This is a story that may or may not be true but I have used it many times. It is a fable about execution, not about talking and it goes something like this…
The first time Chrysler was about to go belly up in the 1980’s, Lee Iacocca was brought in as the CEO to save the Company. It was a grim situation and negativity was plentiful The entire employee population was depressed and there was little hope for improvement in the short term. Without government action, the Company was sure to go down the drain. The words are some of the same ones I have heard people use to describe the current economic situation in Ireland.
Iacocca, who had an eye and instinct for success, believed that if Chrysler could introduce a line of convertibles based on the body of its existing line of cars, he could breathe life into the Company and jump onto the path of success. He knew the key was to introduce the new soft tops quickly to show visible signs of progress. (VSOP)
He gathered the engineers who said it would take two years to redesign the chassis and struts to work the new roof design.
He gathered the manufacturing experts who claimed it would take eighteen months to retool the plants for a new design. He gathered the designers who said it would take two years to coordinate the paint and colors for the cloth roof.
Iacocca listened and the next day gathered all the groups together for his response. The large group gathered in a room with one of Chryslers current models, a K car sedan, front and center. Iacocca wasted no time in his response: “Gentleman”, he roared, “I want you to cut the F#$#ing roof off the car.”
Chrysler introduced a line of convertibles shortly thereafter which sold very well and the Company was saved. What does this story have to do with Ireland and her economy? Ireland needs to cut the roof off its own car. The “car” in the case of Ireland is the innovation engine.
There have been a lot of meetings. There have been many calls for a sense of urgency. There has been what we might call in the Silicon Valley a “false sense of urgency.” That is, lots of activities but to what end? There are, no doubt, many initiatives under way to improve the economy, I am only suggesting here that we nudge one forward – that is to turn the innovation everyone talks about into companies. Start up companies that can be funded and built into bigger companies that can create an economy and more jobs.
Yes, we need to execute on the creation of companies based on the technologies that have been developed at all the colleges and think tanks and government agencies. We can build bridges between the Silicon Valley and all that has been pent up in Ireland for so long that might, just might get things rolling. Some say, “If there is no wind, row.” I say, never waste a crisis. The crisis in the current economy will allow us to take steps that will build an economy in Ireland for generations to come.
The Universities are willing to cooperate with each other and with venture capital firms for, maybe, the first time. Entrepreneurs in both the US and Ireland are willing to work together. And, not in the least, people in the Silicon Valley are ready to co-invest and create the relationships with the tech giants that builds companies. Now is the time.
A recent issue of Time magazine did a masterful job of describing the importance of higher education to the US economy. The same could be said of higher education in Ireland. “In a world where brainpower outstrips muscle power, where innovation trumps conformity, where the nimble and creative stand to inherit the earth, higher education is the key to the next American century. Forget the ivory tower: colleges and universities are the catalysts of economic development, stewards of public health, incubators of social policy and laboratories of discovery. Nearly every great national challenge – from the raising of our children to the quality of our food supply, from the hunt for clean energy to the struggle against insurgent enemies, from the quest for opportunity to the search for sustainable prosperity – depends for a solution on institutions of higher ed.”
Great higher education is the first step and Ireland has that. We need to take the second step which is cooperation and funding from the government which will allow the venture world to create companies.