Opportunity and Flexibility Are Key to Business Strategy

Published on May 29, 2009

Flexibility and opportunity took center stage in the panel discussion “Embracing Planning and Opportunism” at the 57th Annual Management Conference 2009 on May 29 at Gleacher Center. “Adherence to rigidity can be particularly problematic. “How much written about strategy is hindsight?” said moderator Harry L. Davis, Roger L., and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management.

Panelists Michael Polsky, ’87, president and CEO of Invenergy LLC, and Richard Sandor, founder, chairman and CEO of the Chicago Climate Exchange, reflected on their experiences, reinforcing the relevance of opportunity matched by flexibility.

Before turning the program over to Polsky and Sandor, Davis referred to psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey, who founded the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in 1896.

“(Dewey) was very critical of the teacher-centered modes of learning and critical of the static nature of education at the time,” advocating creativity and flexibility in education, Davis said. “When a strategy aimed at a particular destination leads to unexpected effects, the strategist may see another destination as more interesting or promising than the one originally sought. Flexible purposing allows one to shift direction and redefine one’s aims when better options emerge along the way.”

Polsky maintained focus on innovation and adaptability while adding humor to the mix. “If there are any management consultants in here, they are not going to like what I say,” he quipped.

“I was an engineer in the Ukraine and came to the United States 30 years ago. I quickly learned that I hate the way big companies operate.” Polsky connected with “some real estate guys who wanted to build power plants” and realized he could get into the industry as well.

“I had no plan. In the early 1980s, nobody knew how to do it and the (energy) business was changing every week. Big business hired marketing analysts but by the time they finished their study, the (need was) gone.”

With venture capital, a goal, and unbounded determination, Polsky plunged into the power industry, sold his first business and began another.

“The way I look at this is you just have had to mutate constantly. Sometimes I have trouble with my employees because I tell them to do something and they say ‘Two weeks ago you told us something else.’ I say, ‘Two weeks ago is a long time. Things change.’”

“Michael’s right,” said Sandor, former chief economic economist for the Chicago Board of Trade and viewed by many to be the father of carbon trading. “You have to be in the right place at the right time. To be on time, you have to be early.”

As environmental concerns surfaced in the second half of the 20th century, Sandor developed the cap-and-trade industry to reduce pollutants and launch a new exchange. He founded the Chicago Climate Exchange followed by the European Climate Exchange.

“Speed is key to any franchise,” he said. “Flexibility, vitality, and energy. Even if you’re going in the wrong direction, keep the energy level and change very quickly. We went against the biggest exchanges in the world and now we’re the only foreign equity in the Chinese (Tianjin Climate) Exchange.”

                                                                                                                    -- Myra Eder