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Can Joe Walsh Become the “Steve Jobs of Local”?

I don’t know Joe Walsh very well. I have however spoken to him in person and on the phone a number of times over the past several years. He has always impressed me as a thoughtful person; recently even more so.

I interviewed Walsh twice recently in the context of writing the report Local Media Sales 2020: Platforms, Profits or People?  After departing Hibu/Yellowbook last year, he became an investor and advisor.

During my interviews with him, Walsh and I spoke about a wide range of issues confronting traditional media publishers and the local market generally. He impressed me with his first-hand knowledge of the SMB advertiser space and current technology tools.

When I heard about Joe Walsh’s appointment to the CEO job at Dex, the Steve Jobs analogy struck me. I realize it’s potentially grandiose but there may be a fair parallel. It remains to be seen whether Walsh can accelerate digital momentum at Dex. He’s dealing with some “structural” issues that are very challenging.

However I make comparison because Steve Jobs’ time away from Apple proved critical in his and Apple’s comeback. Most would argue that Jobs matured as an executive during the years away from Apple and his new perspective allowed him to be a better CEO. He says as much in his terrific Stanford Commencement address.

Walsh has only been away from a directory leadership role for a year — not the decade Steve Jobs spent away from Apple. However that time away and the “learnings” as an investor and advisor no doubt have given Walsh new perspective he would not otherwise have had if he had remained at Yellowbook.

Joe Walsh is a well respected figure in the industry and among the employee rank and file. I’m very interested to hear him articulate his vision for the company and see what he can do. I hope the Steve Jobs analogy proves to be accurate.

8 Responses to “Can Joe Walsh Become the “Steve Jobs of Local”?”

  1. Clayton says:

    I worked for Joe at Yellowbook 7 years and was a top performer nationally. Joe will do Dex a great but comparison to Jobs is way off. He has the ability to take Dex where they want but he is not where jobs was in 2 areas. One he does not have the people skills Jobs did. Jobs owned the room when he walked in with his personality and ability to make anyone feel like a friend. Walsh while a great guy is nowhere near as approachable as Jobs and typically you have to speak to him to be spoken to. Also Jobs had the vision to see a goal or dream and pursue it. Walsh takes what’s already there and tries to make better. He doesn’t have to vision Jobs did(very few do, not many Steve Jobs to walk the planet). So this is in no way an attack on Walsh as I have all the confidence in him. He’s a hard worker and a winner just not on the level of Steve Jobs!

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    Yes . . . it’s a stretch. I was emphasizing the “time away provides new perspective” part.

  3. Ron Kendrella says:

    I get your analogy. However, being in the business for over 30 years, I tend to be a little more cautious. There is new leadership every few years on the publisher side of the business. Those leaders tend to put band-aides on a problem instead of permanent solutions.

    I’ve seen this over and over. What needs to be fixed isn’t. What comes out of new leadership is assignment change, restructuring, and costs savings. Then those leaders are replaced for a new “Steve Jobs.”

    Steve Jobs would look at a product and if it has merit, he would reinvent it and make it something everyone would stand in line to purchase. What would Steve Jobs do with the print yellow pages? Could he reinvent it? Is anyone standing in line for any products that Dex has to offer?

    When that happens, then we can make that comparison!

  4. Greg Sterling says:

    There are two sides to the YP business: B2B ads/services and the consumer-user experience. The industry has almost totally neglected the latter to its detriment. I suspect Jobs would radically re-envision the user-side of the business. The question is: are there the resources and the expertise to do so (assuming I’m right)?

  5. Perry says:

    I’d argue that “radically re-envisioning” the SMB side of the equation is the smarter bet. The traditional sales and service formula is badly broken as evidenced by churn and decline. Yet, there are literally hundreds of new products entering the market that both broaden the digital opportunity for SMB’s, and challenge [force?] us to rethink how the right products are matched to the right SMB, and how they are delivered and serviced. It’s not about THE new product model – it’s got to be a fundamentally reinvented foundation for matching and servicing the SMB, vertical by vertical.

    The real question is less if Joe is the right guy, but if the shareholders are willing to finance a meaningful reinvention agenda, versus an optimization driven model.

    And, I’d be remiss to not add my two thumbs up for Joe as a very capable industry leader – there’s none better in the business!

  6. MIke Snowden says:

    I worked for Joe Walsh at Yellowbook / Hibu for the last 6 years he was there. I got the opportunity to meet him and speak to him a few times over that time frame in different settings. Contrary to the post above, I found him ultimately very approachable and friendly both times I met him. But that is just me & my experience.

    Having a bit of personal experience with the new “Dex Media / Superpages” product suites that are the result of the merger of those two companies with local advertising clients, I can see that he has his work cut out for him in getting the new “combine” of those two companies’ products / market share in both the online and print sides of the “SMB Marketing / Advertising industry” in the US on track. As we all know, the challenges to accomplishing that are the result of a variety of factors beyond his control. Existing corporate structures, management teams, systems and products already in place are all things that have to change dramatically to effect any true systemic changes. That may be beyond the capabilities of even someone like him.

    I concur with Greg above that a “radical revisioning” of the end user experience is a good part of the equation which needs to happen. However, unlike Steve Jobs (who was dealing with inventing / creating / introducing truly “New” physical products) Joe is facing an entirely different set of challenges. With the rate that change is happening in this particular marketplace (digital and print SMB advertising efficiency and ROI) trying to be “visionary” never mind just “keeping up with the competition” may well be almost impossible with a company that size, which is investor owned. Technology is changing too quickly. They (companies such as DexMedia and Hibu) are forever “following the curve” instead of being able to get out ahead of it as Steve Jobs was able to do by designing (or re-designing / re-branding as some would assert / have asserted) and introducing “New” products into the space they operate in. It’s a different industry, business model, and set of challenges.

    My personal experience with those products, reps I have known for years at both companies, the trending I am seeing not only in the local client base’s experiences with the “New Company” after almost 6 months, as well as the draconian “restructuring” efforts being put into place from the latest reports lead me to believe that this may end up in another “Good Captain trying to save a sinking ship” scenario.

    However, I have the utmost faith in the leadership potential of Joe Walsh as a CEO. Unfortunately, in the modern world with a company of this size and scope, there realistically may not be that much he can do to save it. It may be a “best case scenario” that he will be riding that Toboggan downhill until he gets pushed off or has to bail as in the case of Hibu / Yellowbook. Unless they can find some “truly new” technological advantage / new blood / new angle of attack with a truly increased value proposition for their customers (advertisers) in some way, I’m afraid they are doomed to be “fighting a delaying action, waiting for the end.”

    I can say from my experience with Hibu that outsourcing everything to India and the Philippines for cheap labor is NOT the road to success long term. The inefficiencies created, inability to fulfill on quality products promised to long term clients with good relationships with the company, and ultimate customer dissatisfaction due to the lack of quality, timeliness, & primarily the non – responsiveness / lack of skill and quality control of the product production and fulfillment teams will sound the death knell for the business. Just as it is in the case of Hibu now.

    I wish him all the best, and have nothing but respect for his leadership abilities. I hope he can truly “turn that ship around”. Knowing (from very personal experience) the practical difficulties and inherent challenges facing someone / management teams trying to effect such changes, I am naturally cautious on the potential for long term success. There may just be too much “CYA” behavior, lack of ability / willingness to change, too many “entrenched wrong thinking / acting middle managers” and too few “true incentives to change / options available to change to” for it to ever work. We will just have to wait and see. Good Luck Joe!

  7. Greg Sterling says:

    “I can say from my experience with Hibu that outsourcing everything to India and the Philippines for cheap labor is NOT the road to success long term. The inefficiencies created, inability to fulfill on quality products promised to long term clients with good relationships with the company, and ultimate customer dissatisfaction due to the lack of quality, timeliness, & primarily the non – responsiveness / lack of skill and quality control of the product production and fulfillment teams will sound the death knell for the business. Just as it is in the case of Hibu now.”

    Exactly.

  8. Diana says:

    I have worked for Joe for 18 year previously and if anyone could reinvent the dynamic of a company Joe can! If he is allowed to do what he does best, which is provide the vision and keep a steady hand on the wheel there is noting that man can not achieve. The issues have always been when people stand in the way… give Joe the rope and he will lasso the best people in the business to make his vision a reality! He is inspiring, motivating and is always planning years in advance of what he is currently working on. If the investors give him the time & have faith, he will do exactly what he says he’ll do and more! He truly embraces the Under Promise and Over Deliver motto! Go get them Joe!

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