Brian McDonald
April 28, 2019

BTOES19 EXCLUSIVE Thought Leader Piece: Strategy and Execution

Strategy and Execution

Courtesy of International PaperBrian McDonald has written an article introducing his presentation: 'Strategy and Execution'Click here to see the all BTOES19 Speakers.

There are only two cases when strategy is not important to a company, you have no competition or you do not care if you lose. I have never found either applicable. Strategy simply stated is about winning and we want to win. Winning with and for customers, winning in our operations and winning for our shareholders. Winning these micro and macro battles are interconnected. Winning requires both strategy and execution. I believe this topic, while frequently discussed is usually over complicated and frequently misunderstood. Focusing on the critical elements of what creates value and what does not and what creates a right to win and what does not is vital for every company’s success.  Adding  management tools of frequent measurement, feedback and adjustment gives a company the best chance to win.

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There are core elements or “non-negotiables” for a good strategy:

  • The agreed correct, clear, concise and quantified (therefore measurable) objectives. There is a lot of thoughtful hard work in this space. The work must be done. Done correctly, it galvanizes the enterprise and its stakeholders on the company’s concrete ambitions.
  • A clear understanding of how the company makes money/creates value along with a clear quantification of the logic and math of value creation in our space. This element is frequently overlooked. All stakeholders should be able to articulate. This is foundational to success.
  • Clarity on how the company creates advantages (what good looks like and what it does not look like) and how those advantages translate into the company creating value execution step by execution step. Sources of advantage tend to reside in two broad buckets, where a company competes, and how a company competes. This must be understood for a company to understand how a strategic action improves its advantage(s) and therefore what the strategic action is worth.
  • A Framework of principles and constraints with bright lines and an understanding of the tradeoffs in our choices which using our principles and constraints will guide us to the best choices. Bright lines are vital. Being binary in your methodology is a strength not a weakness. No two companies are the same so their principles and constraints will be unique. I tend to categorize the key principles into Value Creation (Creates value efficiently), Profitability (Improves absolute advantage), Risk (understand it and not betting the company), Growth and Actionability.

Execution against the strategy is vital for real success.  On the front end, we need to have made sure the key stakeholders (Board of Directors, Management and Shareholders) understand the strategy in appropriate levels of granularity and disclosure so we can appropriately engage them in our Strategic discussions.

We must be able to articulate:

  • What we are looking for i.e. markets, geographies, segments, positions…
  • Why we are looking for it
  • What we are not looking for i.e. markets, geographies, segments, positions…
  • Why we are not looking for it

We then keep the stakeholders current with an appropriate cadence of updates on how we are performing in our execution.

It is the rare CEO that goes into a position without the ambition to make the company more valuable and better positioned when their tenure is complete vs when it began. A winning CEO and Strategy means the company is more valuable and better positioned. To do this requires strategy and execution.

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About International Paper

"International Paper is one of the world’s leading producers of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper. We create packaging products that protect and promote goods, enable worldwide commerce and keep consumers safe; pulp for diapers, tissue and other personal hygiene products that promote health and wellness; and papers that facilitate education and communication." Headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, International Paper employs approximately 52,000 people worldwide and is strategically located in more than 24 countries serving customers around the globe.


About the Author

Brian McDonald: Strategy and Execution

Brian McDonald started his career with Westvaco in Forest Operations and joined International Paper in 1987. He has held roles in the company’s manufacturing and commercial operations, including the director of the company’s Russian operations, president of IP Asia, Vice President Investor Relations, and most recently Deputy CEO of Ilim Group. Click here to see the all BTOES19 Speakers.

Brian earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology at Brandeis University. He has a Master of Forestry degree from Duke University, and an MBA from the University of Virginia.

Brian served two terms as a Board of Visitor’s member of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University, and has served on the Board of Eisenhower Fellowships, and Carter Holt Harvey.

Brian, his wife, Margaret, and their daughter, Isabel, reside in Memphis.


I will be presenting on this topic at the Business Transformation & Operational Excellence World Summit (BTOES19)  

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