Starting a Business Strategy Firm

Interview with Six Disciplines Founder Gary Harpst

Gary Harpst had years of experience starting new businesses before founding Six Disciplines. Now he helps others start and grow businesses by executing strategies.

Gary Harpst went from Microsoft to his own business by executing strategy.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Six Disciplines has developed the first complete strategy execution program, specifically optimized for small and midsized businesses. The Six Disciplines program integrates a repeatable business-building methodology, ongoing external coaching to ensure accountability, an execution software system to align daily activities of every employee, and community learning to drive organizational learning accelerate and sustain business excellence.

When did you start the business?

I founded Six Disciplines in 2000, with the goal of revolutionizing strategy execution management for small and midsized businesses. The result, after 100 man-years of field development and $20 million investment, is Six Disciplines, the first complete strategy execution program.

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

I've been fortunate to have been involved in the creation of three successful firms. In 1980, I co-founded and was the CEO of a microcomputer accounting software firm called Solomon Software. From 1980 through 2000, Solomon Software grew to more than 400 employees, selling to more than 60,000 customers worldwide. Solomon was sold to Great Plains Software in 2000, which later acquired by Microsoft Corporation in 2001. Today, the Solomon product is sold and supported as Microsoft Dynamics SL. In 2004, I also established another company, Plumbline Solutions, as a joint project with Microsoft.

Where did you get the startup money?

Six Disciplines is funded entirely by private investors.

Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?

In one way, we have no direct competitors, because no one has ever done what we're doing. Our biggest differentiator is that we focus on solving the biggest single challenge that all businesses face - executing strategy. So, while there are others (consultants, coaches, business advisors) that focus on sales, growth, performance improvement, quality programs, etc. - we focus on the toughest challenge of all - executing strategy.

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

It's extremely challenging to do something no one has ever done before. After all, if executing strategy was easy, we'd all know how to do it. Fact is, most companies don't this very well at all, and if they do, they only do so for only a short period of time. It's exhilarating to know that we're fueling a revolution in the way small and midsized businesses will be able to leapfrog past much larger organizations in the way they get the right things done.

Drawing from my 25 years of experience working with small and midsized businesses, complemented by a brutal honesty about my own mistakes, however, I view five major factors that impact small and midsized businesses. Although not the result of a quantitative study, they do represent thousands of hours in the "school of hard knocks."

  • We Don't Know How to Build an Organization That Executes Well
  • We Fall Into the Trap of "Outside-In" Thinking
  • We Are Not in Control (of Much)
  • Usually, It's Easier Not To Do What We Know We Should
  • Successful Businesses Always Face The Growth Paradox

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Since starting Six Disciplines, I've focused my attention on helping other businesses benefit from the many mistakes I made as a CEO, and the mistakes I see others make every day.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

I would recommend that anyone starting a new business, or renewing the commitment to their existing business, start by reading Six Disciplines for Excellence - Chapter 4 - Discipline I. Decide What's Important. This is the discipline where you create or renew your mission, values, strategic position, vision, vital few objectives, and the list of things you're going to stop doing.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Gary!

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