The 10 Minute Mentor

Learning from Failure Part II: Non-Traditional Investments and M&A

August 28, 2017

The 10 Minute Mentor Podcast
Our ongoing series on leadership in the age of disruption.

Episode 7: Learning from Failure Part II: Non-Traditional Investments and M&A

GuestPhil Gross, Executive Mentor, Merryck & Co Americas (Former VP & GM, GE Plastics, and SVP, Warner-Lambert Company)
HostDavid Reimer, CEO, Merryck & Co Americas



Phil Gross returns for Part II of his 10 Minute Mentor Podcast series where he reflects on learning from failure over the course of his career. In this episode, Phil discusses the decision to bring a breakthrough technology to market during his time as SVP at the Warner-Lambert Company. Considering this decision “the biggest failure I’ve been involved in”, Phil Gross provides tools for leaders as they navigate similar choices around innovation during this age of disruption.

Is failure avoidable? When is it okay to take a risk? Can a leader rely on third party experts in making strategic decisions? Is the company equipped to handle defeat?

In the culmination of Phil’s conversation with host David Reimer, he argues that leaders should constantly challenge their own thinking with “what ifs?”, have a backup plan, and understand the limitations of third party experts in grasping the unique business context of the strategic decision. Ultimately, some organizations will handle defeat better than others, often a testament to the company’s culture.


Key Takeaways:

07:10 PG: When you look at a business, to what extent are you relying on third party information to make big decisions? …We relied on third party people to really understand it and they signed off on what we were doing. Once we hired our own people, then it turned out we learned a lot more.

09:15 PG: The key strategy in flying safely is redundancy, and not only redundancy in the technology, but redundancy in your thinking. What am I going to do if this happens? The question is at what level will you be able to absorb the risk? And if you can view yourself at the level at which you can absorb the risk, and say “Okay I can handle it”, then you can go ahead.

11:12 PG: While the management of the company might be criticized for the fact that it got into something it didn't know about well enough and maybe moved too fast in terms of moving into a marketplace that was unknown, it has to get a lot of credit for how it handled this defeat in terms of not changing the minds of its people, in terms of being willing to take risks and not being punitive for trying to do something great. And looking back, that has to do, in many ways, with the culture of the company.

Click here to download the full transcript. 

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