On September 22 I watched the 66,000 ton cargo ship OOCL San Francisco proceed slowly into the Seattle unloading dock. Within 24 hours this gigantic container ship would unload its tonnage and head back to sea.
As I watched this giant 909-foot ship slowly edge toward to the docks I noticed two tiny, but powerful tugboats along its port side barely visible against the hull of the ship. Why would this great ship which had just traversed the Pacific Ocean and survived the wind and waves of the high seas without help, now need a couple of tugboats to help it in the calm waters of Puget Sound?A former student of mine is a captain on a super tanker and he explains it this way. It is impossible to control a large ship in tight quarters like inland waters, rivers and harbors. So a special pilot joins the ship as it leaves the sea and pilots the boat in the narrow tricky waterways. This pilot gives directions to the tugs which keep the ship on course with an efficient push or shove in the inland bays and harbors.
Business startups and Small-Medium Enterprises
I could not help but compare to business startups and Small-Medium Enterprises which are striving to scale their business. They may have a good understanding of the customer and a desirable product. Their team may be the best and the cash flow and P&L going just great. But they must remember that there are tricky sea lanes ahead which will require small but powerful nudges to keep it on track.I am reminded of a visit I made to a Kingdom business in Asia a few years ago. They were doing well with over 60 employees and had a good set of financials with excellent cash flow. Their product was excellent. A year later, three consultants dropped by for a visit to see this excellent endeavor. They had not come to evaluate or to provide consulting services. However, they learned of some serious problems.In a short 3-day visit they were able to provide some gentle nudges which required some labor cutbacks and some marketing changes. Not long afterwards the owner admitted that without those “tugboats in the harbor” they would not have realized that there were rocks ahead and potential disaster.
Every business needs outsiders to come aboard, ask hard questions, give insights and provide guidance in changing times.
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures