Independent research has proven that just one System can increase corporate value creation by 56%! Compound that annually!
Yet hardly any company is aware of this research and using these proven components. So the market opportunity and ability to improve companies is huge.
This is not to say AirTight Management contains everything about the art of management, or leadership. It does not and that would be impossible because any "art" is in reality filled with creativity, judgment calls, taste and/or style. There are many problems that have no clear right or wrong solution, but need context in the specific situation to decide.
AirTight Management is the framework for these difficult things. AirTight System #2 includes five key styles of management that every manager should know how to use. And when each is appropriate for the circumstances. It includes many models and descriptions of the entire spectrum of management. It is a framework with hundreds of ideas, best practices and processes that are tools of management. Most are not taught in schools but must be learned from reading hundreds of books and practiced.
Our Six Systems approach is more comprehensive than any other available because it covers all aspects of the business across all disciplines including sales, marketing, finance, product development and operations (or customer service if you prefer).
AirTight Management was created in 2009 by bring together the intellectual property developed over 20 years by our CEO. Mr. Norton grew two businesses to over $100 million in sales rapidly, and has consulted for hundreds of companies, training thousands of CEOs, executives, managers and entrepreneurs since 2002.
Done well the AirTight Six Systems will most likely turn your company into the market leader in your industry over time by creating a high-performance culture and teams. Using just one or two Systems will likely increase your growth and market share significantly.
Less than 1 in 100 companies will grow to $10,000,000 in sales or more. Often this is the result of poor management and planning. The result is often founders will be replaced by "professional management" or the companies will be sold or closed. Many companies will just go sideways for a decade or more, not knowing why they fail to grow.
Everyone needs to learn from history, science and best practices, not reinvent the wheel. Management teams, and even CEOs, will often outgrow their experience level as a company grows and they need help to break through several plateaus, or invisible barriers. This can sometimes be done with a good coach or mentor, but a comprehensive set of proven Systems and best practices with a combination of coahing and training is quickest and best.
The AirTightTM Management Story
By Bob Norton, Founder & CEO
The Foundation - Skip to the "Lightbuld Moment" section if you do not like biographies.
Every story has to start somewhere and I started my career as a technologist. First a Software Engineer, then a software Architect. After three and a half years I became a Director of Software Development for Business Research Corporation. We sold this company three years later to The International Thomson Organization (ITO). Today it is called Thomson-Reuters and is part of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate in information services. In 1986 I became Vice President of Research and Development and ran the "skunkworks" product development group for Thomson. I had about sixty software engineers under me and we did some pretty amazing things. We grew from a startup with no revenue to $100 million in sales in five years.
Boy did I learn a lot about market research, product design, strategy, management and operations of businesses in those years. I did five design and build cycles, five product launches (market entries) and created five successful businesses. We batted 1000! When I left the company in 1989 it was worth $700 million! We had sold out for about $30 million on December 31st 1986. Note to self: Never sell out at the base of the "hockey stick curve" again. Ouch. But what a great experience and I got a nice piece of change from my stock options.
The engineering discipline taught me to structure things, always create a strong foundation and philosophy. It gave me an ability to project the future in product development. We were a decade ahead of the average development group at that time. In software you also abstract things so that everything you build is reusable. My team's productivity was literally eleven times the industry average and we built five winning products in five years. This experience was the perfect way to transition from technologist to serial entrepreneur - which I always knew was in my blood and my destiny like my dad.
After my three year "earn-out" from the equity ownership of the sale of the company to Thomson I founded my first company as CEO in 1989. We developed one of the first high definition, virtual home touring systems for the residential real estate industry. Sales skyrocketed to $156 million in less than 18 months after release. Over 78% of the brokers in our Boston market were participating too. It was amazing, and certainly another intense learning and growth experience as a first time CEO and founder.
In the following eight years I ran two more companies as CEO and continued to read an average of six books a month on business, management, leadership and entrepreneurship. I was constantly trying to improve and push the envelope of Mangement Science and products. I never missed a chance to develop new skills. I simply loved to learn new things. I do not mean to convey that everything was all roses. The fact is startups and running companies is always a roller coaster ride with high pressure and lots of tough "learning" along the way. I was no exception there. Sometimes that learning costs a small fortune and takes a long time. However, I was able to combine the discipline and methods of engineering, with its critical thinking and logic, with the art of business to break new ground.
IBM pulled a $34 million financing from one of my companies without warned during the first Gulf War preventing my company from reaping the rewards of an already proven business model. My stock, which was worth eight figures at one point, become almost worthless. Lesson # 396.
When the tragedy of 9/11 hit in 2001 the venture capital market for early-stage companies closed at a very inopportune time. We were forced to sell a company I knew was a winner that I wanted to run up to an IPO. Sometimes timing and luck are everything. There is lots of trial and error in entrepreneurship and innovation and always will be I believe. Your greatest learning comes from failure and adversity.
In 2002 I founded my current company to help companies other comapnies break through to their next level and scale. So few people know how to do this. I figured that it would be lots of fun and leverage my 21 years' experience at that time. I published over fifty articles on entrepreneurship, management and leadership. I started inventing ground breaking models and tools that really helped my clients perform better than their peers.
My first book, The Start-Up Manual, had a complete roadmap for entrepreneurs starting companies with a CD-ROM containing hundreds of helpful tools and files. I was creating serious "how to" information for small businesses and managers. It was very specific and very comprehensive. It still is some of the best material today because it is all timeless. It is about people, management, leadership, marketing, branding and operating companies well. In spite of all the people that want to sell something "new" every few years by renaming some twenty year old practice the reality is people change on an evolutionary time frame. Managing them has been the same for 100 years and will be for 100 more. However, you have to adjust to the situation on many dimensions that most professional managers do not understand.
In 2004 I gave the first CEO Boot Camp. An intensive training for entrepreneurs, CEOs and senior executives. It took me over six months of full-time work to develop that curriculum. It teaches senior executives how to design a winning business model, optimize that model, launch the business and then run it in the early-stages. The frameworks contains twelve tools and is called Rapid Growth By DesignTM. CEOs from over 20 countries came and I gave the Boot Camp in many states and on two continents until 2009. It is now available only on DVD here. Then in 2009 I invented AirTight Management. This was clearly destined to be my opus. It combined everything I had learned over 25 years of management and 20 years as a CEO. It incorporates all the previous material and adds many hundreds of other best practices I gathered and models I created or found building on the shoulders of past management and leadership gurus.
The Light Bulb Moment - Yes, That Really Happens Sometimes
By 2009 I had now run five companies as a CEO, including my current company and ridden two to over $100 million in sales from start-up. I was getting lots of clients that needed basic management systems and infrastructure. Boring. Most founders I met had outgrown their ability to manage the company in basic ways and needed leverage, advice and systemization. This stuff was automatic for me and easy to do. I thought everybody knew this stuff and it was common sense and reflex for me - but I was wrong. Simple Systems and frameworks enabled them to leap to another level. Many went from a few million to tens of millions, or now had the potential to do that with a good Strategic Plan and other Management Systems in place. One was sold to Amazon.com for hundreds of millions, others doubled or tripled their growth rates.
Then sitting on a plane one day traveling to the West Coast I suddenly realized, that everything I had been doing for the last 20 years starting and running companies, and consulting for them, could be encompassed in a single framework of six systems. The idea actually shook me to the bones that something so vast and sophisticated could be boiled down to just six main components, or Systems. Note the intentional capital "S" in Systems now because that day this had become a proper name.
This idea was a shocking revelation because leadership, management and entrepreneurship are so gestalt. They are all complex and hard to explain to people.
Entrepreneurship, management and leadership are art, science, critical thinking and experience all rolled into one. You cannot just teach someone an "art". But my eight years work in engineering, and that structured mindset and discipline, had combined with decades of running companies and allowed me to see many things others could not.
This stuff was now reflex for me. I didn't even have to consciously think to do a lot of it. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, calls this phenomenon "Unconscious Competence" in his terrific book "Blink". Everyone should read it as the principles can be used every day to improve your work and life. My brain had literally been rewired to be a parallel processing machine for business from three decades of practice. Since then Neuroscience has shown that the brain is literally rewiring neurons to become specializes "processors" of certain complex tasks.
I realized I could do things in a "blink" that others could never do. This is almost the definition of a true "expert" to me. It was kind of like the finale in The Matrix where Neo (Keanu Reeves) is standing in the hallway and suddenly started seeing all the green numbers flowing. Well, okay, that may be a little over-dramatic because it took decades to get there, but you get my point I think. The real-world example most everyone can probably relate to is learning to drive. One day, slowly over years, you get to the point where you get in your car at work and drive home not thinking about driving at all. You are planning the weekend or working on some other problem in your head. It happens so gradually you do not notice really. There is a device in the brain called the Reticular Activating System that grabs your conscious attention if it is needed and interrupts those other things you are doing if you hear screeching brakes or see any kind of threat. Think of the caveman in the woods hearing a cracking stick over all the other sounds of noise, water and leaves crushing under his feet. A pretty useful device to survive really. Now it can be used in the modern age for other things.
This phenomenon is a real thing that is now recognized by neuroscience, monks and gurus. Even NASA did a study proving the brain can physically rewire itself in as little as about 30-40 days when needed. They made people wear glasses that inverted the world and within that time the brain rewired so the people could see what was upside-down going into their eyes, right side up!
Anyway I now realized that if a company did these six things reasonably well it would set up a very powerful, self-correcting corporate culture with discipline about literally all the things that mattered to succeed. I realized it effectively formed a closed (loop) system that was "airtight", self-correcting and evolved with all internal and external circumstances. I ran scenarios of dozens of clients in my head during the rest of the flight. Without fail every problem ultimately traced back to the lack of one of these Six Systems! BAM! Wow! Pow! Exciting!
AirTight was a "discovery" of sorts but also an invention. It was a step forward in Management Science, but few people would be able to understand it. Like String Theory and particle physics you need to study for years just to be able to converse about it intelligently. That was obviously going to be a "marketing problem", but it did not dull my excitement over this revelation that all business problems could be solved by one framework of Six Management Systems. AirTight Management's framework of Systems broke down a mind blowing problem (how to run a company and make thousands of decisions) into some component parts that could be solved far easier. It made these things more teachable, and even framed them in a way that far more people could understand.
Well I figured my subconscious mind had been working on this for many years and it finally decided to let it all out at once. In fact sitting in that same plane seat I even came up with the name AirTightTM Management before we even landed. It seemed perfect. The Six Systems created a three dimensional cube that virtually locks everything into a closed, sealed, self-correcting "box". Hence our "sealed cube" logo and 3D animation branding designed later.
It also became clear that each System naturally supported the others to provide a self-correcting eco-system, or Operating System for a company. This insight, after decades of management experience running companies, and consulting on growth and performance led, to the creation of the AirTight Management brand. I became committed to make it a "standard" someday. One that would help managers and companies grow faster and more smoothly. One that could save many companies and ideas from the trash bin of history and bankruptcy court. One that would create market leading companies. A standard that would lay a roadmap for professional managers to develop over their careers to become world-class managers and leaders. This is not something that is taught in today's universities, MBA programs or even advanced training for experienced professionals. That is because it is too big a problem not to break down into many parts.
The Build of AirTight Management's Six Systems
In the following months and years (2009-2013) really, I began to synthesize everything I learned in my career. I used literally hundreds of proven best practices gleaned from books and experience, literally thousands of ideas. Each naturally fit into one of the Six Systems, it was easy that way. A couple things overlapped in two Systems but no problem. I rolled in all the intellectual property (IP) I had created in the last ten years from The CEO Boot Camp, The Start-Up Manual, dozens of articles and over 30 other management training products. I captured ideas and used every consulting engagement I had to add more to this treasure trove of intellectual property. I documented and systematized everything I was doing for clients even more than before.
From that day on every client problem started with the question: "Is this a problem where the Six Systems of AirTight can solve it?". It turned out if you traced the symptom back far enough then one of the Six Systems, implemented properly, would have always prevented it from manifesting. So the question them became how do I integrate additional components into the Six Systems during this engagement. I owned everything I developed and the clients got to use everything I had developed for the past decade or more. It was a clear win-win, and what I call a "Service to product flip" model of bootstrapping. This is where selling your services pays for the development of your products so you do not need outside capital and retain 100% ownership. AirTight Management could never be a pure "product" because every company is different, and any real art requires experience too, not just information. However, AirTight could be "Productized" to a great degree. The Six Systems could be dropped in as templates to customize for each company. Starting points that got them 80% to 95% there in a few weeks. This would cut many years off the development of the company's own internal systems and boost any managers' abilities more rapidly. These Systems would also eliminate years of trial and error and slow progress. It would accelerate their development and give them a huge competitive advantage.
Jim Collin's wonderful book Good to Great, which I recommend every business person read, talks about great companies having the ability to maintain innovation but also have high discipline. AirTight Management is the entire "how" of that need. AirTight is the structure for companies to constantly innovate and improve. AirTight is a framework to develop both high-performance managers and an ideal culture that will attract and keep top people.
After many years of development AirTight Management now contains the best ideas from over one-hundred business gurus and selected from over one thousand books I read during the last thirty years. These ideas were selected based on actual experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur, so they were real-world tested for practicality. These are not academic theory but proven best practices that I had used in my own companies for decades in many cases.
The Need Today For More Structure in Management
It is really quite amazing that we have literally millions of full-time, professional managers in the U.S. alone and yet no "System" of advancement for them. Sure you can get an MBA but that means very little because experience, not book learning is what matters. You could go to seminars, get various certifications but these were essentially almost random skills, not a progression of the art of management and leadership. We have no standard of certification, though we have the American Management Association (AMA) and literally thousands of business organizations, training companies and schools. But there is no way to climb the ladder of management expertise, experience or any standard tools in this vast art. The only way is to read a lot and practice the art of management every day. I guess this challenge was just too broad and complex for anyone to have ever attempted. It took me about twenty years as a CEO plus eight years in engineering to be so experienced and bold to say: "The art of Management can be organized and systematized into a single framework". This is not exactly science, like Einstein's attempt at the Unified Field Theory. It is art, not science. But I believe it is truly a major step forward in Management Science to have a framework, set of styles and best practices that young managers can learn and practice as they get their first five to ten years of management experience. It is a roadmap to move from a novice manager to an excellent leader and even a CEO. AirTight can move individual managers and companies from "Seat of the pants" management to professional best practices, and over time to be world-class. It can give companies a serious competitive edge that will put them market leading positions over time. Even poor companies will "self-correct" the things they are doing poorly over time. They will become successful if the management team adopts the systems and principles even half way. Of course, you have to hire good people too, but that is built into System #6 Human Capital Acquisition and Development (HCAD) too.
Now I am not a famous Harvard University Business School professor, or a best-selling author, so I knew it would be a long time before I could convince the world that AirTight Management was the state-of-the-art in Management Systems. AirTight was also so complex that selling this "idea" would not be easy.Companies needed to experience one System at a time, build trust and then install others. Each one would enhance their company significantly, but once they used three or so well their company would go into turbo mode and accelerate its market share, growth rate and competitive position. So few companies were doing these six things well that even using two was likely to make them a market leader over time. The research on component best practices proved this. Since 2009 I have installed the Six Systems of AirTight Management at more than 50 companies. Many have doubled, or even tripled, their growth rates.
Models and Systems Break Down Highly Complex
Generally we allow 4-8 weeks to implement each of the six AirTight Systems with a break inbetween each. This will be a customized plan for every company, situation and budget. A comprehensive program to install all the Six Systems would allow twelve to eighteen months.
We will train and coach your management team to leverage each System, one at a time. This will increase their team and individual performance, and also reduce friction and stress. They will all transition over several months to a higher-performance professional management team. The Six Systems address all levels in an organization (vertically on the org chart) and across all departments (horizontally on the org chart). Each system can be used in any department or division and not in others. Whereas most standards address a narrow area of a business, like Six Sigma and ISO 9000 address quality, AirTight is a holistic and complete framework that encompasses all the needed management processes. AirTight Management is also a higher level framework that can incorporate any other systems and procedures.
We guarantee that AirTight Management practices will greatly improve your company from both a strategic and operational (execution) perspective.
These Six Systems will both save money and drive additional sales in short order. You will begin seeing results within weeks and never be able to go back to the 'old way' of doing business and managing people.
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