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A Healthcare Business Lesson from Vanity Fair and Microsoft’s Lost Decade

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Steve Ballmer

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer

Aggressive vs. complacent. Decisive vs. Timid. Your bottom line is likely to reflect how you treat—or neglect—your healthcare organization’s branding message.

Case in point: There’s a timely lesson about business success in the news just now that we think holds a strikingly important message for the business side of healthcare. It’s about having a mindset for success, a willingness to embrace new ideas and assertively moving out of your marketing comfort zone.

In our work with professional practices, hospitals and health systems, we sometimes encounter an ultra-conservative attitude about business and the benefits of medical marketing. Some decision makers—doctors and administrators—regard marketing as “too fluffy,” or of secondary importance to the core business.

But compare the well-known tech brands Microsoft and Apple. Both businesses began in the mid-70s, and chances are you own or use one or more of their products today. Which of these brands to you recognize as an innovator? Which brand do you recognize as being marketing centric? And which brand is now has stronger earning and profitability.

Here’s a hint: Forbes lists Apple as the world’s most valuable company. And the Apple iPhone generates more revenue than all of the Microsoft products combined.

Microsoft has been wandering in the wilderness.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has been sleeping or struggling, according to a Vanity Fair article, Microsoft’s Lost Decade by Contributing Editor Kurt Eichenwald. (August, 2012.) It’s all about big business and nothing about healthcare directly. But some of the “astonishingly foolish management decisions” at the company “could serve as a business-school case study on the pitfalls of success.”

The author reports that, since 2000, Microsoft Corporation has performed far below its potential as a technology pioneer. Its lack-luster decade, according to Vanity Fair, resulted from (among other things) a demeaning personnel evaluation system, a lack of innovation, and indecisive business and marketing leadership.

As a result—an uninspiring culture for employees and prospective hires, and an inability to embrace innovation. It’s no wonder that Microsoft lost its way.

The lesson we see here—for physician-businessmen and healthcare administrators—is while there is no guarantee of success, innovation and a strong branding and marketing message can make the difference between a world-class (and highly profitable) business…and being lost in the wilderness for years.

The August Vanity Fair edition hits newsstands this month, but author Kurt Eichenwald talked to Charlie Rose in this interview. And for the 600-page insight on Apple, you can read Steve Jobs, the bio by Walter Isaacson.

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