October 12, 2016 | by Bob Weidner

Transformation and Innovation Taught by an Expert

The King of Golf leaves a legacy that transcends his greatness on the course…

“The road to success is always under construction.” —Arnold Palmer

This is not going to be a eulogy to Arnold Palmer. Others far more qualified than I have already done that beautifully.

Many of you know that golf is one of my passions. And I, of course, have very fond memories of watching Arnold Palmer’s amazing talent and passionate advocacy for a game that he transformed utterly. But his death a few weeks ago also triggered the realization that this lovely man and his phenomenal career have a lot to teach us about business transformation, commercial innovation and building a community.

Arnie understood that transformation and innovation in sport, in business and in life were a continuous process that required dedication, intelligence and guts. “You must play boldly to win,” he said once. And he surely did.

Arnold Palmer almost single-handedly moved golf from a country club past time of the elite into an accessible, popular sport enjoyed—at least when the putt is working—by the many. Just as impressive, he transformed himself, the modest and engaging son of a Latrobe, Pa., greens keeper, into a brand recognized around the world. He all but invented product endorsements by athletes. He was obviously a marketing genius. But that was in large part because he was willing to explore and embrace business ideas that hardly anyone was thinking about at the time.

Incremental change, for us, is not on the table. We are planning boldly with a range of fresh ideas, new services and innovative business solutions.

At MSCI, as many of you may know, we are engaged in a process of transformation. We recognize that the worlds of domestic and international commerce, the worlds of manufacturing and industrial metals are changing rapidly. We understand that as a trade association more than a century old we simply cannot continue to do business, and effectively help you in your businesses, in the way we’ve always done it. Incremental change, for us, is not on the table. We are planning boldly with a range of fresh ideas, new services and innovative business solutions. We are developing an action agenda that is smart, forward-looking and will be uniquely useful for members who recognize that the economy, the industrial metals supply chain and our business models all face unprecedented challenges.

Companies that see little need for innovation will see little value in this kind of transformative thinking. They will continue to believe, all evidence to the contrary, that a narrowly-focused, bottom line, commodity-based business model will see them through. They will continue to view their employees as costs and liabilities to be minimized. They will let others engage local and national political leaders, let others do the vital work of creating and advocating for a metals and manufacturing policy agenda.

MSCI, on the other hand, is continually looking at more effective ways to help our members critically examine future opportunities, invest in employees as their most valuable asset and participate in the civic and charitable life of their communities. Arnold Palmer did not simply create a monumental sports and business brand; he was also a committed philanthropist. He gave back. And I would argue that his popularity and success were as firmly rooted in that appreciation of community as in any breakthrough marketing idea he developed.

I’ll be telling you a lot more about our new initiatives. We see our job now as transformation to better serve you, our members. But it is a job that we can only accomplish together, firm in our conviction that without flexibility, fresh thinking, and real change in this uncertain world, we cannot prosper.  

Steve Jobs tried golf briefly, but never took to it. Invention, on the other hand, was one of his primary operating principals. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” he said. And Albert Einstein, who never played a lick of golf, but would almost certainly have appreciated Arnold Palmer’s skill and ingenuity, concluded, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”