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Entrepreneur’s Toolbox

July 2011

Practical Business Transition Strategies

Kheng T. Cheah
Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences

A ll businesses go through natural stages of develop-

ment and evolution. Businesses are dynamic entities
with somewhat predictable courses of action derived
applied to business analysis and development, group
management, leadership transitions, and career planning.
This paper summarizes strategies and actions that
from their natural product/industry growth cycle and can be used for each business situation. This information
their specific current business situation. The STARS is meant to stimulate new perspectives and thinking in
model (Watkins 2003, 2009) in Figure 1 provides a agribusiness owners and managers. The STARS model
perspective on business evolution and development that is used as a frame of reference, but the suggested strate-
identifies the most common business situations: gies have been compiled from a variety of sources in the
• Startup business literature. Some of the references relate to well-
• Turnaround known large organizations, but the business concepts
• Accelerating growth introduced are for the most part applicable to both large
• Realignment companies and small businesses.
• Sustaining success.
The ability to navigate successfully in each situation is Your business situation and the STARS model
crucial to the success of individual businesses. These Look at Figure 1 and try to identify your current busi-
basic concepts were developed by Michael Watkins, ness situation. Then read about your options, which are
professor at Harvard Business School, and have been covered in the sections below.

Figure 1. STARS model (drawn from Watkins 2003 and 2009).

Published by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in co-
operation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the Director/Dean, Cooperative Extension Service/CTAHR, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96822.
Copyright 2011, University of Hawai‘i. For reproduction and use permission, contact the CTAHR Office of Communication Services,, 808-956-7036. The university is
an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution providing programs and services to the people of Hawai‘i without regard to race, sex, gender identity and expression, age, religion, color,
national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, arrest and court record, sexual orientation, or status as a covered veteran. Find CTAHR publications at
UH–CTAHR Practical Business Transition Strategies ET-11 — July 2011

Decisiveness: The power of focusing ing data (McGrath & MacMillan 1995). Terra Nova
The success of your business will depend on your ability Nurseries (, a producer of
to identify its major problems and to focus on appropriate ornamental plants in Oregon specializing in new plant
strategies to resolve these issues. It takes a combination introduction, has followed a similar approach over the last
of courage, clear thinking, and an overall perspective on 20 years, successfully introducing over 500 new varieties.
your goal to make the critical changes to your business The challenges are in designing new production
required by your business situation. systems and business structures, selecting business
strategies, recruiting, and building teams, all with limited
Startup resources. These are some of the most important aspects
during the startup phase:
When starting a business,
your focus should be on Assemble a talented business team.
generating cash, gathering • Recruit the right partners or employees with the right
skilled labor for your busi- skills appropriate for your business.
ness, product and market- • Create a team aimed at achieving high performance
ing development, securing in management, marketing, and production.
adequate inventory, and • Keep in mind that the lack of skilled employees is
acquiring production technology. If you are not entering the first obstacle to successful implementation of a
into a conventional business, managing your new busi- business strategy.
ness will require strategic thinking and action within an
uncertain environment where key information may be Gather sufficient capital and operating cash.
missing. This is true of agribusinesses based on innova- • Your startup budget may need to cover one or two
tive products or services that stand to create new markets years of operating expenses before your business is
or change traditional products. Block and MacMillan able to generate any significant revenues.
(1985) recognized that starting a business is essentially • Try to make your financial projections realistic, es-
an experiment to test the assumptions made in its plan- pecially in regards to timing.
ning. To emphasize the importance of incorporating new
Work to remove kinks in your production system.
information in the modification of ongoing business plans
• Ensure availability of starting materials, skilled staff,
they proposed 10 milestones to guide the startup phase
agricultural inputs, production targets, and markets.
of innovative businesses:
• It is helpful to dry-run your production techniques
1. Completion of concept and product testing to iron out glitches and identify technical problems.
2. Completion of prototype • Resolve any significant remaining technical issues.
3. Initial financing • Make a better estimation of the costs of production.
4. Completion of initial plant test
Market testing
Production startup
A turnaround is critical
7. Bellwether sale when there is a need to
8. First competitive action save a failing business. It is
9. First redesign or redirection similar to radical surgery to
10. First significant price change save the life of the business.
Large corporations such as Sony followed a milestone The focus should be on
approach from their origins. Variations of milestone business restructuring and
planning have emerged, and the Block and MacMil- obtaining external advice as needed. It is a period when
lan approach evolved into discovery-driven planning, a employees may be demoralized and facing layoffs, when
process that successively transforms assumptions into decisions have to be made under time and financial pres-
knowledge by testing business models against emerg- sures. A turnaround may still fail, due to poor handling of

UH–CTAHR Practical Business Transition Strategies ET-11 — July 2011

required changes by either the previous or the new man-

agement in the form of wrong decisions, inappropriate Accelerating growth
timing, no sense of urgency, or complacency. Reevaluate There are times when you have
your business plan and make the necessary changes to to deal with the challenges and
the strategies, markets, products, or technologies that are opportunities of increasing
not working. For observations and leadership ideas while demand. Opportunities arise
going through a turnaround in a large organization, see from a demonstrated potential
Gerstner’s (2003) narratives of IBM. When bunchy top for growth, which helps to
virus hit Hawai‘i around 2004, Hamakua Springs Coun- motivate stakeholders through
try Farm ( in Hawai‘i Island earnings, revenues, or bonuses. Your focus should be
lost over 100 acres of banana. To turn their business on managing the pressures of scaling up production by
around they focused on diversification and sustainability ensuring the resources required, improving the exist-
as business strategies. As a result, Hamakua Springs ing systems, and creating new business structures. Ball
has become a major producer of vegetables, specialty Horticultural Company (, a major
vegetables, and fruits in the state of Hawai‘i. producer and distributor of ornamental plants and seeds,
has been in business for over 100 years. After WWII,
Learn and understand what went wrong in the business the company started a major phase of expansion and
and communicate it to your employees. accelerating growth based on mergers and acquisitions
• Evaluate your business strategies, structure, markets, strategies, diversification, and the development of new
products, and technologies to determine and prioritize products and new markets. Currently Ball operates in
the problem areas. This will bring awareness and publishing, biomedical research, marketing, and plant
emphasize the need for change. production in over 20 countries.

Remove any non-core business activities. Modify your business model for quicker response to
• Keep profit-making products or services. market needs.
• Eliminate those losing money.
Organize to learn what is working.
Make faster and bolder moves. • Identify your most profitable products.
• Revise your vision. • Identify your most productive resources and assets.
• Revise your strategies. Build and expand on them if possible.
• Revise your action plans.
Improve production systems.
Clean house at the top. • Add production shifts if needed.
• Make management changes. • Set up incentives to increase productivity at various
• Seek external qualified advice. levels.
• Recruit new people with new ideas. • Maintain quality control to ensure a consistent prod-
uct or service.
Secure early wins. • Revamp product development.
• Focus on achieving even small successes and im-
provements for morale and to sustain motivation. Design new business structures as a way to ensure
• Make some profit. financing for expansion.
• Shift mindset from despair to hope. • Explore joint ventures, partnerships, co-branding,
and/or acquisition of key suppliers and new retail
Create supporting alliances. locations. Vertical integration upstream into the
• Gain support from stakeholders to invest necessary manufacture of key production inputs or downstream
resources for the required changes. into expanded direct sales is possible.
• Generate additional investment capital if necessary. • Sell franchises or explore licensing and collaboration
• Consider strategic partnerships. options.

UH–CTAHR Practical Business Transition Strategies ET-11 — July 2011

• Develop new national or international markets. Generate innovative ideas.

• Identify opportunities to innovate arising from struc-
Implement new technologies. tural industry changes, including changes in direct
• Modernize or acquire more efficient technologies. rivals, threats of substitutes and newcomers, and the
• Automate the production process to increase produc- power of suppliers and buyers; and from changes in
tivity, from inventory tracking to customer manage- the external economic environment, such as fuel cost
ment. changes, new international markets, etc.
• Develop Web sites, blogs, and other social media to • Ideas should be market focused and market driven.
build a connection with potential customers.
• Use online sales reach new customers. Establish priorities and focus on a few vital goals.
• How to increase sales?
Integrate new employees. • How to increase marketing efforts?
• Standardization of processes facilitates expansion, • How to improve quality of product or service?
including staff training.
• Hire skilled labor or train new employees. Build team leadership.
• Consider hiring or contracting staff knowledgeable • Carefully implement shifts in business direction.
in computer technology to evaluate and implement • Create a sense of urgency for positive change.
technology solutions at all levels. • Promote leaders from within your business.
• Improve team morale and communication.
Realignment • Ensure business changes are implemented.
This is perhaps the most Secure early wins.
common business situa- • Shift organizational mindset from denial to aware-
tion. Realignment is needed ness.
when businesses fall into • Develop smaller goals with achievable targets to
stagnation or poor profit- measure incremental progress.
ability but are not in serious
financial trouble requiring a major turnaround. Realign- Create supporting alliances.
ment is like a tune-up, utilizing in-house resources and • Build support from within to ensure better execution.
refocusing the business on making a profit in the short • Obtain outside alliances to help diversify your busi-
run. The challenge is to re-energize the business while ness.
facing internal resistance, restructuring management, and
refocusing the organization. Management opportunities
arise from staff that has experienced a certain level of
Sustaining success
Some businesses reach their
success previously and may have renewed motivation
desired level of success but
for success and certain business strengths. Agri-Starts
struggle to sustain it. Sales are
( is a company specializing in tissue
adequate, and the business is
culture liners for ornamental businesses in Florida. After
performing well, with a strong
more than 20 years of success, it realigned its business to
and experienced team or teams
include the fruit industry (e.g., blueberries, banana) as a
and production lines. The positive impact is that employ-
strategy to manage the negative economic impact of the
ees and staff are motivated to continue their history of
recession over the last few years.
success. The challenge is moving to the next level while
Organize to learn what works and what doesn’t. facing internal resistance to change due to past successes.
• What areas are business strengths? The focus should be on business-model innovation –
• Where are the bottlenecks (sales, marketing, products, developing a persistent competitive advantage through
services, or customer experience)? continuous improvement of your business model. See the
• What specifically needs to change? research by Collins (2001), which highlights the role of

UH–CTAHR Practical Business Transition Strategies ET-11 — July 2011

business culture in achieving sustained performance over further innovation.

time. The following recommendations for developing a
more profitable business model are summarized from the The key to success: Continuous business-plan
work of Mitchell and Coles (2003). Hawaiian Sunshine innovation
Nursery ( has been recognized Once you have determined the problems in your business
as a leader in tropical plant production in Hawai‘i by and found some appropriate solutions, implementation is
growers and local trade associations. An emphasis on the next step. A number of business-planning guides are
innovative new products and plant quality has helped available from extension programs that present a variety
the company to sustain its success. of strategies to achieve business success (see for example
Focus on your most productive areas for innovation. Holcomb & Johnson 2006, and Bennett & Bevers 2003).
• Increase value without raising prices, perhaps by pro- A solid business foundation covers the following aspects:
viding online access, sales, and services or offering Business mission, vision, goal, or expected success-
extended shopping hours. ful outcome
• Increase sales profit by adjusting prices. At higher • Research on visionary companies by Collins and Por-
prices you may sell less, but this may also decrease ras (1997) deals with mission and purpose, vision and
your total production cost. values, and shows that a lasting business must be built
• Eliminate costs without reducing customer benefits. to embrace change and adapt.
Provide sustained benefits for all stakeholders. • Clarify what business success means to you. What is
• Prepare for lean times, but also provide fair and ap- the purpose of your business?
propriate rewards. • What market needs can you fill?
• Strengthen foundation by delivering on promises • Where will your business be in five years?
and keeping the product/service quality. Continually • Find a balance between your core competencies, what
improve ways of serving customers to outperform you like to do, and the market needs you want to meet.
A profitable business model
• Build right organizational focus and strong and stra-
• To develop and understand the elements of a suc-
tegic marketing.
cessful business model, see Entrepreneur Press and
• Share profits fairly with all who created them.
Debelak (2006).
Expand business-model innovation. • What are your specific business strategies and plans
• Be the first to capture early gains. Quickly adapt to for implementation?
changing market conditions by making your business • Use this simple GEL test to evaluate the three critical
model appropriate, innovative, and effective. This factors of a business model.
step includes becoming more aware of potential com- Great customers
petitive challenges and of legal, social, and economic Will your business generate repeat customers will-
environmental changes that may affect the business. ing to pay for your products? Think about your
• Focus on customers’ needs. target numbers, whether they are easy or difficult
• Enhance business innovative capability – master the to find, as well as your spending patterns, the value
skill of redesigning your business model. of each sale, and repeat sales.
Pursue higher potential business-model improve- Easy sales
ments. Is your product important or useful to cus-
• Keep looking for larger, more attractive future mar- tomers? Think about price/value perceptions, com-
kets and opportunities. parative competitive advantage, and requirements
• Identify areas of highest growth and profitability and for sales support or promotions.
expand them. Long life
• Expand benefits to stakeholders as a way to motivate Can a long future be built around your product?

UH–CTAHR Practical Business Transition Strategies ET-11 — July 2011

This relates to your production costs, costs of Financial planning

entering the market by newcomers, costs of hold- • Financial management focuses on costs and benefits,
ing your market share, and costs of maintaining and financial planning and strategies help reach es-
your competitive leadership. tablished milestones.
• How much money to invest? What do you need to
Business strategies spend money on?
• These are the general approaches and alternatives • When can you reach a break-even point?
that businesses directly or indirectly adopt to achieve • Are you making a profit or losing money? How much
success. They help define the attitude and general de- profit can be made?
meanor of your business in the marketplace and may • Consider these operational decisions: budget alloca-
be adopted to balance the nature of the business with tion, revenue forecasting and tracking, setting a level
the personal preferences of the owner or manager. of sales needed, monitoring of business plan execu-
• Be one of a kind – by being remarkable (e.g., Godin tion, business valuation before sale.
2002a), or by building your brand (e.g., Calloway 2003). • What part of your business is efficient and what part
• Create your own market space – eliminate or
needs to trim down?
greatly reduce competition by focusing on untapped
• When would be a time to shut down?
markets or creating demand through innovative prod-
ucts or expansion of existing industry boundaries (e.g., Production plan
Kim & Mauborgne 2005). • Careful planning, strategizing, and step-by-step
• Learn from customers – undertake an organized, execution can help to achieve desired production
systematic, rational study of customers’ preferences in in a cost-effective way. Convert financial goals into
order to design, create, market, and sell new products production targets, and develop a critical perspective
(e.g., Moskowitz & Gofman 2007). of your production capability, production technology
• Aim at becoming a market leader – develop a cor- gaps, and difficulties in achieving product quality.
porate culture of learning, value quality first, and • Create a one-year plan, a three-year plan, and long-
embrace change (e.g., Slater 2002). term production strategy. Assign milestones for major
steps. If this is a new business or idea, then these
Marketing plan and marketing strategies
• These provide timeline, budget, and strategies to get plans may represent pre-feasibility, feasibility, and
the right message to the right people through the full production phases of your business.
right method. • Consider these operational decisions: anticipate prob-
• Do you have a well-defined target market? Consider lems, set up information-flow systems, communicate,
demographics, income groups. manage time and set priorities, and review and revise
• Are your marketing strategies appropriate to the busi- routinely.
ness model, target market, and stage of business/prod- • Build competency through employee training.
uct cycle? For instance, the strategies “made to stick” • Create high-performance teams.
(Heath & Heath 2007) and “customer experience • Think of product quality in terms of appeal, function,
management” (Schmitt 2003) are useful for product experience.
introduction, while the “momentum effect” (Larreche Business plan
2008) is more applicable to the growth phase. At a • For a simple approach to creating focus, accountabil-
mature stage, “survival is not enough” (Godin 2002b) ity, and results for small businesses, see Horan (2004).
can be helpful in developing a corporate culture of There are many online sources that offer guidance in
change and adaptation to reinvigorate the business. developing more detailed business plans (see www.
• What marketing deployment options have you tried? for popular sample business plans).
To minimize the use of resources and maximize mar- • Gather all the information above into a simple busi-
keting impact, “guerrilla marketing” (Levinson 2007) ness plan that can be a point of reference and help you
suggests alternative marketing deployment options. track your progress and plan business modifications as

UH–CTAHR Practical Business Transition Strategies ET-11 — July 2011

needed. It may also serve as a way to document your small businesses. Journal of Extension [Online], 44(2)
business potential to gather funding from prospective Article 2IAW3.
investors or financing officers. php
Acknowledgments Horan, J. (2004). The one page business plan for the
The author would like to thank Steven Chiang, Norman creative entrepreneur. Berkeley, CA: The One Page Busi-
Nagata, and Roy Yamakawa for their review of and com- ness Plan Company.
ments on this work and Dr. G. Pacheco for his help in
the preparation of this manuscript. Kim, W.C., & Mauborgne, R. (2005). Blue ocean strategy:
How to create uncontested market space and make the
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