Former News Ltd CEO Kim Williams.
Former News Ltd CEO Kim Williams. AAP

Consumers rule the roost: former News Corp chief

CONSUMERS are in charge, data is increasingly trumping intuition and dinosaurs like Mad Men's Don Draper would not stand a chance in this changed world.

These were the musings of former News Corp Australia chief Kim Williams at a recent QUT business leaders forum in Brisbane.

He said Mad Men had reached 1968 when the latest series ended on Foxtel and advertising agency Sterling Cooper had no inkling of the changes about to hit them.

"You'll notice no one yet has a mobile device, having been invented in 1973," Mr Williams said.

"And no PCs have appeared on anyone's desks yet. They followed in 1977.

"There's not even a mainframe computer in the basement.

"In the absence of data, Sterling Cooper relies on Don Draper's shaky consumer intuition lubricated by a daily bottle of Canadian Club.

"Imagine if the series continued to 2013 - Don's intuition would be replaced by forensically insightful data from statisticians."

Mr Williams said collecting and analysing data was crucial to business success, noting how Google could predict flu trends with a one-day lag based purely on search terms - about two weeks faster than anyone could do it before.

As someone who spent 20 years steering Australia's largest media organisation through its biggest change - the internet - he is acutely aware of the importance of flexibility and agility.

Mr Williams said the power transfer to consumers was difficult to exaggerate and impossible to stop, but listening was now critical.

"Driven by the internet with astounding advances in connectivity and mobility, consumers are now in charge," he said.

"They demand their information and entertainment across multiple devices in a way that is tailored to each device.

"There is instant customer feedback through social media or direct to websites.

"One of the noteworthy implications of this paradigm shift is the way in which many companies have changed their approach to problem solving.

"In the past large engineering companies which had some technical problems would have clammed up, sent their engineers into a huddle to solve it, worked for a good period of time secretly and then emerged to say it was all fixed, nothing to see here, let's move on.

"Today many forward-looking approaches do the exact opposite.

"They share the nature of the problem with their customers, ask for potential solutions, keep customers involved and solve the problem much faster than times past through the so-called 'wisdom of crowds'."

Before News Corp, Mr Williams spent 10 years as chief at Foxtel where he turned a $3 million loss a week in 2001 into growing returns in 2006.

He has also held various executive positions at Fox Studios Australia, the Australian Film Commission, Southern Star Entertainment, Musica Viva Australia and the ABC.

Mr Williams said leadership was now a sophisticated team sport, that lone ranger or highly hierarchal models simply did not work today in large, educated workforces.

But he said the quality he most valued in the business world was persistence.

► WILLIAMS' WORLD

Leadership is a sophisticated team sport.

"You don't have time to work on plan B because you are putting all your time into plan A. People who talk about plan B have never run anything."

Competitive threats are effective drivers of innovation and resourcefulness.

Driven by the internet with astounding advances in connectivity and mobility, consumers are now in charge.


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