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Business Tycoon and Magnate Mouli Cohen Talks About the Art of Making Tough Business Decisions

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 30, 2005 — Brilliant visionary Mouli Cohen was asked for a candid discussion around the art of making tough business decisions. What follows is an excerpt from that interview.

1) Mouli, as a business leader you make tough decisions every day. Tell us a little bit about the nature of these decisions.

Over the years of starting different companies and growing them into successful enterprises I literally made hundreds of small decisions each and every day. Not all of these were extremely difficult but they were each important. I realize now that it was the cumulative succession of all these decisions – most right, and in a few cases, some wrong – which led to the ultimate outcome of my businesses.

2) How do you make the right decision?

Many of us think that good decisions are based primarily on coming up with an effective strategy and then executing it. It's true that having a sound strategy is very important when addressing a challenging problem, but I can say with confidence that the best and hardest decisions I ever made were all about people. No matter how smart I am or how successful I have been in the past I cannot know the future. Therefore I must have the right partners along the way who can help me make the tough decisions.

3) OK, but once you have the right people in place you still have to make the right decisions …

Great decisions begin with top-notch people and the confidence to say: I do not know the answer. Do not lie to yourself or to your people and pretend you have it figured out. It is best to speak the truth, which is, "I do not know the answer, but I know we have to get it absolutely right."

4) So you challenge your people – your partners – to help you come up with the right answer?

Exactly. I pull in my best people and challenge them to debate the problem from all angles. Making decisions by consensus, however, never works. Ultimately, the decision is the CEO's to make and he/she has to be willing to take a risk and make the tough call. I cannot stress enough, however, the importance of having people debate and challenge you. If you don't do this you risk cutting yourself off from hearing options or ideas that might be better.

In my companies I strongly encourage people to disagree with me. I want to be sure I get the best answers out of them and that I do not overly influence them before making a final call. I like to create this "Culture of Constructive Debate & Skepticism" within all of my organizations.

5) So in the end the leader makes the call? Does that make it hard to carry out the decision?

History shows that before a major decision there is usually a significant debate. After the decision is made, however, people typically unite behind that decision and help to make it successful. Once again this comes down to having the right people. It's all about the people. I simply cannot stress this point enough.

6) OK, debate is critical in the decision making process. What are some of the other ingredients in making great decisions?

I'll give you some right now:

— Be honest. If you do not know the answer to the question/challenge at hand do not pretend to. As I mentioned before after explaining a problem to my team I might say, "I do not know the answer, but I know we have to get it absolutely right."

— Debate the problem from all angles with the best people. Pick apart the question with an enthusiasm that borders on skepticism. And then give credit where credit is due to those who help you reach clarity.

— Be sure that the decision you are making is for the company and not for you. Great leaders are absolutely clear about their ambitions for the long-term greatness of the organization.

— Whenever possible make decisions based on the long-term, broader vision of your company. Take for example when Steve Jobs made the decision to abandon IBM's PowerPC chipset and go exclusively with Intel. This is a decision that will carry impact for years to come. Whenever possible manage for the quarter-century not the quarter.

7) Can you give us some examples of what you mean by "quarter-century" decisions?

Smiling, Mouli shot back, "If we go farther back in time we can identify several serious business leaders who made quarter-century calls":

a. In 1903 Ken Gillette made the radical decision to move to disposable razor blades.

b. In 1980 Reginald Jones appointed Jack Welch as CEO of General Electric.

c. In 1985 Andy Grove fired himself from Intel.

d. In 2000 Jerry Levine of Time Warner decided he no longer needed a collar on AOL stock.

It is important to remember that any decision – no matter how big – is only a small fraction of the total outcome. Some decisions are bigger than others but ultimately what defines success is a series of choices made over time that are executed flawlessly. You can make mistakes along the way and still achieve overall success.

— Mouli Cohen

About Mouli Cohen

In his career as an entrepreneur, Mouli has been one of the few to have success in biotechnology and high technology. His start-ups have generated well over $1B in shareholder value. In recognition of his ability to generate mega-investment in the U.S. economy and the creation of thousands of U.S. jobs, Mouli was awarded the first-ever "Millionaire Residency" with full citizenship status by President George H. Bush. For press inquiries and more information please visit or contact the Press Agent at 415-902-2802.

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