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Management Lessons from Roller Coasters


If you think a roller coaster at a theme park is the last place to look for management lessons, think again. The mechanical design of a roller coaster offers prudent business management insights. Dizzying ups and downs, violent twists and turns, sudden starts and stops — and yet not once is the backbone of the roller coaster in any danger of twisting or letting the cars fall off the tracks. The roller coaster designers do an amazing job of integrating two contrary goals — unflinching structural integrity and breakneck flexibility.


Designing a Business

As a business designer, how well have you done? That's right: you are a business designer. As the CEO, your job is not just to run and grow the business, but to make sure you have designed it right. Can your company go through the dizzying cycles of the economy, be prepared for sudden changes in the marketplace, handle catastrophic events, and take advantage of swift opportunities, while retaining and strengthening its structural integrity?

“The combination of a resolute DNA and opportunistic strategies will ensure your company survives and thrives unders all market conditions.”

What Can and Cannot Change

Many companies do not take the time to crystallize what is constant in their business. What is it that defines their DNA that can never change no matter what the circumstances. Ask your management team if they understand what is core to the company — those aspects of the company and its business model that are non-negotiable. Ask them what can and cannot change. Compare their answers to find out how cohesive they are. You cannot build a cohesive company if your management does not understand what makes up the company's DNA.

Your DNA cannot change, but your strategies and tactics must change. Sometimes, companies fall in love with their strategies and fail to admit and recognize when they are not working. Management obstinately pursues failing strategies, because changing them would be an admittance of failure. Personal egos probably have destroyed more value for companies than any other factor. Your strategies must be flexible, capable of moving at breakneck speed, and able to change direction at a moment's notice.

Let us consider an example. If during an economic downturn, a luxury car company introduces cheaper cars under its brand, it could irrevocably hurt its brand. A "luxury brand" is core to the company's DNA. That is its positioning in the marketplace and should be non-changeable. The company's cost structure, product capabilities and reliability, and customer care levels are all based on its business model of being a luxury car maker. A non-luxury car model and its lower prices would run against the grain of the company, create confusion in the minds of the employees, minds of the suppliers, and most importantly minds of the customers. Violation of the DNA of the company would have ramifications across the board including its brand, operations, sales and even recruiting and training.

To address economic downturns the luxury car manufacturer must change and adjust its strategies and tactics: advertising and marketing strategies, car financing strategies, inventory management strategies, staffing strategies, training strategies, car servicing bundling strategies, and an endless array of other strategies. Such strategies and tactics would respond to the market downturn without violating the DNA of the company.


Roller Coaster Strength and Flexibility

The DNA of your company is similar to the steel pillars, and strategies and tactics are similar to the roller coaster cars. The combination of a resolute DNA and the right opportunistic strategies will ensure your company survives and thrives under all market conditions.



Ravi Kathuria 
A recognized thought leader, Kathuria has been quoted in various publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, WorldNews, and featured on the BusinessMakers show, CBS Radio, Nightly Business Report, and is a monthly columnist for the SmartBusiness Magazine.

Kathuria is the author of the highly acclaimed book, How Cohesive is your company?: A leadership parable. It is a realistic and intense story of how a CEO struggles to transform the business and, in the process, struggles with his personal transformation.

Kathuria is the founder and president of  Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive coaching and sales coaching firm. Halliburton, Hewlett-Packard, St. Lukes Episcopal Health System, AT&T, and Imperial Sugar Company executives have co-published seminal business articles with Kathuria in the Houston Business Journal on sales effectiveness, performance, corporate culture, and change management.

Invited to speak at large conferences and corporate meetings, Kathuria is a thought provoking and vivacious speaker. He has spoken at the 5th Annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Conference, Rice University, Business Forum on Emerging Markets, University of Houston's Wolff Center For Entrepreneurship, University of Texas' Fleming Center for Healthcare Management, Institute of Internal Auditors, Dover Club, Galleria Chamber of Commerce, American Business Women's Association, French American Chamber of Commerce, Business Resources Group, Financial Executives Networking Group, Silver Fox Advisors, Houston Technology Center and the 2011 SPE Americas E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference.