Change Of Face


Tracking Transmigrations

The idea of changing forms precedes modern business. Ancient civilizations passed down legends of werewolves and shapeshifters like the Norse god Loki. A more recent example is American Express, which started out a century and a half ago as a freight forwarder but has become a preeminent global financial services company. Some companies even see shapeshifting as a key to survival.

Transmigration involves more than jumping fences to get into what appears to be greener pastures, Successful shapeshifters are careful to enter new businesses where existing core competencies will give them an edge. For instance, says Sheehy, American Express migrated into financial services after becoming expert at doing money transfers for immigrants it was transporting to 19th-century America.

To identify a transmigration opportunity, listen to the fringes, advises Sheehy. "Very rarely are these transmigrations spawned from the center [of an organization]," he says. "It usually comes as an opportunity on the periphery."

Suspect a transmigration opportunity if a sideline business unexpectedly begins producing sales and profits that are growing faster than your main business. "Pay attention when something that should be a sideshow starts looking less like [that] and more like the main event," advises Sheehy.

Techniques such as economic value added, or EVA, analysis can also help you determine whether the activities are adding value to your company. "As these businesses begin to prove themselves," says Sheehy, "they tend to add value very quickly."

Don't move too radically to take advantage of transmigration opportunities, however. Stay involved in your established businesses while exploring new ones. Eventually, the older businesses may die natural deaths, but don't hurry them. "The old can go on for a long time," says Sheehy. Often, profits from the old business pay for the costs to start the new one.

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This article was originally published in the April 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Change Of Face.

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