UK/USA: Heller on management - Take a tip from Stormin' Norman. (1 of 2)

UK/USA: Heller on management - Take a tip from Stormin' Norman. (1 of 2) - Robert Heller points to the similarities between war and commerce and the lessons to be learnt from the recent successes in the Gulf.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Robert Heller points to the similarities between war and commerce and the lessons to be learnt from the recent successes in the Gulf.

American management, which once bestrode the world like a colossus, has been short of victories since the 1960s, and getting shorter by the year. But the 100 Hours War, and the preceding air campaign, represented a managerial as well as a military triumph - a fact which General Norman Schwarzkopf rewarded with the battlefield promotion of his logistics head, General William Pagonis. The latter's role was decisive: assembling, supplying and transporting over unheard-of-distances the most fearsome strike force in history.

While the differences between war and commerce are immense, the similarities have grown greater for two reasons: the military has become far more sophisticated, and world markets much more combative. Increasingly, management theorists have been ploughing back into military history for analogies: "Desert Storm" seems certain to figure large in future studies, because its success depended on utterly logical and powerful courses of action which happen to highlight today's erroneous pattern of big American business.

In the first place, Desert Storm Inc was superbly equipped. Its technology was world beating and state of the art, the product of intensive and highly successful research and development. Second, the men working the machines were rigorously trained to the highest standards: that showed not just in their effectiveness but also in their morale. Third, able leaders, highly trained, experienced, qualified and selected, had only reached the top after much full-time education, technical and general. Much the same is true of the UK: the analogies apply here too.

Equally important is the organisational structure in which these people operate. Schwarzkopf had full delegated power to run his operation his way. His instructions from above were absolutely clear, and immediate overlords like General Colin Powell, a 53 year old of obvious command and mastery, gave total central support. The same writ ran downwards: once allotted their role by the boss, the subordinate commanders made their own plans - and executed them decisively.

They were not, it is said, very keen when Schwarzkopf first proposed his mighty encircling sweep behind the Republican Guard. His tactical commanders gave the classic response: "It can't be done." The general himself says that they thought "Schwarzkopf had lost his marbles". But, says Time magazine, that only encouraged him. Wouldn't Iraq's generals be saying exactly the same thing? "Hey, nobody could drive over all that desert that far without their tanks breaking down and their equipment going to hell. They'll never make it."

That preconception exposed "this great big open flank" through which the allied forces drove so mercilessly. The boss had performed one crucial role of the leader, in war or peace: he turned the negative into a positive, by insisting that those in command had to achieve the "impossible". They only agreed after Schwarzkopf had ordered Paginos to pledge in writing that everything would be in place by the fixed deadline of February 21. But that, too, is an elemental principle: give people the tools if you want them to finish the job.

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