Since 1994, more than 50% of the companies in the Global 500 have faced serious threats to their core business models. About half of that group have gone bankrupt or been acquired. The rest have had to make risky and fundamental changes in strategy.
Confronting the need to redefine their core, many management teams find themselves tempted by big-bang solutions: dramatic, transformative mergers or aggressive leaps into sexy new markets. But seemingly bold moves like these rarely pay off. The success rate for major, life-changing mergers is only about one in 10. It is less than one in seven for moves into a hot, new market far from a company's core.
"Our research shows that 9 out of every 10 companies that successfully renewed themselves found the solution in mining their hidden assets-assets they already possessed but had failed to tap for maximum growth potential. "
- Chris Zook
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For most companies, a better answer usually lies close to home, concealed from view. Our research shows that 9 out of every 10 companies that successfully renewed themselves found the solution in mining their hidden assets-assets they already possessed but had failed to tap for maximum growth potential.
The classic example is Apple. The iPod drew on the company's well-known skills in software, user-friendly product design and imaginative marketing-Apple's underexploited capabilities. Samsung focused on a different set of hidden assets: underinvested business lines. It shut down or sold 76 businesses, thereby freeing up resources for investment in its lagging but promising semiconductor and consumer electronics businesses. Today, Samsung is a leader in memory chips and mobile phones as well as in high-end television sets and flat-screen monitors.
Shouldn't well-run companies already be using all their valuable assets? Actually, large, complex organizations always acquire more capabilities or businesses than they can focus on at any one time. Once those assets have been neglected for a while, a company's leaders often continue to ignore them or discount their value. But when a company needs to redefine its core, secondary businesses and capabilities of the past can suddenly take center stage and become the key to the next generation growth engine.
One way to open management's eyes to hidden assets is to identify the richest hunting grounds. Our three-year study suggests that the most valuable ones are camouflaged as hidden business platforms, untapped customer insights and underused capabilities.
Turning an overlooked business platform into a new core is more common than you might imagine. Think of how General Electric revitalized GE Capital, a division that has now fueled its parent's growth and profitability for years. More recently, Nestlé discovered that it had a number of food and drink products designed to be consumed outside the home. Assembling those products into a new unit, Nestlé Food Services, it created the core of a new multibillion-dollar business.
Untapped customer insight is another hidden asset. Harman International, a maker of high-end audio equipment, faced stagnating growth in its consumer and professional markets. But co-founder Sidney Harman had the insight that customers who bought expensive audio systems at home were spending more time in their cars. Along the way, Harman also purchased the German company Becker (which sold radios to Mercedes-Benz), allowing it to draw on Becker's digital audio capabilities and to develop the high-end automotive "infotainment" systems that fueled the company's renewal. Thanks largely to its success in this customer segment, Harman's market value increased 40-fold from 1993 to 2005.
Hidden business platforms and hidden customer insights are assets that companies already possess; in theory, management just has to uncover them and put them to work. Capabilities-the ability to perform specific tasks over and over again-are different. To fuel new growth, an underexploited capability usually needs to be combined with other assets to produce something distinctly new and better.
The Danish company Novozymes, for example, had long made low-tech commodity enzymes used in detergents. But when Novozymes was spun off from its parent in 2000, CEO Steen Riisgaard focused his research capabilities-its PhDs and laboratories-on developing the company's skills in producing specialty bioengineered enzymes. That led to its next "repeatable" growth formula. Today, the company is a leader in producing enzymes that extract alternative biofuels from plants.
Finding the next generation of your business model, or even your next core, may well be the hardest act in business. Only a few companies are able to buy their way to success. Most find it far more productive to search out their hidden assets and to create a new core around them.
Chris Zook is a partner with Bain & Company, director of the firm's Global Strategy Practice and best-selling author on growth strategy. His latest book, Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth (Harvard Business School Press) was published in 2007 April.
To learn more about hidden assets, read "Finding Your Next Core Business," by Chris Zook in the 2007 April issue of Harvard Business Review.
Go to www.unstoppablegrowth.com to read more on Chris Zook's most recent book called Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth. Read related Bain articles on finding hidden assets to renew your company's core.