you gotta have friends
January 1, 2001
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
says packaged goods is behind the technology curve?
Not Betsy Cohen, vice
president and corporate futurist at St. Louis-based Ralston Purina
Co. Cohen was one of the "Four Amigos," leading packaged
goods marketers who banded together to guide the early formation
of Transora.com, a business-to-business electronic marketplace
for consumer goods manufacturers, suppliers and retailers.
Should Transora succeed—and
its prospects are reasonably good—it will be because Cohen
and her teammates took the best of the old and the new economies
and fused them in record time.
Owned by a consortium
of packaged goods companies that includes Procter & Gamble,
General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, Nabisco and Nestle, Transora.com
could become one of the world’s premier e-marketplaces.
Transora’s purpose is to capitalize on b-to-b electronic
commerce to create efficiencies all along the industry’s
Transora could do much
more than electronically match buyers and sellers to create purchasing
and procurement efficiencies. Transora and exchanges like it in
other industries could fundamentally reshape their industries.
To me, what’s
really interesting about Transora is its genesis. In an industry
not known for the nimble and rapid adoption of new technology,
Transora’s formation and development is unique. It was launchedmuch
like a Silicon Valley start-up. And that’s where Betsy Cohen
and the Four Amigos got involved.
a group of chief e-business officers that meet through the Grocery
Manufacturers Association of America," Cohen says. "(In)
March, about a week after the auto industry formed a procurement
exchange (Covisint), we were in New York hearing presentations
on measuring Internet effectiveness."
"It was an epiphany,"
Cohen recalls. "We said, ‘Why don’t we get our
own industry group to start a company? Why don’t we do what
the auto industry is doing?’ We ignored the speakers, and
a group of us said, ‘What would it take?’ "
That meeting at New
York’s Tribeca Grill was where Transora was born. The participants
decided to go back to their companies and see if they could get
a team together to decide if they could invest and start a dot-com
company, she says.
"We put together
asmall presentation deck. In the next few days we got to our CEOs.
Meanwhile, the GMA people started calling our management, saying,
‘This group is going to need some of your people to work
a day or two a week,’ " Cohen reports.
What was remarkable
was the reception their companies gave the idea: Budget and professional
resources were committed in Internet time. Organizations that
would typically study an issue to death by committee moved rapidly,
and today, according to published reports, Transora has raised
more than $250 million and has more than 50 major corporations
"Within a few
weeks, there were 100 of us in a room. ... Nothing ever happened
fast in the consumer package goods industry. Other important initiatives
took years for consensus building," says Cohen, who initially
led marketing, communications and public relations for the start-up
exchange. "The team just decided that if it was going to
happen, it was going to happen quickly."
The Four Amigos—including
Cohen, Alex Gibbons from Minneapolis-based Pillsbury Co., Rick
Herbst of Kellogg Co. in Battle Creek, Mich. and Rich Kauffeld
from Campbell Soup Co. in Camden, N.J.—helped orchestrate
the assignments of more than 100 people from a cross-section of
the packaged goods elite. When they were through, "There
was the financial team. There was a governance group. There was
a marketing group. There was obviously a very important technical
group. We were from different companies but we felt we just had
to plunge forward together."
In a matter of a few
weeks, a business plan was conceived: "The business plan
... was finished in April, and presented to 22 CEOs of the world’s
largest organizations (in) May," she says.
How did Cohen and the
others prod what some might call a sleepyindustry into the vanguard
of e-business? "We were passionate," she says. "Passion,
a mission and people who see a chance to make a difference."
That’s what it takes.
Clearly the established
industries have learned it’s their time to lead. Maybe this
is what the "New Economy" is really all about.
Michael Krauss is a
partner with DiamondCluster International in Chicago.
He can be reached at email@example.com.