Vince Barabba has had a long and illustrious career collecting information and serving it up to important decision makers. He is the rare person who can develop a theory, jump into the real world and test it, and then back off and reflect on what worked and what did not work. He has jumped head first into politics, government, and industry.
This book is as much autobiography as it is management science. The personal odyssey makes it more interesting to read than most business books, especially if you know Vince.
I first met Vince at General Motors in about 1989. Vince had just joined GM. He had been hired by one of the smartest executives at GM at the time and he had been given the freedom to innovate (and a budget to go with it.) I was an experienced decision engineer but I had never worked in an environment quite like GM. GM was the largest corporation in the world at the time. Here I was in the middle of the C-suite with the power to ask questions. Vince became my mentor. He had been there before.
I was lucky. Vince was writing a book, “Listen, Learn, and Lead.” Every time he had a presentation to make he would huddle with a handful of us to review what he was going to say. He was looking for ideas. Three or four of us were graduates of the Engineering-Economic Systems program at Stanford. We were full of ideas. We were having the time of our lives applying analytical tools and developing a rigorous decision-making process. GM was fertile ground for innovation.
Vince’s initial job was to connect market research with product planning. This was the era when the organization’s top engineering talent was focused on developing an electric vehicle for which there was no market. Another notable product was a family van that looked like a Dust Buster. GM’s world class research organization was not coupled to product planning.
Vince declared that he could not do research unless he knew the right questions. And, he could not learn the right questions to answer unless he was involved in the decision making process. ( An important tenant of decision engineering is that information has economic value only if it can change economic decisions.)
It turned out that there was no real product planning “process” other than “we do what the boss says we should do.” (Remember the movie, “Roger and Me.”) With Vince’s encouragement we brought our process over from Strategic Decisions Group (SDG) and Stanford Vince encouraged us not to mandate the process but to reinvent it within the GM culture. That’s what we did. Fortunately the process took hold in the organization. Within 3 or 4 years it became the foundation of product planning across the corporation. Billions of development and marketing dollars were redirected and GM began to produce winners: Corvette, Silverado pick-up, and the new Cadillac product line. Now GM is at the leading edge again with the Volt and the Bolt. They are also at the cutting edge of integrating the vehicle and the Internet with the OnStar system. All these things would probably not have happened without Vince’s intervention in decision making.
I had the distinct pleasure to work with him for a period of about 8 years. I learned many important lessons about change management in large organizations and the power of process.
In this book, Vince opens his treasure trove of experience in a very readable way. Thank you, Vince, for sharing your personal odyssey and wisdom.
It is worth noting that Vince’s career is not over. He has a leading role in the successful political redistricting of California. A huge accomplishment.