Lead Left Interview – Thomas A. Stewart (Part 2)

This week we continue our conversation with Thomas A. Stewart, executive director for the National Center for the Middle Market. The Center is the leading source for knowledge, leadership and research on midsized companies, based at the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. Mr. Stewart is an influential thought leader on global management issues and ideas: an internationally recognized editor and publisher, authority on intellectual capital and knowledge management, and a best-selling author. Second of two parts – View part one.

The Lead Left: But as you say, little is known about these companies. What are some of the implications of that knowledge gap?

Thomas Stewart: Think of that two-winged bird. First, there are lots of implications for public policy. How should city halls and business-development organizations best work on economic growth? It’s not about luring a new Honda plant; it should be about supporting the growth of the companies already in town. How do you think about what community colleges should be doing, to help theses fast-growing companies get the talent they need? How can we make sure that middle market voices are heard when tax and tariff policies are debated? Right now, small business is heard; big business is heard; mid-sized are at the table only rarely.

Second, think of research that helps executives do better. Most of what we know about management has been gleaned from research about big companies. You can’t just lop off two or three zeros for what applies to Proctor and Gamble and say it applies to the middle market. For example, take innovation. A lot of innovation best practices talk about creating a diversified portfolio of projects. But a typical middle market company has, on average, three innovation projects every year. For example, in supply chain management, there’s lots about managing large supply chains but—till we came along—there was nothing about how to be a perfect link.