When I described our most recent restructuring plan to a friend – a seasoned and successful financial professional - he was certain we must have hired McKinsey & Co. to help us think things through. Wrong. It was Erika Andersen. Danny Meyer, CEO, Union Square Hospitality Group


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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Apr
25

Watching Business Evolve: The Craft Beer Revolution

I spent the weekend participating in TAP NY – billed as both the largest craft beer festival in New York State and the largest single-state craft beer festival in the US. It was enormously fun: I had the pleasure of helping my husband Patrick dispense his Great Life beer to hundreds of jovial people over the course of the two days.  And – thrilling to us –  his 1875 Milk Stout won the Bronze Medal in the Hudson Valley Stouts category.Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.36.14 AM

I love being involved (peripherally) in Patrick’s brewery partly because he’s so passionate about it, partly because brewing beer is intrinsically interesting (and I love finding out things), and partly because it’s so fascinating watching this business niche -craft brewing – explode.

On the TAP NY website, their own history page describes the geometric curve that is craft brewing. They started in 1998 at the Culinary institute of America in Hyde Park, NY with a handful of breweries, styling themselves the Hudson Valley Craft Beer and Food Festival. After just a few years they outgrew that site, moved to the Hunter Mountain Ski area, renamed the event TAP NY, and expanded to include all of NY state. Over the next few years, the festival continued to grow slowly, with about 25 breweries involved by 2007.  Then, in true geometric curve fashion, it really began to ramp up: 40 breweries in 2010, over 60 in 2013, almost 90 in 2015, and 116 breweries attending this past weekend.

When I wasn’t busy drawing 4-oz tasting glasses for the continual stream of folks who stopped by our booth, I wandered around and observed. In some ways, the craft beer culture is like any newly vital business sector, with lots of early entrants wanting to get in on the action.  It’s analogous to the early 20th century in autos, when there were literally hundreds of car makers in the US. Then the larger manufacturers began to take over through superior distribution and economies of scale, and the smaller auto companies began to go out of business or get bought up.  But beer has already been through that evolution: in the late 19th century, it’s estimated there were over 4,000 mostly small independent breweries operating in the US.  Then brewing began to go through the same kind of consolidation, helped along by prohibition.  In 1935 there were only about 750 breweries in the US, and by 1980, there were only about 50 brewing companies in the whole country. And, as one beer writer in the 1980s commented, “They are pale lager beers vaguely of the pilsener style…They do not all taste exactly the same but the differences between them are often of minor consequence.” Beer had become standardized and commercialized: what could be made most efficiently and while appealing to the largest number of people.

Then, in the late 1980s, the tide started to turn.  As people began to explore using locally grown and naturally sourced foods, they also started get interested in the possibility of drinking beer that was locally produced, with stronger and more interesting flavors. Once the trend started, it gained momentum every year, as evidenced by the growth of TAP NY and dozens of similar festivals across the country. In 1990 there were about 400 microbreweries and brewpubs in the US: in 2015, there were over 4000. We’ve now matched (and are on a path to exceeding) the high-water mark for American breweries set in 1873.

The big commercial breweries are still selling most of the beer drunk in the US – but the craft beer share of sales is significant and growing yearly: one recent statistic estimates that around 13% of the beer consumed in the US today is produced in craft breweries (doubled from just a few years ago).

I’m fascinated to see how this business of craft beer will continue to evolve.  In one way, it’s a return to the way humans consumed beer hundreds of years ago, where every village had its own brewer, often the owner of the local tavern and his wife.  And in another, it’s completely modern: a manifestation of the free-lance, entrepreneurial, artisanal explosion of  the last decade, where more people want to work for themselves and join together with small groups of like-minded others to create products and offer services about which they feel passionate. One element of the craft beer explosion I find really interesting: although still largely male, craft brewing seems not to be age-specific. As I wandered the booths this weekend, I noted some brewers in their 20s and some in their 60s – and everything in between. I also noted that nearly everyone, brewers and samplers alike, seemed to be having a great time.

And I don’t think it was just the mellowing effect of the beer itself: it’s fun to create things you love, it’s fun to connect with the people who make the things you consume, and it’s fun to consume things that are made with care and attention.

¡Viva la evolucion!


Aug
28

Staying Amazed

Tomorrow my husband and I are flying to Hong Kong.  I have client work to do there, and he was able to take the time off (since he’s now his own boss) to join me.  We were talking this morning about what a pain it’s going to be, having to be stuck on an airplane for 16 hours. But at least, we noted, we’re traveling in business, and so will be able to get some sleep.

Then I started thinking about my dad’s dad’s parents, two young immigrants from Denmark, Nils Andersen and Mina Jenson, who met working on a farm in upstate New York. They married, saved their money, bought a wagon, and traveled to Nebraska to start a new life on a farm of their own – taking advantage of the Homestead Act that offered free land to anyone who filed a claim and lived there for five years. It took them – and this is the point of the story – just over 2 months to make the journey.

So, only 125 years ago, my great-grandparents spent 2 months jolting along in an open wagon in the broiling sun, fending off hunger, thirst, wild animals and god knows what else, in order to get to their destination just 1,200 miles away.  And I’m bitching about being pampered in a luxurious, entertainment-equipped, fully-climate-controlled environment for 16 hours while I travel 8,000 miles.

There are so many aspects of this journey about which I should be absolutely amazed, vs. whiny and jaded. It’s actually amazing to me that airplanes even work, just to begin with, let alone what’s evolved out of that unbelievable reality over the past century.

I noticed that as soon as I shifted my focus from “I hate long flights” to “It’s amazing that this is possible” – my entire emotional state about the trip started to change. Now I’m feeling kind of excited, not only about being in Hong Kong (the first time for me) – but also about the flight itself.  It’s like being in a high-end hotel for 16 hours, moving at unimaginable speeds…that’s pretty fascinating.  I suspect I’ll now experience that 16 hours differently than I would have otherwise; that I may enjoy it a good deal more, and that I may find other useful or interesting understanding or ideas arise from the experience.

So much of what surrounds us these days is simply astonishing, and is unlike anything that’s ever existed in human history. It’s easy to forget that, to get ho-hum and complacent.  But I find that when I step back and allow myself to be astonished, good things happen. It opens up my brain and my heart, and I can see situations, events and possibilities in new ways.

Note to self: stay amazed.


May
13

Obama Showing Courage and Wisdom

I’m a fan of our President.  I voted for him in 2008, and I intend to vote for him again. I believe he’s doing a good job, especially with all that he and the country have had to deal with since he’s been elected.

I’m especially proud of him this week, given his statements in support of  same-sex marriage. I agree with his position: I feel strongly that two adults who love and want to commit their lives to each other; who want to become spouses, should be able to do.

As I’ve watched him come to this decision and share it with the nation, I’m pleased to see both courage and wisdom in it.  Courage in a leader is a blend of toughness, decisiveness, willingness to move past one’s own limitations, humility and resilience.  It involves making difficult business and personal decisions; overcoming fear and risk to act on those decisions; and responding to the outcomes of those decisions in a responsible way.  People need courageous leaders in order to know that someone will make the tough calls and take responsibility for them.

Wisdom is one of the attributes that balances courage: it is the ability to reflect and understand, to grow from that understanding, and to share the insight that arises out of that reflection and growth.  Wisdom is the process of consciously learning from one’s experience, and offering that learning for the benefit of others and of the enterprise. I really liked hearing the President talk about how his own point of view on this issue had evolved over the past few years through knowing and talking with gay and lesbian couples on his staff and in the military, people who loved each other and who wanted to marry – but couldn’t.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me – I know politics is a contentious realm, especially these days. But I’m really glad to have a president I respect, one who demonstrates the qualities I most want to see in any leader, but most of all in my country’s leader.


Dec
1

Working All Over the World

I’m convinced that work and business the whole world over are more similar than they are different.  It’s grounded in my belief that core human nature is more powerful, for the most part, than culture or demographics.  I was recently interviewed for a magazine called the Asia-Pacific Business and  Technology Report, about career strategies – and the questions were not much different than those I would have gotten if the interviewer were in Kansas rather than Korea.

In any case, take a look and see what you think…you may see subtle differences I missed. In any case,  I love the idea that I might be helping people in Seoul or Beijing have a more successful career.


May
26

Work + Fear = Mediocre Results

A friend and colleague sent me a great article from the NY Times about the effects of fear in the workplace. The author argues that when employees are fearful, they hesitate to do anything outside the norm for fear of repercussions.  Creativity, innovation, and smart risk-taking erode: all require thinking and behavior outside the norm.

It’s interesting: as most companies continue to recover from the depths of the recession, I note two very different responses on the part of senior management.  In some organizations, there’s a renewed – even heightened -sense of hope and possibility: “We made it through!  Everything’s starting to flow again — let’s REALLY make it work this time.”

In other organizations, the response seems exactly the opposite: “We may have made it through this far…but we could fall back into the ditch at any moment. Let’s keep a really tight rein on everything to make sure nothing bad happens.”

Given the deleterious effects of fear on employees – on their morale, their commitment, their creativity – I suspect that this fearful, defensive approach might create the very thing its proponents are attempting to avoid.

I propose this: learn every lesson you can from the events of the past three years.  Then be bold. Engage people, with hope, in seeing and creating reasonable aspirations for your company’s future.


May
2

The Donald Comes Up Short

As I’ve observed the whole “birther” movement over the past few months, with Donald Trump and various Tea Party adherents declaring with absolute certainty the “fact” of Obama’s  foreign origins, my overall response has been…what?

Well, maybe a little more colorful than that but – you get the point.  When the state of Hawaii finally released Obama’s birth certificate a few days ago, and then when the President went to town on the Donald at the Washington Press Correspondents’ Dinner, I was pretty pleased; at last this silliness can be laid to rest.

But I suspect that some other goofy movement will arise; some other reason why Obama shouldn’t be – can’t be – the president.  I could chalk it up to simple, awful racism, but I actually think it’s a little more complicated than that.  I think some people just can’t get their heads around the fact of Obama’s ‘differentness’ on lots of levels: too young, too black, too smart, too straightforward (contrast his “I did drugs in high school” with Clinton’s “I never inhaled”) too obviously in love with his wife – who is clearly his partner and equal, vs. his very secondary helpmeet…all things that we’ve come not to expect from Presidents.

So, for some people, if Obama doesn’t look, act and sound as they think a President should, based on their pre-existing assumptions, it’s not the assumptions that are off – it’s him.

Reminds me of my last post about dandelions…


Sep
15

Change is the New Black

I heard somebody say this the other day – and had to smile.  I think it’s not only kind of funny, but true: change has become the basic, day-in-day-out reality of business life.  I was asked recently to write an article for Forbes.com on being strategic in these times of such deep and consistent change.  It was part of a special report package about change management.

I very much enjoyed writing it – and Fred Allen, forbes.com’s leadership editor, had some excellent edits that made it even crisper – but I enjoyed even more Forbes’ appreciation of the need for staying strategic in times of change.  As I’ve said before, it’s all too easy to default to the tactical/survival/hunker down mentality when things are looking unfamiliar and scary.

It takes clarity, courage and focus to keep thinking about how to create a successful future for yourself, your family, your business in times of change. I like to think that the tools and approaches Proteus offers help provide the clarity and focus.

The courage is up to each of us.


Mar
12

Three Star Leadership Blog: What Women Want (at Work)

Three Star Leadership Blog: What Women Want (at Work).

A great post by my friend Wally Bock. I knew he was smart and insightful – I didn't know he was also an ardent feminist, in the best possible sense of the word.

I suspect having had a mother who was in business in the fifties and sixties might have been a major factor in his evolution in this regard.

He talks about the ways in which the playing field is still not level, and references some excellent blogs that focus on women's issues.

Posted in Current Affairs

Jan
7

The Crystal Ball

I have a feeling this is going to be a good year.  Now, that might be simply because I'm (as someone who reviewed one of my books once said) a "relentless optimist."  But it might also be true.

I suspect that the economic upheavals over the past 18 months could actually provide – are actually providing -  all kinds of impetus for new growth, fresh thinking, alternative pathways to success.

Fireweed-yukon_470 It's like a forest fire.  It's a scary, awful thing when it's happening: animals die, people lose their homes.  In fact, though, forest fires are necessary – beneficial in the long-term.  Here's a paragraph from an article I found on the science buzz blog:

"Even as the fires were crackling through the branches of pines, birch and spruce, the start of new tree growth was already popping. The heat from the burning trees pops open the cones on those trees, releasing seeds that have been waiting to get loose for years. Millions of those seeds were dumped on the forest floor and within less than a month, some of them germinate, pop through the soil and start growing into little seedlings…In fact, fire is a natural part of the forest’s regeneration system. Most forest trees need to be exposed to fire every 50 to 100 years to invigorate new growth."

Don't get me wrong – this has been dreadful, and I know a lot of people are still feeling the effects (I have a beautiful house in Kingston, New York that I've been trying to sell since 2008 – interested?).  I just think that the destruction of some outmoded assumptions and ways of operating might clear the way for more thoughtful, balanced approaches, and for companies that have something new and useful to bring to the party.

What do you think?

Posted in Current Affairs

Sep
15

It’s Official – Kind Of

Bernanke Says Recession ‘Is Very Likely Over at This Point’ – NYTimes.com.

In this brief article in the NYTimes, Ben Bernanke opines (with supporting data) that the recession is officially over.  Pretty much.  He cautiously states:

"the consensus of economic forecasters is for moderate economic growth for the remainder of this year and next, particularly as credit markets thaw, consumer confidence takes time to heal and the federal government begins to unwind spending and lending programs intended to mend the economy."

Spring-trees-shepherds-lane-124724 And that's certainly what I'm feeling and hearing in talking to clients and observing my own business.  It feels like a slow thaw, but a thaw nonetheless — with executives beginning to move forward in new ways, invest, grow, develop people, build teams.

It's kind of like those first couple of weeks of spring, when it's still a little chilly, a little brown, patches of ice in the shade…but then you look across the river and notice that the trees are just in that green-gauze state that precedes actual leafing out.

I'm looking forward to seeing what this new season brings in the world of business…

What are you all seeing and feeling in this regard?

Posted in Current Affairs