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Senior Correspondent

My business career is characterized with a bunch of David versus Goliath encounters. As a 23-year-old Macleans Toothpaste brand manager in 1970, my colleagues and I competed against powerhouses P&G, Colgate and Unilever. When I joined Jacobs Suchard (then Nabob Foods) in 1977, I found myself up against the muscle of Kraft and Nestle. Wherever I went, the major competitor was 20 times larger. That is clout. And yet, our little band of rebels was able to outmaneuver that might with two potent weapons that cost absolutely nothing.

Here’s the point. When you know you will never be the low-cost producer nor will you ever have the resources to outspend the big cat, you find other ways to skin it — okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Clout allows these giants to grow, but there is absolutely no reason why a smaller player cannot become a market leader within their chosen market(s). As long as the “Davids” are able to resist the urge to become generalists by expanding into too many markets with too many products, they can win. I should know; I spent 17 years at Jacobs Suchard winning within the intensely competitive coffee and chocolate markets.

The secret to thriving against mega-company competition comes down to three potent armaments — strategy, creativity, and culture. Here are 10 ways to survive in a world where big keeps getting bigger:

  1. They are slow. You be fast.
  2. They are bureaucratic. You be nimble.
  3. They are risk averse. You be entrepreneurial.
  4. They are fact-centric; the more the better. You make decisions when you have most, but not all of the information; that affords the “first-in” advantage.
  5. They are generalists. You be specialists.
  6. They value doing things right. You value doing right things.
  7. They grow by doing more and more. You grow by doing less, better.
  8. They are conventional and reactive. You be distinctive and farsighted.
  9. They are obsessed with efficiencies and processes. You be obsessed with innovation.
  10. They leverage their financial resources. You leverage your creativity.

If your company is suffering the clout of a giant, I suggest you rank your performance against these 10 commandments of giant slaying. Undoubtedly, you will come up short. Change won't happen overnight because you are likely facing a shift in corporate culture. Achieving the right culture is possible, but it seldom happens unless the organization is blessed with a strong and tenacious CEO who passionately practices the tenets of entrepreneurial leadership.

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