Harvard Business School: Compare John Fahey’s decisions at National Geographic with his decisions at Time Life, Inc.

New video available (7 minutes long; $150) from the Harvard Business School:

John Fahey, President and CEO of National Geographic Society, In-Class Comments, 02/11/2011, Video

by David A. Garvin
7 minutes.  Publication date: Aug 01, 2011. Prod. #: 312701-VID-ENG

In January 2010, John Fahey, president, CEO, and chairman of the board of trustees’ executive committee of the Washington, D.C.-based National Geographic Society (NGS), must decide how best to organize the 121-year old mission-driven organization for a world of accelerating digital convergence and decreasing magazine sales. Historically a proponent of evolutionary change, he is considering a radical move: creating a senior management position responsible for e-commerce to coordinate web-based offerings and outreach across the Society’s various departments, transition NGS from its many disparate and independent direct mail efforts to a more integrated and strategic e-commerce strategy, and leverage the NGS relationship with its members-currently defined as magazine subscribers, since a subscription comes with Society membership. Putting the final touches on the position and its reporting arrangements has led to significant debate within the organization, and Fahey is torn about how to proceed..

Learning Objective

This case and the associated videos are designed to show students how leaders manage change in an unpredictable and highly uncertain environment, especially at an iconic organization that is strongly mission-driven. National Geographic is a world-renowned brand, well known for its magazine and environmental commitments. The CEO has long espoused an evolutionary approach to change, but is now facing a world where digital technology and multimedia products threaten to cannibalize and replace the organization’s primary revenue source, its magazine. Students consider the nature of mission-driven organizations, the challenges of altering long-established, complacent cultures, the need for accompanying shifts in organizational structure and roles, and the best approach to strategy making in an environment that is rapidly changing.  The case can be paired with another case, Time Life, Inc. (A) (395012), which features the same CEO facing a similar set of challenges in the media business over a decade earlier. Students can compare the two situations and develop lessons about the need to adapt one’s leadership style in analogous but somewhat difference circumstances. [emphasis added]

The comparison is illuminating.

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