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Bob Herbold

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Retired Executive Vice President of Microsoft Corporation

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About Bob

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Keynote speaker Bob Herbold is an author, public speaker and retired executive vice president and COO of Microsoft Corporation. Since retirement, Bob has split his time between working as a consultant for his own Herbold Group LLC and as a public speaker focusing on leadership. He has a brilliant perspective on the do’s and don’ts of business.  

Bob Herbold is the Managing Director of The Herbold Group, LLC – a consulting business focusing on profitability, strategy, and operations.  Bob also serves on the Board of Directors of Agilent Technologies and of Neptune Orient Shipping Lines.

Bob Herbold is a retired executive vice president of Microsoft Corporation. He joined Microsoft in 1994 as executive vice president and chief operating officer, retiring in 2001. During his time as COO, he was responsible for finance, market research, corporate marketing, manufacturing and distribution, information systems, human resources, and public relations.  The seven years that Bob was the COO, Microsoft experienced a four fold increase in revenue and a seven fold increase in profits.  From 2001 to 2003, Herbold worked half-time as Executive Vice President assisting in customer, industry, and government issues.

Before joining Microsoft, Herbold was with The Procter & Gamble Company for 26 years. For the last five years with the company he served as senior vice president of advertising and information services. Here he was responsible for the company’s worldwide marketing/brand management operations in addition to marketing related services such as media and retail promotion programs.  He was also responsible for the worldwide information technology and market research organizations.

With his experiences at Microsoft and Procter & Gamble, Herbold wrote an article in January 2002 for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Inside Microsoft: Balancing Discipline and Creativity”, focusing on how companies can improve their profitability and agility.  He then went on to write his first book in 2004 titled The Fiefdom SyndromeThe Turf Battles that Undermine Careers and Companies – and How to Overcome Them. His following two books from 2007 and 2011 respectively were titled: Seduced by Success; How the Best Companies Survive the 9 Traps of Winning.  And What’s Holding You Back? Ten Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders.

Herbold’s educational background consists of a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from the University of Cincinnati and both a master’s degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in computer science from Case Western Reserve University. He is a Senior Advisor to the President and Visiting Executive at Thunderbird School of Global Management and is an Adjunct Professor at the National University of Singapore.  He is also the President of The Herbold Foundation, which is mainly focused on providing college scholarships to science and engineering students.

See keynotes with Bob Herbold

    Keynote by Speaker Bob Herbold

    Success Traps: How to Avoid Them

    • This presentation is particularly useful to groups that have been fairly successful in the past and are relatively stable, but are having some difficulty dealing with issues such as a change in the competitive landscape, new technology, new customer needs or simply the natural evolution of an industry.
    • This presentation discusses the human behaviors that cause the complacency and the resulting business traps that generate havoc.
    • Most importantly, numerous approaches are discussed for dealing with these problems or preventing them from ever happening in the first place.


    Keynote by Speaker Bob Herbold

    Courage: The Key to Leadership.

    • This presentation is all about the need for leaders to face reality and deal with it.  That requires tremendous courage.
    • We begin with detailed discussions of Kodak, Nokia, and Fiat and how each of these companies have gotten or are getting close to bankruptcy because the leadership did not have the courage to face reality and make some very tough decisions.
    • We also discuss IBM, Apple, and Porsche, where each of these companies was saved by a strong leader that was inserted (or returned in the case of Apple) at the eleventh hour.
    • We go into details about several other companies such as Canon, BP, Bayer and Hyundai and review the power of properly communicating with the troops about reality and taking action, putting fresh talent in key jobs, and how to create a culture that consistently tackles the future rather than being run over by it.


    Keynote by Speaker Bob Herbold

    Fiefdoms and Silos: What to Do About Them

    • This presentation begins with a description of how things had gotten so complicated and fragmented at Microsoft in the early to mid 1990’s that it was almost impossible to close the books at the end of the quarter and produce the necessary financial numbers for Wall Street.
    • We then cover an example from Procter and Gamble and how Sam Walton himself had to confront the company in 1988 and demand that their bureaucratic sales practices be dismantled.
    • This presentation can be adapted to be meaningful to just about any industry or geography.
    • Also, the messages are very relevant to non-profits, government agencies, and educational institutions.


    Keynote by Speaker Bob Herbold

    Strangled By Complexity?  Ten Principles that Lead to Operational and Innovative Excellence

    • In this presentation we focus on ten courageous principles that that are a roadmap for leading an organization to operate in a lean and agile manner and grow via innovation.
    • For each of the ten principles, we provide several specific suggested actions and provide detailed case studies of actual companies to demonstrate the power of these actions and the implications of not doing these things.


    Keynote by Speaker Bob Herbold

    Increasing the Innovative Potential of Your Organization

    • This presentation is designed to help organizations develop ways to substantially increase the creative and innovative output of their organization.

Interview with Bob Herbold

What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?

The intent with each of my presentations is for people to come away with specific tips about how they themselves as well as their organizations can improve their performance. In virtually all of my presentations, I discuss specific companies that the audience has typically read about in the business press. Some of the cases are about companies or individuals that have gotten into trouble and I analyze why they incurred the difficulties and how they reversed the situation, if they were able to. Others showcase superb examples of leadership and avoidance of the typical business traps.

You get a good sense for the kind of content I focus on by considering the subjects I pursued in the three books that I have written. The first book was the Fiefdom Syndrome and in it I review the kind of turf wars and bureaucracy that companies often experience, and I provide numerous approaches designed to eliminate the problem or to prevent it from ever happening. The second book is titled Seduced by Success and it’s all about various traps that successful organizations often find themselves falling into, and how to get out of/avoid those traps. The most recent book is titled What’s Holding You Back? It’s focused on why managers at virtually all levels have difficulties in making tough decisions, and then it covers ten core principles of courageous leadership.

To get a sense of the content of my presentations, here are the titles of some of the recent talks/keynotes I have given to various organizations:
• Success Traps: How to Avoid Them
• Increasing the Innovative Potential of Your Organization
• Courage: The Key to Leadership
• Strangled By Complexity? Ten Principles that Lead to Operational and Innovative Excellence
• Fiefdoms and Silos: What to Do About Them

How do you prepare for a keynote speech?

Actually I am preparing on an ongoing basis by watching carefully for specific companies who are excelling, or are having problems, and try to understand what is really going on. It’s these specific examples that end up being the majority of the content in my presentations. When it’s time to prepare for a specific presentation, I take into account the specific request of the organization and then put together the materials on how that particular request can best be met.

What kind of experience and knowledge did you gain from your time at Microsoft which you rely on today?

It’s not just Microsoft, it’s also my 26 years at Procter & Gamble. From early 1990’s thru 2001, when I was the COO of Microsoft, the company excelled at keeping itself lean while also providing individuals very focused responsibilities and the authority to get their job done. There was virtually no bureaucracy because the company was growing so fast we were always under-staffed. In retrospect, that leanness was a real blessing. Reality is that most organizations typically hire way too many people, create stifling bureaucracies, and have difficulty making the tough decisions.

Procter & Gamble provided some incredible lessons in thoroughness of understanding your customers; be they internal customers within the company or external customers who are buying your products or services. Secondly, P&G did a great job of developing people. They moved people around a lot to various divisions, giving them totally new experiences which were quite stretching and consequently, that organization is one of the top personnel developers in the world. P&G’s personnel development capabilities are admired by all of industry.

What are some tips for effective leadership?

To me business and leadership are fairly straight forward and all of us need to keep this in mind. Here are the key steps that all leaders should be following at all times. First, given where you are, what is the vision of where you would like to be in a year or two or three? Once you’ve settled on that vision, what are the specific strategies or actions that you need to take and achieve in order for that vision to become reality? Third, re-organize around the strategies so that people know specifically that your intent is to achieve them and put strong performers in the key jobs that will enable you to execute those strategies well. Lastly, have specific measures that clearly indicate whether the vision is being achieved and that indicate the strategies are also making progress toward that vision.

What happens so often in organizations is you attempt to make significant changes with the current organization in its current configuration. In that situation, employees have as their first priority simply carrying out their current responsibilities. The change that you would like to see happen typically ends up being a lower priority. That’s frustrating for everyone.

What type of audience benefits most from your keynotes?

Any organization, be it small or large, can benefit from stepping back occasionally and visiting the basic principles that business success is based on. Those tips I just reviewed in your last question are so fundamental that we often ignore them and simply carry out today’s responsibilities. Taking the time to think through what you are trying to achieve, and hearing about case studies of specific companies, can be enormously helpful in spawning ideas about how to do things better and to improve the impact and effectiveness of your organization. As I mentioned earlier, the hope is that with each presentation, people walk away with specific tips and good insights about how companies can improve and how companies can avoid specific traps that we all face on an ongoing basis.

See keynotes with Bob Herbold
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Keynote topics with Bob Herbold