“Be so good they can’t ignore you” is good advice for all intel practitioners.

Tom Leydorf, Executive Vice President Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc., kicked off Aurora WDC’s RECONVERGE G:2 intelligence symposium on Wednesday with his presentation on ‘The Process of Reinvention,” a topic in keeping with this year’s conference theme.

Leydorf’s presentation covered his own personal reinvention, a strategic reinvention at CNI, followed by an opportunity for Q&A.

Leydorf’s personal story began with his diverse educational background. His suggestion for those hoping to work in CI is that they study a wide variety of topics. He worked at the CIA as an intelligence analyst. He loved the work there due to the tremendous quantity of data, challenging problems he confronted, and the smart people he worked with.

Then he met a girl from Oklahoma, married, and had two children, and had to relocate.

Leydorf realized he had transferable skills from the CIA: Understanding data, analytical reasoning, and ability to work well with others. “If you can do these things,” says Leydorf, “you can offer value to any company.”

His advice for personal reinvention in the workplace is to be a hard worker, be a good teammate, be relevant, and be forward looking.

Concerning his company, Leydorf finds the last years pivotal. A midsize company of companies with over 2,000 employees nationwide in 40 state. They have 7 divisions.

The CNI story is one of a successful business for beyond 15 years. They started with $50K in seed money and grew $285M annual revenue in 2008.

CNI leveraged preferential treatment in federal contraction for tribally-owned companies. But they had little diversification, and market forces hurt them; growth stalled and declined.

Similar to an S Curve revolution, determination had to be made as to location on the Sigmoid Curve; do this to determine where your company will have the most value over time. Consider time and resources in this evaluation of your status; learn opportunity lies.

CNI implemented t a new strategic planning process, and everything began with reliable market intelligence in CNI’s approach. They decided to concentrate on learning and focus with a CI capability. Leydorf insisted the CI team operated outside current functions; he did not want them embedded in another department.

They performed a comprehensive situation analysis to define their strategic choices: What can you do better or cheaper than the competition?

In order to get the data right, they conducted 11 market analyst reports on the customer and federal agencies, conducted a war game, did 4 market analysis reports on various commercial industries and submitted survey questions for all employees. They also did a comprehensive win/loss analysis, surveyed senior managers about progress on 5-year strategic plan, leadership identified target focus areas for each business line, and executives offsite considered broad strategic options.

It was necessary for CNI to disrupt themselves; they needed to shift from basic commodity provider to a solution provider.


Leydorf believed decisive points were:

  • Signal and the noise—hear the right notes in the market
  • Don’t forget the Sigmoid Curve
  • Dedication to the trust within the intel team
  • Bottom line financial results are not subjective and debatable
  • Executive support at every step, pushing intel ahead
  • Maintain strict accountability for profit and loss
  • Have a plan, work it, be flexible
  • Be clear on key expectations

The process took about 1.5 years to accomplish.

CNI’s “signal in the noise” was how to become more specialized in the market space. Investment in new areas was required, so they started acquiring companies. “The talent of the strategist is to identify the decision point and concentrate everything on it,” Leydorf says.

Reorganization was a further requirement.

They adopted a “practice manager model” to bring industry knowledge that CNI could adapt to changing market conditions. It was easily scalable, allowing for more rapid growth by adding new lines of business, and a flatter org chart expedited decisions and reduced dependence on tribal or minority status.

Questions to ask yourself in reinvention:

  • What happens when some hear “signal” and others hear “noise”?
  • How can you avoid fights over where the company is positioned on the Sigmoid Curve?
  • How can a company best avoid “me too” syndrome in the marketplace?
  • What is the best question to ask when revenue and profits are falling?

“Be so good they can’t ignore you,” said Steve Martin in his advice to young comedians—advice that Leydorf prescribes for all intel shops.