Where do you see your company in 5 years?

Five years from now the top companies on the Fortune 100 list could easily be a very different group of names.  Looking backward, we can point to many industries and when their downfall began.  It wasn’t quick but a slow progression as consumer behavior changed and technology ramped up.  From new brands to more nimble organizations who are on the cutting edge of technology.

For instance, when I think about retail, I remember when the height of the big department stores went from reigning to now.  It was when Robert Campeau, a Canadian real estate developer, used the Junk Bond Market, to leverage debt to come into the US markets and buy Allied stores just because of Ed Finkelstein, the Chair of Macy’s wasn’t interested in using Campeau’s capital to take on some debt.  It was 1985.   That moment of pure ego driven power was the beginnings of a slow slide down a huge hill to where we are today.

I was at Macy’s in 1983 and it was an incredible year.  There was a culture of success and excitement that was empowering and I was running the second largest cosmetic department in the chain.  I was 22.  Once the debt situation began, you could feel the shift quickly, at least I did, and I made the move to leave.  I saw the writing on the wall.  Macy’s leaders were no longer riding high but were running around with massive debt on their hands to combat the change and it wasn’t pretty.

I had a really interesting conversation with Rachel Shechtman, the founder of Story, this week when we did a podcast (coming soon) about how do you change retail but our conversation can be applied to any industry.  I would start with the question of what do you want to look like in 5 years.  People ask themselves that when they are thinking about their careers.  The only way to plan a roadmap is to know where the road is going.  Her thesis and I agree wholeheartedly, is that these industries need to take their companies down to the studs (usually the analogy of doing a complete gut renovation) and rethink the entire work organization chart from the top down and bottom up.  New titles, new revenue models, new product and start again.  The stocks may plummet but they will eventually rise from the ashes.

The years to come will be quite interesting because when and if any of these companies do that, the number of people they need to be working there will be significantly less.  Cultures and priorities must change with new nimble blood.  If they can’t do it, they will not be able to hang their hats on years of business because the hat hook will have disappeared.