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This story appears in the October 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Forget conventional wisdom. In Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It (HarperBusiness, $25 cloth), author Al Ries argues against growing your company through rampant diversification. To the contrary, he atBODYs, the company that tries to be all things to all people ends up being--you guessed it--nothing to no one.

"It should [be] obvious that a company cannot keep expanding its product line forever," Ries explains. "You reach a point of diminishing returns. You lose your efficiency, your competitiveness, and most ominous of all, your ability to manage a diverse collection of unrelated products and services."

As examples of what not to do, Ries points to failed attempts by companies such as Gerber, Chrysler and Liz Claiborne to expand beyond their core merchandise. "One day a company is tightly focused on a single, highly profitable product," Ries writes. "The next day the company is spread thin over many products and is breaking even or actually losing money. Brand inflation strikes again."

Interestingly, Ries maintains that the global economy makes it all the more essential for companies to set their sights on smaller targets. "The larger the market, the more specialized a company must become if it is going to prosper," he opines. "When we have truly free trade on a worldwide basis, every company in the world will have to specialize in order to survive."

Without question, Ries' perspective is one worth focusing on.

Ill Get Back To You

If you'd like to leave a message, please do so at the beep. . . ."

"Hello, this is my third message to you, and . . ."

Is there anything more annoying than the unreturned phone call? You've called and you've called--but you've yet to make the connection. What to do?

Authors Robert L. Shook and Eric Yaverbaum think they have the answers you need in I'll Get Back to You: 156 Ways to Get People to Return Your Calls and Other Helpful Sales Tips (McGraw-Hill, $9.95 paper). "Because we interviewed a wide array of people from different parts of the country," Shook and Yaverbaum write, "you have a large selection of techniques to choose from."

These techniques include everything from the straightforward approach (promising not to waste the other person's time) to the truly bizarre (pretending to hypnotize the person on the other end of the line). Whatever method you employ, the authors caution, should be determined by who your intended target is--and how good a sense of humor he or she has.

First Person

What better way to learn how to handle management dilemmas than to get solutions straight from the horse's mouth? That's the premise of First Person: Tales of Management Courage and Tenacity (Harvard Business School Press, $19.95 cloth). Edited by Thomas Teal, this collection of Harvard Business Review articles explores a range of experiences.

Take, for example, the gut-wrenching account of one businessman faced with an unproductive AIDS-stricken employee. "On the one hand, I knew that removing Jim was necessary to meet my responsibilities as a manager. On the other hand, I believed that taking action against him meant failing my responsibilities as a human being," he writes. "I had never had to force the . . . reassignment of an employee who was facing death."

In another scenario, a casualty of corporate downsizing reflects on his many struggles to make the transition from highly paid executive to highly overworked entrepreneur. He became a franchisee to shield himself from the hazards of going it alone. That shield was removed, however, when his franchisor effectively went under.

Don't misunderstand, though: These aren't gloom-and-doom stories meant to dissuade the faint of heart. On the contrary, they're simply honest takes on the challenges that come with authority.


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