Where are all the young, bold, brash dot-com CEOs?

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Do you get the feeling that the bold, brash, ‘‘we’re-here-to-revolutionize-an-industry’’ verve of b-to-b executives is on the wane?

Whipsawed by the Nasdaq and under intense scrutiny by their VC backers, dot-com companies have been retrenching of late. Not that there’s anything wrong with adding a dollop of fiscal conservatism to a visionary, Internet start-up.

But it’s equally unwise, it seems to me, to take the Internet and all the technologies at hand for the modest purpose of replacing phone calls with e-mail and paper forms with Web forms.

No, the future belongs to those companies that envision, develop and then aggressively promote new business processes-processes made possible through networks and software.

Promoting a new process isn’t easy. Put another way: Never underestimate the inertia within individual companies or entire industries, which often permit tinkering with the old machinery but not fundamental rethinking of the factory floor.

Some e-marketplace providers are keenly aware of this problem. The smartest of them will tell you their game plan: First, give buyer and seller a fairly simple, electronic version of the world they now understand; next, migrate them to a panoply of sophisticated additional services-collaborative design, supply chain management and real-time capacity planning.

Pulling entire industries into these new modes of working will take a lot of advocacy, education and, yes, marketing.

‘‘Outside of technology, marketing is our largest spend,’’ reveals James Davidson, president-CEO of The National Transportation Exchange Inc., an e-marketplace for the 30% of unused trucking capacity on any given day in the U.S. To date, the exchange claims 230 carriers and 200 shippers. According to Davidson, NTE often gets approval from CEOs and CFOs, but hits a snag ‘‘three layers down in the org chart’’ because of managers worried that their fiefdoms, their traditional jobs and ways of doing business, will be supplanted.

Possibly sensitive to this reticence, many e-marketplaces have recently hired senior, seasoned gray-beards-industry executives with so-called ‘‘domain expertise’’-to bring their offerings to market.

At least some of these executive appointments have been driven by a wish to appear less revolutionary, less risky, especially to an increasingly risk-averse investment community.

But pretending a revolution isn’t happening, that old modes of business are simply moving to the Web, isn’t the answer. Worse, these older ‘‘domain experts’’ may lack the brashness and daring of younger industry outsiders. Gradual, continuous improvement and better execution is now less important than radically new models, as Harvard Business School research fellow Gary Hamel argues in his new book, "Leading the Revolution". Exchanges that fail to innovate and invigorate business processes in their industries will surely lose to those that will.

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