Tuesday, September 23, 2008

King George Gets Personal

I have a love-hate relationship with QVC CEO "King" George that is closely tied to my general love-hate relationship with QVC. They are, hands down, the best home shopping network; however, that has never stopped them from being clueless, inept, and--at times--completely underhanded.

King George seems to have a good handle on the current problems and a good vision for the future of home shopping networks in general. It'll be interesting to see if he can weather the current economic storm while staying at the QVC helm or if he'll just bail ship.

This article from the New York Times made me kinda sorta like him a little more (not that he's completely off the hook with me!)

See what you think:

WHEN I was a teenager, I spent summers working in construction with my father, a carpenter. We lived in a suburb of Seattle. It quickly became apparent that I would need to attend college and get a desk job because I’d never earn a living with my hands. I had no natural skill in that area.

I got a job at McKinsey & Company after graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in economics. I thought I’d spend a couple of years there to round out my education, but I stayed for 16 and rose to senior partner.

One of my clients was May Department Stores, the parent company of such stores as Lord & Taylor and Filene’s. I had the good fortune to work with May’s C.E.O., David Farrell, a leader in the industry, for 15 years.

Consulting teaches you how to dissect a problem, but that’s just the beginning. You learn that change takes time and it’s not just about the elegance of the solution. It’s also about the ability to motivate people and rally them around a cause.

One day a friend of a friend suggested I talk to Michael Dell about working with him. I agreed more out of curiosity than anything else and was blown away by the company and his vision. As much as I loved McKinsey, I left in 2001 to join Dell. I wanted a new challenge. My kids thought it was funny because I rarely used a computer. For two months I worked as Michael’s executive assistant and learned about the company and the industry. Then I became chief marketing officer and later took on additional responsibility as general manager of Dell’s consumer business.

It was a difficult time in the industry, right after the dot-com crash, but it was energizing. It was also my first opportunity to run a business. The challenges of direct marketing computers were a stretch and a learning experience.

My career has been wildly unplanned. I thought I’d be at Dell a long time, but when I had been there five years I got a call from an executive search firm asking if I’d be interested in talking to the folks at QVC.

I said, “No thanks, I’m happy doing what I’m doing.” The person was persistent and said I should at least meet with the C.E.O., Doug Briggs, who was retiring. I did, and found I had a completely false image of QVC. I thought home shopping was a dated idea and not nearly as exciting or fresh as technology. I discovered it was an amazing platform, and its best days were yet to come. I joined QVC in 2005.

People stumble on us when they’re flipping the TV channels. They might see Bobbi Brown selling her line of makeup, or a remote broadcast from Texas Stadium with Roger Staubach talking about his experiences there. Typically viewers don’t buy right away; they need to come back a few times and get over their skepticism about what we do.

Writing is one of my passions. Every Monday I e-mail our staff and try to inspire them. I discuss what I’m excited about in our business, or I share what I’m worried about or what I’m struggling with personally. I talk about my family and my personal life. I found that if you can tell an engaging story and relate it to work, it may stick with people and have some impact over time. Recently I wrote about my 11-year-old son who miscommunicated with a hair stylist. The woman shaved my son’s head instead of just giving him a trim, as he had requested. He was traumatized, locked himself in his room for a few hours and wore a baseball cap until his hair grew back.

I used the anecdote to discuss our responsibility regarding customer service, whether it involves an employee packing boxes in Florence, S.C., or someone answering the phones in Chesapeake, Va. When people realize we all have similar struggles, it creates a higher level of engagement and a connection.

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