Of the new generation of strategy gurus, no one is in greater demand these days than Gary Hamel. Within the past 18 months, the lanky 41-year-old academic has delivered nearly 75 speeches and built a consulting company that is generating revenues of $20 million a year.

Together with University of Michigan professor C.K. Prahalad, Hamel has redefined the world of corporate strategy. For decades, strategists spent much of their time figuring out how to position products and businesses within an industry. Instead, Hamel argues, strategy should be about changing industry rules or creating tomorrow's industries, much as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. did in retailing or Charles Schwab did in the brokerage and mutual-fund businesses.

Hamel urges managers to determine their company's ``core competencies,'' or key corporate skills, and to create ``strategic intent'' based on these skills and the development of others to invent a new future. ``Strategy has to be subversive,'' he declares. ``If it's not challenging internal company rules or industry rules, it is not strategy.''

Hamel also urges clients to ``democratize'' the strategy-creation process. ``It is imagination and not resources that is scarce,'' he says. ``So we have to involve hundreds, if not thousands, of new voices in the strategy process if we want to increase the odds of seeing the future.''

Hamel changed his own future in 1978 when he quit a job as a hospital administrator and went to the University of Michigan for a PhD in international business. At Michigan, he met Prahalad. ``We shared a deep dissatisfaction with the mechanistic way strategy was carried out,'' Hamel says. The pair wrote a series of influential essays published in the Harvard Business Review and put their ideas into a book, Competing for the Future, in late 1994. It has become gospel to managers around the world, many of whom now seek advice from Hamel's firm, Strategos Inc., in Menlo Park, Calif.


Corporate Decisions

While other strategic-planning gurus start with the capabilities and skills of a company, Adrian J. Slywotsky begins with customers. A founding partner of Boston-based Corporate Decisions Inc., Slywotsky maintains that too much of strategy has been based on a mindset that failed to understand what customers want and need.

He urges managers to begin the strategy process by studying where stock-market value is migrating in an industry. Shifts in value--for example, from Sears, Roebuck & Co. to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.--usually reflect shifting customer priorities. By falling out of touch with those needs, one U.S. company after another has lost ground to new, aggressive rivals. Companies such as Microsoft, Nucor, and Starbucks have captured growth and stock market value by having what Slywotsky says are ``superior business designs''--configuring resources and going to market based on a keen understanding of customers' priorities. ``Strategy is about making choices,'' says the 45-year-old consultant. ``Do I serve this customer group or a different one? How are my customers and prospects changing? If my business model was good for yesterday's customers, how does it have to change to keep them?''

A Harvard-trained lawyer, Slywotsky returned to the university for his MBA in 1978. After a three-year stint with consultant Bain & Co., he founded Corporate Decisions in 1983. His novel views of strategy, detailed in his book Value Migration, have won audiences at such major companies as Sears, Philips Electronics, and Searle Pharmaceuticals.

Slywotsky's corporate fans find much appeal in his notion that strategy has paid far too much attention to simple gains in market share. By instead examining the business designs that are capturing stock-market value, Slywotsky says, managers can find templates for changes within their own organizations.


GeoPartners Research

James F. Moore, founder and chairman of Cambridge-based GeoPartners Research Inc., is an unlikely corporate strategist. For one thing, his PhD is in cognitive psychology. For another, he once taught art and photography in a New Haven high school--hardly typical training for any would-be counselor to Corporate America.

But with the recent publication of The Death of Competition, the 47-year-old Moore has quickly distinguished himself as an original thinker and hot New Age strategist. Moore relies heavily on metaphors from biology and ecology to help managers better understand the dynamics of competition and create successful strategy.

He urges clients at such companies as AT&T, ABB Asea Brown Boveri, Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Hewlett-Packard to view themselves as part of a ``business ecosystem.'' Why? ``The new paradigm requires thinking in terms of whole systems,'' he says. ``Seeing your business as part of a wider environment.''

That demands viewing business opportunities not simply from the perspective of a solo player but as one player among many, each ``co-evolving'' with the others. That's sharply different from the conventional idea of competition, in which companies work only with their own resources and do not extend themselves using the capabilities of others.

Among other things, Moore favors seeking out partners to create something of value, achieve market coverage, and block alternative ecosystems. In later stages of the business ecosystem, members must look beyond their community for new ideas and work to prevent partners and customers from defecting. And all the while, he says, companies must reach out to customers to predict how marketplace changes may occur. ``The major challenge for many companies is to get others to co-evolve with their vision of the future,'' says Moore. ``In a global market, you want to make use of the other players--for capacity, innovation, and capital.'' In the corporate Galapagos, it's co-evolve--or die.

By John A. Byrne in New York


Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
Terms of Use