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OPINION1 February 2010

Who is the Steve Jobs of research?

Just wondering who are the CEO Innovators in research

Just back from running some groups in the US where Apple came up a lot (guess the category!) and while I was there Steve Jobs launched the new Apple iPad. It struck me that Steve Jobs himself launched the product, not an internal inventor or a marketing guy but the CEO himself. Of course we have come to expect this from him and other technology CEO’s, they are often very innovative individuals with a passion for their products.

But where is the equivalent in research? Most big research company CEO’s strike me as good (or bad) business people, more deal makes than innovators. I must admit I don’t know many personally so that is just my impression. 

If I am right then this may help explain the lack of innovation our industry suffers from, direction tends to come from the top and if they are focussed on deals and accounts then of course that will be what the rest of the people worry about.

Any ideas? For starters I would have said Adrian Chedore at Synovate but he has now retired, John Kearon at Brainjuicer qualifies as an innovative CEO but they are still relatively small. I would love to be proved wrong!

@RESEARCH LIVE

9 Comments

9 years ago

Steve, this is an interesting question. I think there are Steve Jobs(es) in research, but they are primarily in smaller companies. John Kearon, definitely. Gian Fulgoni of comScore would be another. Maybe Andy Dexter of Truth. I will be fascinated to see other nominations!

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9 years ago

Yes, great question. I agree with Simon's choices and would like to add a couple. Tod Johnson of NPD has invented and reinvented his products several times. Andy Greenfield as well.

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9 years ago

Jan Hofmeyer, who invented the Conversion Model (now owned by TNS) and who has never stopped refining his thinking in this area over 30 years. His new refined measure of brand strength, the Brand Value Creator (developed with Synovate) won the main Innovation prize at the UK MRS conference in 2008. Always thinking, and in that slightly subversive way that the real geniuses have.

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9 years ago

Good input, and I agree Jan Hoymeyer is an innovator but he isn't a CEO. The other question being - is the lack of CEO innovators (if there is one) indicative of the conservative nature of our industry or on the other hand is the apparent influx of CEO innovators in new companies (Brainjuicer, Truth et al) showing an industry on the rise?

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9 years ago

I agree about Jan, who in fact won the 2008 David Winton Award for his paper published in the International Journal of Market Research (Vol 50, Issue 2). What about Wendy Gordon of Acacia Avenue who has a long history of inspirational thinking within the market research sector?

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9 years ago

Nick Thomas surely?

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9 years ago

Especially nowadays (again) Apple is more of a business to consumer company than any research company in the industry, I think. I might not know many CEO's in the business but I do feel I can say something about Steve Jobs (not owning any Apple product), not just because he's enthusiastic and outspoken, but because he's selling products I might want to buy for myself. I think this an important clue as to why "we" might not have a Jobs in the MR industry, it's just way more B2B. Despite recent (!) success for Apple I don't think we should focus on being or recruiting the next Steve Jobs for our companies. Even within the tech industry there are few people as well known and beloved as Jobs. (Whereas Wozniak, the old Apple whizzkid, is often omitted even though Apples owes so much to him) Even though we might not have "our" Jobs for these reasons I, together with Steve Phillips here, wonder if this might be a sign of the conservative nature of the industry. Especially since examples like Hofmeyr (now at Synovate, I believe?) and Brainjuicer come up, being more at the forefront of new developments. I do believe that, like Apple, we should both inspire ourselves, our companies and our clients to see, do and want new ways of research. As such much can be gained by having these few enthusiasts in the company.

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9 years ago

I've seen some of these people e.g. Gordon, Dexter and Kearon speak at conferences & though they are doing very different things they are all highly charismatic speakers & great communicators of ideas. The other thing they have in common is that they come from a background of actually doing research whereas a lot of our CEOs are basically accountants... could that be the issue?? (No offence to accountants...)

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9 years ago

Great question. I think Diane Hessan, co-founder and CEO of Communispace, should also be added to the list. I work with Communispace on driving smart business decisions for our brands through the use of private online communities. I think Diane's continued dedication to developing vibrant customer insight communities is what makes her the next Steve Jobs of research. There are numerous reasons, of course, but the most notable being that she's found a genuine way to bring together businesses and consumers -- helping brands truly listen and learn from their customers in dynamic online communities. As a result of our partnership with Communispace, and more specifically Diane, we've been able to prove a positive and increase ROI on campaigns and several corporate initiatives.

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