Editor’s Letter: One size fits all?

The appointment of Ralph Norris, successful banker, to Air New Zealand’s top management job raised the argument again. How transportable are management skills? Are leaders more likely to succeed in jobs where they already have significant knowledge and experience? Or is his transition from banking to air airline industry irrelevant? Ralph Norris subscribes to the view that professional management and leadership skills are universal and it is their best practice application that is the defining issue, not the peculiarities or idiosyncrasies of any particular industry sector. good brain will pick up the specifics of business in no time. If Norris succeeds, the pros for the transportable argument will chalk one up. If not, the cons will smile knowingly and whisper, “I told you so.” The reality, of course, is that there is no argument. Success or failure depends entirely on the individual and no general theory on the matter is valid. Statistics, if they were ever kept, might favour the probability of one outcome over another, but I doubt it.

Jim Scott who, coincidentally, is former occupant of Ralph Norris’ seat in Air New Zealand’s corporate cockpit, thinks that when it comes to managing and leading small to medium enterprises the one-size-fits-all management solution delivers mismatch. He believes that gifted and suitably schooled managers can move effortlessly across the sectors of “big business”. He, after all, successfully transplanted himself out of the forestry industry into commercial aviation. But now Scott is building business of small businesses and finding managers with the depth of management knowledge of formally educated corporate executive, plus the hands-on aptitude required to drive an SME, is proving challenge. He thinks, for instance, that 90 percent of the managers who come out of the corporate world “can’t cope in the SME environment”.

If Scott is right it poses interesting issues for New Zealand. When it comes to “big business” we are increasingly land of branch offices – what scope therefore for aspiring corporate leaders? The drivers of our economy therefore must be SMEs which, in Scott’s opinion, are seldom well run. On the other hand, Scott envisages far-stretching horizon of profitable opportunity for competently managed SMEs. How to match these strains of management and leadership difference is part of Jim Scott’s secret, which we reveal in this week’s cover story written by regular Management writer Mark Story.
This intriguing tale, and much more, when you turn the pages of your magazine this month, as they say in all the best promotions.

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