Bob Herbold

Former Executive VP and COO, Microsoft Corporation
Managing Director, Herbold Group, LLC
Author, What’s Holding You Back?

An executive with over thirty years at Microsoft and Procter & Gamble shares the secrets of competition and profitability.

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For Bob Herbold, business strategy isn’t theory: it’s practice. As Chief Operating Officer at Microsoft, Bob oversaw a fourfold increase in revenue and a sevenfold increase in profits. That extraordinary achievement came on the heels of twenty-six years at Procter & Gamble refining his business sense in a series of senior leadership positions. So when Bob speaks, he speaks from experience.

That experience shines through in his writings as well. He is the author of three acclaimed books: What’s Holding You Back? Ten Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders (2011); The Fiefdom Syndrome: The Turf Battles that Undermine Careers and Companies (2004); and Seduced by Success: How the Best Companies Survive the 9 Traps of Winning (2007). Together, these books are a comprehensive guide to avoiding the pitfalls that keep individuals and organizations from achieving their full potential.

Bob also specializes in tackling profitability problems and keeping costs under control without hurting innovation. He also has deep experience in marketing, having been the Senior VP of all marketing activities at Procter & Gamble for five years. He has a wealth of experience in IT, having served as CIO at P&G, and having the Microsoft IT Division reporting to him for seven years.

Today, Bob is the Managing Director of The Herbold Group, LLC, a consulting business focused on executive training and profitability. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Agilent Technologies and of Neptune Orient Shipping Lines.

Herbold is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Heritage Foundation and is an Adjunct Professor at the National University of Singapore and the Thunderbird School of Global Management. He is also the President of The Herbold Foundation, which is primarily focused on providing college scholarships to science and engineering students. He has endowed two professorships at Case Western Reserve University: the Robert J. Herbold Professor of Informatics and Analytics at the Case School of Engineering and the Robert J. Herbold Professor in Biomedical Engineering.

Bob has a charming, common-sense speaking style and a wealth of wisdom and stories from thirty-six years in business that give his presentations immense practical value.


  • Former Executive VP and COO, Microsoft
  • Managing Director, Herbold Group, LLC
  • 26 years at Proctor & Gamble; positions:
    • Vice President of Market Research
    • Chief Information Officer
    • Senior Vice President of Marketing and Information Services
    • Senior Vice President of Advertising and Information Services
  • Corporate boards: Agilent Technologies, Neptune Orient Shipping Lines
  • Nonprofit boards: The Heritage Foundation
  • Adjunct Professor, National University of Singapore
  • Adjunct Professor, Thunderbird School of Global Management
  • President, The Herbold Foundation
  • Masters in Mathematics and PhD in Computer Science, Case Western Reserve University


What's Holding You Back

10 Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders

Bob Herbold

Quit hiding from tough decisions and learn to confront them head-on

Why do managers at all levels sacrifice corporate success by shying away from making the tough decisions? What's Holding You Back? reveals exactly why managers often hesitate to confront difficult issues-whether it's the absence of a perfect solution, the knowledge that no decision will please everyone, etc.-and, most importantly, how they can overcome these common managerial obstacles to maximize their company's success. What's Holding You Back? elucidates the ten core principles of confident leadership, outlining proven tactics by which managers can confront their inner wimp and highlight their inner courage.

  • Features dynamic real-world examples from Apple, Microsoft, Porsche, IBM, Merck, Canon, Sony, Whirlpool, IDEO, Tesco, P&G, Target, 3M, and more
  • Pinpoints the corporate failures that can result from hesitant or self-conscious organizations, and what managers can do to avoid them
  • Clearly delineates how managers can cultivate and deliver accountable and decisive leadership, even during the toughest dilemmas

What's Holding You Back? proves that practicing gutsy leadership is the key to operational and innovative excellence in the workplace.

Jossey-Bass (February 15, 2011)

Seduced by Success

How the Best Companies Survive the 9 Traps of Winning

Bob Herbold

The former COO of Microsoft reveals the secrets to staying great

Success can be a serious business vulnerability! General Motors, IBM, Kodak, Rubbermaid — these are just a few examples of top companies that became complacent and bloated. To sustain their success, they should have been uncovering fresh approaches, improving their products and services, and staying lean and agile.

In Seduced by Success, Robert Herbold shows you and your company how to become successful and stay that way by avoiding the nine biggest success traps. The book features multiple examples of successful companies that succumbed to problems as well as examples of companies that overcame them. This provocative, thought-leading guide explains why “defending yesterday” is a prescription for failure. You'll learn how and why both you and your organization must constantly experiment with new ideas, processes, and business models to remain relevant.

The Nine Traps Every Successful Organization Must Avoid:

Neglect: Sticking with yesterday's business model
Pride: Letting products and services become second rate
Boredom: Clinging to your once successful branding
Complexity: Letting processes run the business
Bloat: Losing agility
Mediocrity: Allowing subpar performance to persist
Lethargy: Nurturing a retirement home culture
Timidity: Permitting turf battles and infighting
Vagueness: Schizophrenic communication

McGraw-Hill; 1 edition (March 7, 2007)

The Fiefdom Syndrome

The Turf Battle that Undermine Careers and Companies — And How to Overcome Them

Bob Herbold

"The problem begins when individuals, groups, or divisions — out of fear — seek to make themselves vital to their organizations and, unconsciously or sometimes deliberately, try to protect their turf and gain as much control as possible over what goes on. It is a natural human tendency, dating back to the origins of our species, but if it isn't managed properly, the damage caused by these "fiefdoms" can spell the death knell of what should have been a strong and vital organization." In The Fiefdom Syndrome, Bob Herbold exposes why fiefdoms occur and the myriad ways they can compromise a company's effectiveness — as well as shows what managers, companies, and individuals need to do to break up fiefdoms and eliminate turf wars. Illustrated with countless "war stories" from Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and other corporations, this book is an essential tool in every manager's toolkit.

Doubleday Business; First Edition edition (August 24, 2004)


Bob tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Effective Leadership: Learning from the Problems of Sony, Kodak, GM & Others

The absence of strong leadership can doom an organization to mediocrity. Consider the case of Sony, a company that dominated the consumer electronics industry in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Its Trinitron TVs were the gold standard, its Walkman product invented the mobile music industry, and it was a rare male teenager that didn’t spend hours per day with a Sony PlayStation game player. Its stock sold for $130 per share in early 2000.

Then, in fall of 2001, Apple launched the iPod and established the age of internet-enabled digital music, making the Sony Walkman an antique. TiVo changed the use of television with its ability to automatically find and digitally record all of your favorite shows, every time they’re on, so you can watch them at your convenience.

Why didn’t Sony see these innovative products coming? The reason is the lack of aggressive leadership to tackle the fiefdoms, bureaucracy and legacy practices at Sony. These new products required the integration of software and hardware capabilities and, at Sony, these skills resided in separate divisions — and they refused to work together. By late 2006, Sony’s stock price was $39 and Sony was struggling to recover.

So why do organizations of all sizes lose momentum, fall behind and seem leaderless? In this presentation, Bob Herbold discusses why businesses fall prey to two major problems: 1) organizational fragmentation and excess hiring, leading to fiefdoms and bureaucracy; and 2) a proud and protective attitude and a lack of a sense of urgency, leading to legacy practices and legacy people who resist any change.

The heart of the presentation is seven specific steps that leaders must take to avoid or eliminate these problems. He illustrates each step with an actual company that succumbed to these problems and shows how these leadership steps were used — or should have been used — to get the organization back on track. For example, he describes how excessive staffing led to a very complex and fragmented organization and lack of clear accountability at Unilever. Unilever’s complicated consensus process and slow decision making caused the firm to stumble badly in China. The Principle: Keep the Staffing Lean and the Accountability Clear.

Seduced by Success: How the Best Companies Survive the 9 Traps of Winning

In 1995 Kodak was the king of photography. Its stock price was $90 per share and it was consistently mentioned in the Fortune Magazine list of most admired companies. For

the next twelve years, it has been on an uninterrupted downhill slide. It was first embarrassed by Fuji, who hurt its film business badly, and then, starting in 1997, by digital photography, which has basically replaced film, leaving Kodak in a mad scramble to find a place in the new digital world. Its stock price sits at $25 per share.

Why does this happen? Why do successful firms fail?

The fact is, success is a huge business vulnerability. It can destroy an organization’s — or an individual’s — ability to understand the need for change and its motivation for creatively attack ing the status quo. Successful businesses lose themselves in the legacy approaches they used in their glory days, unable to see that they are not building on their best practices but merely trying to repeat old successes. They don’t notice that the world is changing around them.

In this presentation, Bob Herbold uses the Kodak story and other examples to explain why it’s so hard to handle success. But it’s not impossible. He reviews the three human behaviors that are at the root of the problem and the nine very dangerous traps that successful organizations and people often stumble into as a result. And he offers practical guidance on how to sidestep these pitfalls and thrive, even when it seems there’s nowhere to go but down.

Avoiding the Commodity Trap

There is nothing worse than being in a market where all of the features of the products are basically at parity and pricing is the only issue. Naturally, the classic examples would be the commodities themselves such as soybeans and grain. Many other product categories share the characteristics of a commodity business, too, though, like lumber, airline travel, insurance offerings, and personal computers.

This presentation discusses ways to get out of that trap if you are in it, or to avoid it if you aren’t. There are many examples in which, after a period of commodity-like behavior, one of the players finds a way to be distinctive and achieve some real leadership in their industry. Bob discusses four approaches to achieving this kind of differentiation:

  • Study the User Intently
  • Remove Constraints and Ignore Conventional Wisdom
  • Diagram the Entire Value Creation Chain and Look for Opportunities
  • Changing the Benefits in the Category

Discipline at the Core, Creativity at the Edge: A Strategy for Improving Profitability and Agility

When you encourage individual initiative and creativity, you often incur managerial chaos and uncontrolled costs. This presentation offers workable strategies and concrete ideas for achieving the right balance between the two: discipline in the core functional areas and creativity at the edge where products are developed and customers engaged.

Creative business units often innovate with everything, developing unique financial systems and measures, independent information systems, distinctive human resource practices, manufacturing standards and measures—in addition to new products and services. This fragments procurement so you can’t leverage your size and makes vendor management both complicated and people-intensive. All this leads to excess cost, limited flexibility, slow response times, and difficulty in measuring cost and performance—in a word: chaos.

The answer is to apply a strong dose of discipline to core functional areas, while continuing to emphasize the need for creativity in evolving the products and dealing with customers. Areas that typically need major housecleaning are finance, procurement, human resources, planning, manufacturing, information systems, and marketing (preserving the creative process, but being very disciplined in defining target audiences, developing strategic messages, selecting the media devices, and putting tracking measures in place).

You also can expect resistance. Heads of businesses and geographies usually feel they need the unique systems they’ve developed. Top management therefore must champion the agility, speed and efficiency this balance will achieve and back the effort.

The Fiefdom Syndrome

The fiefdom syndrome is the inclination of the leaders and employees of an organization to become fixated with their own activities, their own careers, and captivated by their own success to the detriment of those around them. The fiefdom syndrome tends to make them dangerously insular, to lose perspective on what’s happening in the world outside their own, and to lose the ability to change positively and react successfully to new situations. Fiefdoms also tend to hire excess resources and strive to do everything their own unique way, leading to runaway costs, bureaucracy, and slow response times.

In this talk, Bob Herbold describes practical ways to avoid becoming either a personal or corporate victim of the fiefdom syndrome with specific, must-do tactics and metrics.

Balancing Discipline and Creativity: A Strategy for Marketing Excellence

Nothing wastes time and money—and confuses customers—like sloppy, fragmented marketing. In this presentation, Bob Herbold provides managers with an overall strategic approach and a set of specific tools for applying discipline to the fundamental areas of marketing while nurturing an environment that fosters genuine marketing creativity and impact.

Marketers are notorious for not carefully defining their target audience, for failing to make the tough priority decisions on the key message point, for basing media decisions on emotion rather than effectiveness, and— most importantly—for pursuing outlandish creative approaches that are too “far out” to impact the customer. Herbold’s answer to these issues is a common-sense approach to achieving the right balance between rigor and discipline in the areas that need them and freedom to be creative when real creativity is essential.

The key areas for discipline are:

  • defining the target audience by analyzing who buys and who influences buyers;
  • clarifying the message (one or two key points), defining its tone, and establishing credibility;
  • qualifying a set of media alternatives that reach the target audience very efficiently;
  • agreeing on a methodology for testing marketing materials when big expenditures are involved; and
  • developing a plan to regularly quantify the impact of marketing efforts via market research tools.

The areas that need creativity are:

  • attracting the best talent at the ad/marketing/pr agency to work on your business;
  • developing ads and marketing materials that are distinctive, engaging, and effective in delivering the message; and
  • assembling innovative media plans that leverage the breadth of qualified media alternatives to create real ‘buzz’ among your target audience.

Topics from The Fiefdom Syndrome

How Turf Wars and Bureaucracy Can Undermine Careers and Companies—and What To Do About It
Bob starts with some good examples of fiefdoms and then moves into the human behavior principles that cause fiefdoms. He follows this with a discussion of the disciplines that can help you overcome fiefdoms and the measures that will ensure that your organization is not paying for it with a loss in creativity.

Balancing Creativity and Discipline For Maximum Organizational Impact
How do fiefdoms erode discipline within an organization and undermine creativity—or evolve toward polar extremes: excess discipline/no creativity, or no discipline/excess creativity? Bob describes the basic human behaviors that fiefdoms are built upon and how you can achieve an effective balance between the creativity and discipline in your organization.

Developing an Industry-Leading Strategy
The key to achieving a leadership position in your industry is a disciplined approach to strategy. Bob leverages examples from Coca-Cola, General Electric, and the steel industry to show how very simple great strategies are—and how very difficult it is to excite an organization about preparing for the future when it has been successful in the past.

Achieving Superior Profitability
You can dramatically improve profitability by getting basic business processes under control and developing superior products through innovation. Bob’s done it and he knows how to teach it.

The Secrets of Superior Cost Management
Bob outlines in detail how to use the principles in The Fiefdom Syndrome to achieve significant competitive advantage by streamlining costs in a full range of business areas.

Tools For Unleashing Breakthrough Creativity
In this presentation, Bob reviews tested techniques for improving rates of innovation within your organization and he outlines the organizational disciplines that unleash creativity.


Courageous Leadership


Regional economic development programs:
Bob: Thanks you so much for making the trip out to Cleveland last week. Your presentation was outstanding and we are still getting very nice comments about it. I especially liked the give and take and discussion we had in the morning with our various CEOs. Your material was sound and well thought out and your down to earth personality made it very enjoyable to listen to what you had to say. Obviously, anyone who has had the positions you have had at P&G and Microsoft and had personal interaction with people like Bill Gates is going to command attention. We could have listened to your “war stories” all afternoon. You have even inspired me to create a new program for our member cos. I want to take one designee from each of 5 member cos. on a 2 day retreat to think about the future of their co and what they need to do to prepare for it.

A governance leadership retreat of a healthcare provider network:
I was very, very pleased. He is an incredible, excellent speaker. I imagine you get that a lot. A great fit for our objectives. Impressed upon executives just what they needed. Could not imagine a better speaker for getting everyone on the same page.

A media company:
He was absolutely terrific, a pleasure to deal with. It was a very successful event, thanks to Bob.


— thoughtLeaders