In her new book, Followership, Barbara Kellerman makes a case for raising the profile of the corporate follower. “So long as we fixate on leaders at the expense of followers, we will perpetuate the myth that [followers] don’t much matter,” writes the Harvard University lecturer. Followers might not have the stature of leaders, she argues, but they are becoming bolder and more strategic “agents of change.” While the followers Kellerman refers to are people, several case studies in this month’s CFO Europe show that her ideas can also be applied to companies.
Consider our look at Benetton in “Fast Clothes.” Not so long ago, the Italian clothing company was at the cutting edge, leading its industry with an innovative supply-chain strategy and ground-breaking marketing. Today, however, it offers an object lesson to industry-leading companies about how quickly they can be overtaken. As Benetton now learns from companies that were once its followers, CFO Emilio Foà discusses the promising turnaround programme currently under way at a company where “you can’t take anything for granted.”
“Growth Engine” provides another angle to “followership” as CFO Holger Kintscher talks about the impressive growth trajectory of Skoda Auto. Once an industry laughing stock, the Czech carmaker has turned a corner since privatisation brought it under Volkswagen’s ownership. Like some of Kellerman’s case studies, Skoda is both a leader and a follower — charting new territory in emerging markets, while subordinating its growth plans to that of its German parent. So far, it’s been a source of a healthy tension at Skoda. For how much longer remains to be seen.
As is the case with leaders, are there bad followers and good followers? Kellerman believes so. Bad followers, she says, are passive bystanders, letting leaders walk all over them; good followers are influential, committed operators, giving leaders a run for their money.