Prepare for Change: The Tale of K-Mart the Big Gorilla

Everything changes but change itself.

– John F. Kennedy

Little rings truer to me than this statement by President Kennedy.

I was speaking to a CEO group just last week and I was telling them: change is coming, change is here, change is staying. What does that mean? It means that everything changes but change itself.

Conditions will never remain the same, and as a business person you have to prepared for that. Be ready for the future and be ready for change.

Let me give you an example, that I like to call the Big Gorilla example.

A while back I was CEO of a manufacturing company that made t-shirts and sweatshirts. We did good, steady work, and one day K-Mart came to us and started placing huge regular orders. A big change!

They asked us to change our manufacturing capabilities to suit their needs. We did. Another big change that seemed worth it because they ordered so much so regularly.

Then one day, after we produced a million dollars worth of merchandise branded explicitly for K-Mart, they told us not to ship their order, that they were having some financial issues. That was $1 million of merchandise!

This was unwelcome change, and this is the power of the Big Gorilla. The Big Gorilla changes your customer mix; it changes your business; then it changes its relationship with you.

When K-Mart told me to destroy the merchandise and that I couldn’t sell it anywhere – I just had to eat it – I was pretty perturbed. I, of course, didn’t listen, and sold the merchandise overseas at enough to break even. When K-Mart eventually found out (an executive was vacationing in the area and noticed the locals wearing the merchandise), the company terminated its relationship with us, changing the nature of our business again. We had lost our Big Gorilla.

Two lessons come out of this story. The first is: Be Wary of the Big Gorilla. It’s nice to get a big buyer but when someone controls that much of your customer pie, change is always on the horizon.

And that brings us to the second lesson: Change is the Only Constant. Believe it and prepare for it by staying aware, recognizing that all projections have holes and flawed assumptions, being proactive rather than reactive and having controls in place.

What change has caught you by surprise? How do you prepare for change? Have you ever had a Big Gorilla – what happened?

3 thoughts on “Prepare for Change: The Tale of K-Mart the Big Gorilla

  1. Pingback: “Know Thyself” and Know Thy Weaknesses, Too « The Turnaround Authority

  2. Pingback: Living the Lessons of Turnaround Success « The Turnaround Authority

  3. Pingback: 5 New Years Resolutions for Your Business in 2012, Part 4 « The Turnaround Authority

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