich Ziade: Yamaha, I mean, these are, these are, you know, piano companies. Just come in and just crushed an American motorcycle factory,

Paul Ford: They made beautiful motorcycles that didn’t collapse into piles of metal.

Rich Ziade: right? Right. So they’re supposed to go away. Like, Harley Davidson’s supposed to just sort of fold up and

Paul Ford: It stood for something. So did Apple. There’s

Rich Ziade: stood for something

Paul Ford: If you have that brand and you have the right leadership. There is a chance.

Rich Ziade: that’s right. That’s right. And so what happened with Harley is actually interesting too, which

Paul Ford: I don’t know the Harley story. What is it?

Rich Ziade: I I don’t know it in detail either, but I do know what the the the Second win that they found first off stop looking at The measures of success of like that you had before and look at a new set of measure A new way to measure success meaning don’t like how do [00:09:00] we crush Yamaha?

Don’t do that. Like don’t bother what what did they pause then

Paul Ford: right, so it’s what happens is everybody loses an arm and then they’re like I’m gonna do just as many push ups as before

Rich Ziade: Doesn’t work so what they did was they look they pause and they said look this brand is revered It’s part of American folklore and culture, right? Um, uh, our bikes are beautiful. They’ve mass produced them. Ours are, like, they, they look like works of art, right?

Paul Ford: They do. They have that kind of hand burnished vibe. They really

Rich Ziade: And they turned and looked at the cohort that knew what Harley Davidson was, and it was, it was people who used to be in their 20s who are now in their 40s and 50s and 30s

Paul Ford: boobers.

Rich Ziade: and have money. And they said, you know what? How about we make a lot less, charge more, and treat this thing… As, as a status symbol more, we’re not gonna beat anybody on horsepower and computing power in the motorcycle.

That’s not our gig. We’re gonna [00:10:00] actually embrace the history and the, and, and the, the aura of the brand and see where we go. And they got and, and, and again. Don’t apply the second wind against the metrics of the first wind. That’s not the

Paul Ford: Harleys.

Rich Ziade: They, they’re not on Harley’s. They’re not on Harley’s. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a rough scene and that’s not that, that’s not the crowd for the Harley’s. Now look, I don’t know where Harley is today. Cause I think a lot of the people that they were catering to are, they have back problems now, to be perfectly honest. Yeah, there’s no back left. So, but, I, I think. Let’s go back and list out some of the things that I think work for turnarounds. Number one, you need a singular vision. If that vision happens to be in a leader’s hand, good for us. But you need a singular vision. Steve Jobs, [00:11:00] uh, the Harley revival, etc. So what is that vision?

Number two, simplify.

Paul Ford: I think that’s the killer, right? Like it’s, it’s what simplification does. I think from the consumer point of view, it’s like, all right, I have less choice now, but all right, I get it. You’re still your thing. But from the internal point of view, it’s like, I’m kind of done with all you. We’re either going to make the thing or we’re going to go out of business.

Rich Ziade: I think, I think there’s usually pain on the other

Paul Ford: Well, there has to be, you got to shrink the company, right? So

Rich Ziade: I need 12 factories like I used to in the 50s?

Paul Ford: also do I need the Newton?

Rich Ziade: And do I need the Newton, all of it, right? And do I need all those people who, frankly, look, it’s hard. The reboot is often hard. The third thing,

Paul Ford: Unless an awful lot of them don’t work out.

Rich Ziade: these turnarounds.

Paul Ford: because what happened we were describing is the turnarounds where the leader has an extremely focused agenda and is able to communicate it really well. But a lot of times what happens is people come in and like, we’re going to cost cut, we’re going to get rid of these things, we’re going to get really [00:12:00] efficient.

And they don’t really have an attitude towards growth.

Rich Ziade: The last example I would use is IBM. IBM was, I mean they were going to be broken up. They were so big. They were actually looked at as like, Oh my God, all of the computers in America and around the world are made by

Paul Ford: So they owned an industry for a

Rich Ziade: Owned an industry for a

Paul Ford: but then…

Rich Ziade: and then, uh, the, the, the operating system, the software that runs the hardware.

Um, uh, was not owned by them. And it, and,

Paul Ford: happened

Rich Ziade: Microsoft

Paul Ford: and Microsoft didn’t just happen in like home computers, which I think IBM could have survived, but it started all the servers all like government started to pay Microsoft to run windows inside of data centers and like suddenly tens, hundreds, hundreds of millions of dollars are just gone.

Rich Ziade: It takes, and this is my third and probably most important point, And I think this applies not just to big companies, But to people who are changing careers, To small businesses that are trying to figure out what to be [00:13:00] next, Is, there is, I’ll, I’ll say it, this point, with an example, You be a CEO of IBM.

Paul Ford: I’m Lou Gerster. Party’s over, Lou.

Rich Ziade: Party’s over, Lou.

Paul Ford: Oh, I like parties,

Rich Ziade: you know what?

Paul Ford: I don’t know how he

Rich Ziade: You’re, you have, you are technology to 25, 000 beautiful relationships.

Paul Ford: I like how I think that Lou Gerstner is like 800 years old because I think of his older brother. He’s my age when he’s doing this, right? So, like, you and I are now CEO age. It’s terrible.

Rich Ziade: How would you like to, maybe IBM should just be a consulting firm. Do you understand how humiliating that is?

Paul Ford: I mean, consultants, having been one, they’re just dog crap. They’re just the worst animals. We build hardware. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: I licensed Charlie Chaplin to help sell my computers.

Paul Ford: created American data industry as a whole thing. I kind of helped World War II on the wrong side a little bit too. I, like, made a few mistakes along those lines. But nonetheless, I’m IBM. I [00:14:00] make supercomputers. Everybody uses my stuff. Uh, I have, I, I, like, I have a vast workforce. We’re all in upstate New York.

I make, you know, I, I own a brain called, uh, I, I’ve got laptops. Think pads.

Rich Ziade: Thinkpads, which they sold off.

Paul Ford: To Lenovo, yeah. That was a big one. When it was like, hey, we’re going to just sell our portable computing business to the Chinese was a real, like, shell shock.

Rich Ziade: They saw the commoditization happening. And what you can’t commoditize is those relationships, right? And they became a consulting firm.

Paul Ford: Well, wait, they kept their high end, too. So you’d be like, I need these IBM supercomputers to process 25 million insurance claims.

Rich Ziade: The margins are beautiful on those,

Paul Ford: And they’d be like, we’re going to get you those computers, but you know, once you get them, what are you going to do with them? Well, I’m going to need some consultants too.

Great news.

Rich Ziade: And, and the third point is humility. Like you’re like, my God, we are America’s Diner, Walgreens. Like, how can we be

Paul Ford: Don’t, don’t look for the leg that got cut off to grow [00:15:00] back.

Rich Ziade: to move on,

Paul Ford: I mean, that’s the reality, right? And it’s, it’s, it’s horrible to use like a metaphor like that. But I think that’s what happens is people just kind of sit there like, we got to get back. I, you know, this is you and me. I remember once we sold a piece of work for an unbelievably good rate.

Good rate. And every piece of work after, you’d look at me and you’re like, I can’t get back to those numbers. I’m like, you can’t, there’s no way. We, that was just a great moment in agency history.

Rich Ziade: it was,

Paul Ford: And now you’re like trying to squeeze over here and you’re like, I’d, I’d have to staff 180 people. I’m like, no,

Rich Ziade: The math didn’t work, man!

Paul Ford: You gotta just accept that, like, you can’t put, you can’t get back to where it used to be. The one that breaks my heart, Richard, is I love, I got into synthesizers. Uh,

Rich Ziade: Uh huh.

Paul Ford: we sold our company, I started Bojaro, which is a, I’ve got a hobby now. It’s like I got a little extra room in my brain. The big synth company is Moog.

Rich Ziade: I, I don’t know anything about them, but it’s so big that I know the [00:16:00] brand and I think most people do.

Paul Ford: And so what happened was,

Rich Ziade: It’s recognizable because a lot of famous artists use them.

Paul Ford: a very tortured corporate history, you know, like, gets bought here, the guy loses his name, because a lot of, like, synth history is they get their own name

Rich Ziade: Where, it’s, it’s American? See, if you told me to guess, I would have said like German.

Paul Ford: No, it’s all American.

Rich Ziade: Okay, it’s a little bit of a Harley Davidson

Paul Ford: Extremely similar, and they had a big factory in Asheville, North Carolina. Went through it in the pandemic, et cetera, et cetera. Hit what apparently looked like a really tough financial situation. Owner,

and he sold it to a company called InMusic. That owns other brands like Akai and sort of like…

Rich Ziade: Oh, okay, it’s like a holding company. Okay.

Paul Ford: And so like… Just in the last week, they let a, looks like about half the people go who work there, like it’s, it’s sad, like clearly American Manufacturing is going to end for this company, it’s product line is very diverse, duh, duh, duh, so they’re going to probably have to narrow it, [00:17:00] like I don’t know a lot about it, but I’m watching the opposite of the turnaround.

Rich Ziade: sounds like there still will be Moog products, they just won’t be made in the U.

Paul Ford: Well, here’s what’s tricky, right? Vogue products are ridiculously expensive compared to a bunch of other stuff, but like, this is the, it doesn’t, the, the non turnaround. It’s really sad. Is it?

Rich Ziade: Is it?

Paul Ford: Uh, it is for me because there’s a, you know, it was kind of employee owned. There was a good vibe. It was a very good vibe, and there’s no way for the conglomerate to have that vibe.

Rich Ziade: Did it, did it get lost? When, sounds like there wasn’t a good, there wasn’t a good succession plan.

Paul Ford: No, the products were great.

They needed more

Rich Ziade: No, but where, who wears the sole, right? Like the sole of the company. Did it go with this guy?

Paul Ford: A little bit, a little bit. There were a couple great, there were some great products like the Matriarch, but the, they built a flagship and it seemed to, it seemed to sell a lot but didn’t really catch

Rich Ziade: Is there a 300 Moog you can buy your kid?

Paul Ford: No. There’s software, there’s plugins, but no.

Rich Ziade: yeah, yeah, you know, [00:18:00] it’s it’s funny. Um, uh,

Paul Ford: Well there is, there’s the Mavis, but it doesn’t, it’s not, if you give that to your kid they’ll punch it

Rich Ziade: Okay, so here’s here’s I mean my read and this goes back to humility, I think You got to embrace the idea that you know

Paul Ford: um,

Rich Ziade: There was a generation that loved you that really fueled your growth and your success. And there’s always new people who don’t understand anything about you and don’t know anything about other than the fact that like, you know, the Doors used you, right?


Paul Ford: that, like, you there still a little bit,

Rich Ziade: Halo is still there a hundred percent. And, and I think the charm and the appeal of it. I mean, I have no doubt. Yeah. Harleys appealed to the, the boomers who liked Harleys, but I bet you they appealed to a lot of other people too, right?

Paul Ford: they like to produce at Moog was the, uh, the Model D, which is the same one from 1973. It was like MIDI in a couple updates, uh, and it was 4, 500 bucks, right? So it’s just like, it’s out of reach to kind of everybody.

Rich Ziade: I think, that, that’ll do you in, right? You can’t [00:19:00] grow a company that way. Look, I think, you know, I, I, I view, and I’m going to get sentimental about corporations now for a second. Corporations in, in, in legal, you know, a corporation is a legal construct.

Paul Ford: and legal, you know, a person. It’s

Rich Ziade: It’s a fictional person.

Paul Ford: of them

Rich Ziade: right. You know what happens to fictional people?

Paul Ford: What happens to fictional people? Uh, incredibly bad stuff, usually.

Rich Ziade: It’s most often it’s quite similar to similar to what happens to people you’re the spring to your step The joints start to hurt You you can’t seem to keep down that glass of wine like you used to

Paul Ford: Yeah. Oh yeah.

Rich Ziade: these are you

Paul Ford: Can’t handle spice.

Rich Ziade: I mean there are examples of companies that find that second wind and just go go go like but they’re very rare What did what you’re

Paul Ford: Most companies just one day have terrible rectal bleeding and then it’s over.

Rich Ziade: I mean, this is, look man, it’s, it’s, [00:20:00] needs change, uh, circumstances change, markets change, audiences change, um, and it becomes hard. If you’re gonna always sit there and beat yourself up for the fact that you can’t run that, like, 100 yard dash the way you used to, you’re gonna be pretty miserable. Like, what can you do? Can you coach someone else? Can you be a track and field coach? Can you volunteer and help kids?

Paul Ford: So, so actually what happened there, right, is like something that was utterly full of good vibes, but maybe a little shaky, is now kind of full of bad vibes, you know, and that’s the brand.

The brand is the

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Let me boil this down to some personal advice to close it out.

Paul Ford: Yep.

Rich Ziade: Um, I have talked to people… and had coffee with people who, um, had a stretch in their careers that was riding pretty high and then hit a bump.

Paul Ford: Shocking, when it happens. They’re always shocked.

Rich Ziade: always shocked

Paul Ford: I’m [00:21:00] the opposite. I expect, like, I write for magazines now. I just expect them to fire me all the time.

Rich Ziade: You do. I’ve heard you, I’ve heard you say it. For a lot of those people, the number one thing they can do is to kind of reset where they think they sit in the world. Like, and I’ve seen it. I’ve had coffees with people where they feel like the world doesn’t seem to get it.

Paul Ford: world like kings in exile. They’re just sitting there with, like, yeah, with the crown on, like, I am the rightful king of, of sweatshirtvania.

Rich Ziade: The world’s a cruel place, man.

Paul Ford: The world isn’t even cruel.

It’s just incredibly forgetful. It’s

Rich Ziade: Just forget it’s straight, it’s

Paul Ford: can actually explain most things that people assume are human evil with just, like, human distractions.

Rich Ziade: Yes. And that applies to companies? And then it applies to people.

I, I think, I think that that decline shouldn’t be read as failure. I think that like diminishing growth shouldn’t be read as failure. Like, You left a dent in the world, whether you’re an employee somewhere and you’re a part of something very cool that grew [00:22:00] really big, or whether you’re a synth company that is probably a lot of the music we listen to today wouldn’t be around without you.

And that’s okay, right? The idea that you need to go back to the same measures of success to be alive again is insanity.

Paul Ford: it’s, it’s, you know, one thing that people, uh, in business and people on the far left agree on is that capitalism always wins, like it’s just going to do its thing.

Rich Ziade: It’s, it’s literally, it’s a digestive system. It’s just going to process the brownie, turn it into amino acids or whatever the hell happens in your stomach, and you’re going to shit the rest out.

Paul Ford: good. It’s true. And it is. I’ve been pooped out. It’s not a great feeling.

Rich Ziade: It’s not a great feeling. We can’t end it on that though, Paul. Tell me about our sponsor.

Paul Ford: Our sponsor is Aboard. Aboard. com. Check it out. Rich and I co founded it. We love it. It’s great. It is a way to organize everything. You can collect information on the web, add your own information. Put it in all kinds of boxes and tags and stacks, and then you can share it with your friends and talk about it.

It is [00:23:00] just a magical tool. Mobile’s coming real soon, and we’d love you to take a look at it. And if you need us, check us out at ZiadeFord on Twitter, X, whatever it’s called, and send an email to HelloAtZiadeFord. com

Rich Ziade: Good discussion, Paul. This was like one of those, not, what is it, buttercup, something buttercup?

Paul Ford: Buck up, AutoCup. Buck up,

Rich Ziade: No, I think that’s the wrong, wrong way to frame it. I think it’s more like, um, like, don’t beat yourself up constantly. You’ve seen success. It can’t go forever. Like, that’s just reality of it. I know you’re sad about Moog.

I can see it in your eyes, Paul. Um, but, you know, they left their dent in the world. Ha Hang in there, Paul. Have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: I

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