Georgia Tech Research Institute spacer Agricultural Technology Research Program


From Apple to Poultry: Enterprise Transformation

By Doug Britton — Special to Poultry Times

I recently had the pleasure of participating in an Enterprise Transformation short course, taught through the Tennenbaum Institute at Georgia Tech [1]. The goal of the course was to provide a high level understanding of what is involved in fundamentally changing (i.e., transforming) a company, organization, agency or market sector.  This seemed of particular interest to me given our recent conversations in the poultry community about the future of poultry production and processing.

After being aptly led through a brief theory of Enterprise Transformation by Dr. William Rouse [2], we delved into case studies of IBM, Apple, GE and UPS [3-4] among others, to gain a real world understanding of the subject matter. The result was a fascinating exploration of corporate challenges and fundamental transformations. I thought that several key points and observations might be valuable to the broader poultry sector as many within industry and academia are pursuing various levels of transformation.

In every case that we considered, there was a value deficiency that became the driving force for transformation. For some it was a value deficiency crisis: Apple (1997) and IBM (1992) were driven by the threat of collapse with significant drops in revenues and market shares brought on by dramatic shifts in the personal computer market landscape. For UPS (1995), on the other hand, transformation was driven by a value deficiency opportunity as they recognized a fundamental limitation in future growth in the “under 50 lb.” package delivery business model. Unfortunately, it often takes a value deficiency crisis rather than a value deficiency opportunity for companies and individuals to recognize that change is needed.  While value deficiencies may drive transformation, it is the work processes that enable it.

Work processes are the basic tasks that companies, organizations and individuals perform to achieve their business objectives. In poultry, this would include all of the functions from production through processing and distribution. In the case of IBM, the changes to the work processes involved a shift away from independent product-based business units toward multifaceted customer-based solutions. This included considerable restructuring and consolidation, as well as the development of new processes and standards to foster collaboration and innovation as well as the identification of emerging business opportunities. While the transformation in IBM work processes took several years, the result was a significantly more efficient organization that sought to provide tailored solutions for each of its customers instead of a generic suite of hardware and software products. This was a significant culture change, which seems to be a key component of enterprise transformation being driven by a value deficiency crisis.

Anticipating a potential value deficiency in future growth, UPS made a conscious decision around 1995 to transform from a package delivery company into a supply chain solutions provider that by 2000 provided a wide range of services in consulting, integrated logistics, global freight and mail. This significantly expanded their market potential and provided UPS with the continued growth opportunity they felt would be needed for future success. Interestingly, many of these new services leveraged products the company had originally developed as internal services that they transformed into external customer facing offerings. However, the uniqueness of the UPS case was their ability to recognize an anticipated value deficiency and transform the work processes in a way that allowed them to leverage the unique capabilities and assets of the company. 

The take away for the poultry community is that transformation usually requires significantly redesigned or entirely new work processes. This is where real transformational innovation occurs, and as we have been discussing, the future viability of the poultry industry will hinge on our ability to innovate or rethink our existing work processes. For IBM and UPS, transformation required a fundamental rethinking of the current processes and changing them to meet the new envisioned objectives.  

While we have discussed the drivers and enablers of enterprise transformation, there also appear to be several other ingredients that contribute to successful transformation. First is the ability to envision what the enterprise should look like after the transformation. This requires constructively questioning assumptions to understand the real underlying problems and then creatively thinking outside-the-box to develop a vision that successfully addresses the real problem. Secondly, transformation usually (but not always) requires an empowered leader to champion the cause. GE, IBM and Apple all had very strong leaders during their transformation periods who were able to captivate the stakeholders, articulate the corporate vision and motivate the workforce to achieve the resulting transformation. They in essence either created or capitalized on the necessary corporate culture, the third ingredient, which allowed the stakeholders to embrace the transformation. Unfortunately, excellent strategies for transformational change often “die on the vine,” because the necessary stakeholder/corporate culture has not been adequately cultivated.   This aspect of the social network of an enterprise whose stakeholders include stockholders, employees, customers and especially senior management is unfortunately often overlooked.

So how does all of this apply to poultry? Well, I think that if we are not careful, the poultry industry will find itself trying to respond to a value deficiency crisis instead of a value deficiency opportunity. I do believe we still have time to be looking toward the future and envisioning what our enterprise should look like. What are some of the lofty objectives we should be striving to achieve? With these objectives in mind, we can begin to develop new work processes or methods that move us closer to our vision of a resilient future. While it may or may not require a champion, there is no doubt that successful transformation will require all of us to adopt a culture that is collaborative and embraces innovation in all of the different facets of the poultry enterprise. And maybe, just maybe, we can change the rules of the game by transforming the enterprise and create a whole new system that is far better than we ever conceived — kind of like Apple Inc. and the iPhone.

References and further reading:

  1. Tennenbaum Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology (2012, July 30). [Online] Available:

  2. W. B. Rouse et. al., Enterprise Transformation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006.

  3. D. B. Yoffie and M. Slind, “Apple Inc., 2008,” Harvard Business Review, Boston, MA, Rep. 9-708-480, Sept. 2008.

  4. L. M. Applegate, R. Austin, and E. Colins, “IBM’s Decade of Transformation: Turnaround to Growth,” Boston, MA,
    Rep. 9-805-130, July 2009.

Doug Britton is program manager and senior research engineer with the Georgia Tech Research Institute's Agricultural Technology Research Program.