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Gustin Partners | July 16, 2013 |

Forward Progress: The Importance of Cadence

By Tim Mead
Managing Director - Gustin Partners

Cadence in motion
While some critics of Lou Gerstner as CEO of IBM might have preferred he focus on rebuilding the company’s R&D function to create the sort of novel, scalable products embodied in platforms before his time (like DB2 and AS/400) instead of on making acquisitions and reengineering  IBM’s balance sheet—he did manage, nevertheless, to get the company’s swagger back during his years (1993-2002) at the helm of Big Blue.

Fundamental in Gerstner’s approach, it appears, is an overlooked but fairly straightforward concept for managing organizations and the people who populate them.

“It’s the cadence, “ he replied recently when asked by The Washington Post to identify the most difficult part of the transition after leaving as CEO of a major public company. “The cadence of the business world is ever strong. Move forward. Every day you go in the office, maybe you only moved an inch. But everyone’s driving, driving, driving to get things done. There’s a huge focus on productivity, on measurement, on success—however short term it’s measured.” (For the full interview, see:

The music metaphor is particularly apt. Just as a conductor leads an orchestra to follow the notes written in a score to create cadence, it is the leader of a company who sets the pace for his or employees—and sometimes entire ecosystems of business partners—to follow.

The ability to create cadence may be more of a human trait in a leader than something bolted onto him or her in an MBA program, though it is likely that a meaningful apprenticeship at company or organization with a distinguishable forward pace tends to bring the trait to the fore. Gerstner himself clocked time at McKinsey & Company and American Express—two forward moving institutions (for most of their storied legacies)—before punching in at IBM. One gets the sense that Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! and Tim Armstrong at AOL both possess cadence—nurtured likely during their days at Google. And Steve Ballmer at Microsoft is overhauling the company with the express intent of meeting “the shipment cadences of both Microsoft and third-party devices and our [the company’s] services.”

The concept of cadence certainly isn’t limited to high-technology or to organic revenue growth. Look at Honeywell under GE trained Dave Cote. In the past 10 years, the industrial giant has added about $10 billion in annual sales and divested $6 billion. “Great positions in good markets,” is how Cote explains his M&A strategy.

If you lead an organization or a function, it may not be all that difficult to determine whether it possesses sufficient cadence. As a CEO, you can ask your best customers whether the company is moving at a rate that satisfies them—producing innovative products and services, reducing prices aggressively, etc. As a CMO, you can ask your internal customers—the sales force or  the engineering group—whether messages being sent to the market are ahead of competition and in synch with the value propositions they need or think they have produced.

If there is a cadence deficit—stasis, lethargy, etc. —the remedies are manifold. However, unless they are genuine—i.e., coming from you and/or the corporate/functional culture you champion (with resources, behaviors, etc.)—the new notes will fall on deaf ears.

Mead is responsible for major client relationships and engagements across the spectrum of Gustin Partners services, with a concentration on client companies in the professional services, media, communications services and advanced information technologies sectors. He can be reached at


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