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215 of 232 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2002
Built To Last was an extremely thought provoking and eye opening read. Built To Last studies some of the most successful (called the leading companies) and the following companies (non-leaders in an industry). The research for this book produced surprising results for the authors (and the reader). The authors found the there were at least twelve commonly held businesses beliefs that their research refuted. In essence these dearly held business beliefs were myths.
Here is a look at each of the twelve myths and a sound byte describing each:
1. It takes a great idea to start a company Few visionary companies started with a great idea. Many companies started without any specific ideas (HP and Sony) and others were outright failures (3M). In fact a great idea may lead to road of not being able to adapt.
2. Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders A charismatic leader in not required and, in fact, can be detrimental to a company's long-term prospects.
3. The most successful companies exist first and foremost to maximize profits Not true. Profit counts, but is usually not at the top of the list.
4. Visionary companies share a common subset of "correct" core values They all have core values, but each is unique to a company and it's culture.
5. The only constant is change The core values can and often do last more then 100 years.
6. Blue-chip companies play it safe They take significant bet the company risks.
7. Visionary companies are great places to work, for everyone These companies are only great places to work if you fit the vision and culture.
8. Highly successful companies make some of their best moves by brilliant and complex strategic planning. They actually try a bunch of stuff and keep what works.
9. Companies should hire outside CEOs to stimulate fundamental change Most have had their change agents come from within the system.
10. The most successful companies focus primarily on beating the competition. They focus on beating themselves.
11. You can't have your cake and eat it too. Decisions don't have to either or, but can be boths.
12. Companies become visionary primarily through "vision statements". Vision is not a statement it is the way you do business.
I would recommend this book to anyone engaged in developing and running a business at any level. If you want to design, build and run a lasting enterprise this book has some ideas and insights worth exploring.
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85 of 90 people found the following review helpful
This book reminds me of the hero in the classic Greek tragedy. The hero is always magnificent, but has a tragic flaw. This is a magnificent book with a tragic flaw.

Porras and Collins set out to write a book about visionary companies, and they did just that. They chose the companies they would study based on specific, detailed criteria.

They wanted to study companies that had been premier institutions in their industries and widely admired while they made an imprint on the world around them. They wanted their companies to have multiple generations of chief executives and to have gone through multiple product or service lifecycles. And they wanted the companies to have been around for a long time - founded before 1950.

They compared each of their visionary companies with another company that was not a premier visionary company. Many of the comparison companies were solid performers. They were good companies, but not great companies. That's one of the great things about the book. You can see the distinction between good performance and great performance.

Another thing that makes the book great is the extensive research. The project took six years, and the authors and their research team dug into critical issues and came up with fascinating insights and comparisons.

Read this book and you will learn about the characteristics of great companies that have an impact on the world around them. The discussions will enrich your understanding of what makes a great company. This will be especially valuable to you if you're in the process of building a company that you want to be great.

That's the great part, the hero part. What about the flaws?

The first flaw is that essentially performance for each of these companies is equated with market performance. There are lots of things the authors could have used, such as return on assets, for example. But share price is easy to track over time and is used as a surrogate for greatness. I'm not sure that that's the best criterion.

What you are actually reading about is a selection of excellent, visionary companies that were perceived as good investments by the market. This "perception" issue is not addressed in the book.

The second flaw is more important. While this book tells you marvelous things about companies that are admittedly great and about some of the things that make for greatness in companies, and while it mixes statistical data with telling anecdotes, it falls short in one critical area. The book doesn't tell you anything about how to achieve greatness.

In other words, it describes what greatness might be and it gives you some examples of companies who have achieved it, but the book ultimately left me with the nagging desire that the authors would have given me some "how to." As far as you can tell from reading the book, these companies were always great.

That may not be a problem for you if you're just starting a company. You've got a clean slate to start from. But if you're guiding an already-established company, or a part of it, I think you'll wish for a few examples of companies that became great after performing at some lesser level.

That's the bottom line in my recommendation. If you're looking for a book that describes greatness and where you'll pick up a wealth of ideas and good historical knowledge about great companies, buy this book. If, on the other hand, what you want is a book that describes in some detail how to achieve that greatness, this may not be the book for you.
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135 of 152 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 1997
"Built to Last" is one of those rare non-fiction books you just can't put down. Unequivocally the best "business" book I have ever read, "Built to Last" by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras is a compelling, thorough, well-written, unprecedented look at what it takes to "create and achieve long-lasting greatness as a visionary corporation." Unlike many current "trendy" management and "business success" books out on the market, Collins and Porras differentiate "Built to Last" by using their own six-year comprehensive, well-documented research study as the basis for further analysis.

What separates "Built to Last" is that each visionary company (3M, HP, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart...) is contrasted with a comparison company founded in the same time, in the same industry, with similar founding products and markets (Norton, TI, Colgate, Ames...). Perhaps what I found most intriguing were some of the twelve "shattered myths" they go on to counter throughout the book:

1. It takes a great idea to start a great company

2. Visionary companies require great and charismatic visionary leaders

3. Visionary companies share a common subset of "correct" core values

4. Highly successful companies make their best moves by brilliant and complex strategic planning

5. The most successful companies focus primarily on beating the competition

As a current business student with a summer internship in a "visionary company," I was amazed as their careful analysis rang true. This is one book I can highly recommend to any student, professional, or business educator looking for those not-so-subtle traits that characterize a truly visionary company.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2002
As I dutifully plow through the currently popular business books - and I read only the ones that I need rather than for pleasure - I occasionally find a good and (fairly) interesting one. This is one of those books I would recommend. Instead of overflowing with ridiculously florid rhetoric about recycled banalities and excitement that is simply not justified, this book is based on solid research and is not afraid to offer un-spectacular advice.
It is about what the authors call "visionary companies," which stand for something beyond just making money and yet are profitable. They do well, and they do good. There is no doubt that such companies exist, which I admit in spite of my boredom and cynicism regarding most of the businessmen and "business intellectuals" that I deal with as a writer.
Set up like an academic study, the book is a synthesis of the authors' findings while taking a long historical view of consistently excellent (i.e. "visionary") companies like H-P, Merck, and P&G.
Not surprisingly, these companies do similar things: 1) they have visions and value that they try to uphold consistently throughout the company and to which they stay true over decades; 2) the set incredibly ambitious (and in retrospect realistic) goals that inspire their employees ("big hairy ambitious goals"); 3) they are cult-like in their beliefs in themselves; 4) they allow for trial and error, which lead to "evolutionary progress"; 5) they hire leadership from within; 6) they cultivate keeping their employees a bit off-balance ("uncomfortable") as a way of getting them to perform at their best; 7) they make sure that all elements work in concert and are internally consistent and self-reinforcing ("alignment").
That is it for the ideas, which are far more nuanced than the above paragraph. They could be summarized in one chapter, and the rest of the book is repetition and analysis by example. The examples are interesting and informative and the ideas, which have all been said before, are good to review in a systematic way. Very good.
These are good and useful ideas, if somewhat banal. But then, doing business is rather dull for the most part - there are very few exciting companies out there, but most of them are like horribly dysfunctional families. This is the authors' bid to explain the good few.
The tone of the book is rather modest, but the authors do get a bit too wordy and chummy in many instances. While I liked the modesty, I got bored with the chumminess.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2004
This book will show you how to take your business from just average to great but even more importantly, make it last. Built to Last is a must read for all business people. Read this right along with Good To Great and Double Digit Growth.
Take your company to unequaled growth and leave a legacy.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2002
James Collins is a management researcher from Boulder (Colorado) and Jerry Porras is a professor of organizational behavior and change at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This book is really split up into three parts: (1) An introduction into the research.; (2) The core ideology of visionary companies.; (3) The habits of visionary companies; (4) Methods for implementation.

The authors explain their research methods of this six-year research project into visionary companies. "Visionary companies are premier institutions - the crown jewels - in their industries, widely admired by their peers and having a long track record of making a significant impact on the world around them." The authors used the term 'visionary', rather than just 'successful' or 'enduring', to reflect the fact they have distinguished themselves as a very special and elite breed of institutions. In order to compose these visionary companies the authors started with a set of criteria which those companies had to meet: (1) Premier institution in its industry; (2) widely admired by knowledgeable businesspeople; (3) made an indelible imprint on the world in which we live; (4) had multiple generations of chief executives; (5) been through multiple product (or service) life cycles; (6) founded before 1950. With these criteria in mind the authors select 18 visionary companies from a wide range of industries, plus 18 comparison companies (which are not weak or bad companies either).

So what do these visionary companies have in common? They have core ideologies consisting of more than a bunch of nice-sounding platitudes. A visionary company's core ideology consists of core values ("The organization's essential and enduring tenets") and purpose ("The organization's fundamental reasons for existence beyond just making money"). But the authors comment that ocre ideology alone cannot make a visionary company. Ultimately, a visionary company is build up from a core ideology complemented with a drive for progress and a preservation of the core complemented with a stimulation for progress.

The authors then turn their attention to the specific methods of preserving the core and stimulating progress that distinguishes visionary companies from the comparison companies. They split these methods up into: (1) Big hairy audaciou goals (BHAGs) ("Commitment to challenging, audicious goals and projects toward which a visionary company channels its efforts."); (2) Cult-like cultures ("Great places to work only for those who buy in to the core ideology; those who don't fit the ideology are ejected like a virus (preserves the core)."); (3)Try a lot of stuff and keep what works ("High levels of action and experimentation that produce new and unexpected paths of progress and enables visionary companies to mimic the biological evolution of specias (stimulates progress)."); (4) Home-grown management ("Promotion from within, bringing to senior levels only those who've spent significant time steeped in the coe ideology of the company (preserves the core)."); and (5) Good enough never is ("A continual process of relentless self-improvement with the aim of doing better and better, forever into the future (stimulate progress).")

In the final chapters the authors provide a summary of the book, which they refer to as the vision framework: Articulating a vision = core ideology (core values and core purpose) + envisioned future (10 to 30 year BHAG and vivid descriptions). There are also some tools to create all these items in this framework. In this 3rd edition there is also 'a message for the new economy' in which the authors conclude that the dot-com craze is based on 'Built to Flip' and not 'Built to Last' ideas. They provide some questions for to check whether your organization is built to last or built to flip. This chapter is a waste paper.

This is a good book into the habits of successful companies, although the habits are somewhat 'soft', and difficult to implement in existing companies. The biggest criticism McKinsey & Co had on this book: "We really love 'Built to Last' here, but unfortunately it's useless. ... all the companies in 'Built to Last' were always great. They were never average. But that's most of the world." As an reply to this criticism Collins has recently written 'Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't' (2001). My greatest criticism on this book is the amount of repetition and therefore I recommend others to go for the e-articles 'Build Your Company's Vision' and 'Turning Goals into Results', both by the authors of this book. I also recommend Jim Collins' latest article 'Level 5 Leadership' (2001) which is based on his latest book 'Good to Great'. This book is written in simple US-English.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 13, 2000
I'm not a business person, and don't willingly read business books. Yet this one has something to offer, even to me.
These boys go about their research with serious intellectual integrity -- willing to let the evidence destroy their hypotheses and starting over with new ideas -- they come upon some deep and important truths about leadership. For example: Preserve the core philosophy, hold all else loosely. Look for ways to replace "either or" with "yes AND" Be a clockbuilder, not a timeteller.
Among other ideas. I don't know if what is here is profound in the business world, as I don't exist in the business world. But it is often the simplest of simple truths -- the kind we tend to overlook.
I read this as part of a staff of a campus ministry, and found it definitely helpful. I think any leader of ANYthing will find it helpful. If I ever go into business, I'll come back to it. There are no "quick steps to success" or get-rich plans, there is simple a strong philosophy of business clearly expressed.
As I said, the boys have done their research, and are eager to show it. The book bogs down when they cite example after example of how their "visionary companies" have illustrated the concepts they are putting forward --proving to me that they're right, but testing my patience at the same time.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
If you invested in a general market stock fund, or a comparison company, and a visionary company January 1, 1926 and reinvested dividends, a $1 in the general market fund would have grown to $415; not bad. Your $1 investment in the comparison companies would have grown to $955 (twice the general market). But your investment in the visionary companies would have grown to $6,356, six times greater than comparison companies and fifteen times greater than the general market.
The "visionary" companies: 3M, American Express, Boeing, Citicorp, Ford, GE, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott, Merck, Motorola, Nordstrom, Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble, Sony, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney.
Enduring companies grow because they concentrate on being a great organization, not because of an original idea for a product or service. A lasting, core ideology is the driving force behind a visionary company; not culture, strategy, tactics, operations or policies. Core values are simple, clear, straightforward beliefs of unchanging, fundamental values such as The Golden Rule, but core values differ widely. They are the basic reason for existence beyond just making money. Visionary companies concentrate on building an organization rather than implementation of a great idea, charis-matic leadership, or wealth accumulation. The authors call it "clock-building" rather than "time-telling."
Growth favors the persistent but persist in what? They never give up on the company, but drop losing ideas, adopt winning ideas and along the way, try many ideas to find winners. But it's the company, not the idea. Most revealing was the extraordinary fact that visionary companies can live with contradictory ideas and forces at the same time. They don't accept an A or B concept, for example, that there must be either stability or change. They do both at the same time, all the time.
This is a rare, difficult trait. The book aptly quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald: "...first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas... at the same time.. . and still function."
The profit myth. Visionary companies are more idealogically-drlven and less profit-driven than comparison companies. Of course they pursue profit, but they do both. More importantly, their values don't shift with the times, or changing markets.
As the authors reel off the rather obscure names of heads of visionary companies (and their personality traits), clearly they aren't charismatic leaders, but perhaps better described as "architects." People have always harbored a deep need to be assured that someone or something must have it all figured out; God must have made it that way. Not so with visionary companies. Things are the way they are because the founders created an evolving, changing process for selecting what works and doesn't work. And these visionary companies continue to come up with a stream of successful products and services.
Other shattered myths. Playing it safe: They make bold, risky commitments and make them work most of the time. A great place to work: You fit and flourish or hate it and leave. Brilliant strategic planning; Best moves are made by trial and error. Beating competition: They concentrate on beating themselves. They believe in home-grown management; promotion from within. The authors conclude that new ideas will become obsolete faster than ever before, therefore corporate success must be ideological and provide common bonds of values, beliefs and aspirations.
This is a landmark book. It goes beyond corporate concepts and provides new insights on growth for individuals, groups or organizations.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the business classics in the past twenty years. It has sold a huge number of copies and I am sure many of those purchased copies were actually read! As impressive as its sales numbers have been, the way it has affected the approach to the way business was discussed and talked about for the past dozen years has been even more impressive.

Yes, there are always newer fads and business is subject to fads more than most fields of human endeavor. There are lots of theories about why this is so, but it might have something to do with the new managers coming in wanting to bring something new with them and so the previous guy's stuff is no good. Hence, something comes and something goes for reasons beyond its ability to run business in a sound and profitable way. However, when something comes along with some real substance it spreads and lasts, at least for awhile. The ideas of core values and big (hairy audacious) goals hit a chord and lasted. Of course, today they are part of the air businesspeople breathe rather than a quote from this book.

The authors looked at a number of big companies and found a list of those that had been around a long time, been financially successful, and were on a roll at the time of this book (but they don't say this is one of their criteria). They also found some comparable big company that hadn't found the level of success of the "visionary company" as they call the successful firms. They then looked for some traits common to those big successful companies that might explain their success.

The four big principles they came up with were: 1) Be a clock builder - or architect - not a time teller [once you read the chapter it will be clear], 2) Embrace the genius of the AND, 3) Preserve the core / stimulate progress, and 4) seek consistent alignment.

All this has to do with being opportunistic, building the organization that best supports the opportunities you are pursuing rather than letting the organization dictate what you pursue, that success requires doing seemingly contradictory goals simultaneously, making sure that the core culture gets preserved (if it has been a successful culture), and making sure that the whole process is focused on the core ideology - the core values and core purpose of the organization. Sounds simple? It's not. And even so, the "visionary" companies the book lauded a dozen years ago have all, or almost all, fallen on various levels of hard times since the book came out.

This fact is addressed in a soft way in the frequently asked questions addition for this paperback addition. There is also a new last chapter on building the vision and a section on questions for research (this acknowledges areas left unexplained by the book).

A book that has been this influential deserves your attention if you are interested in business literature. However, as with all of these books, use the principles as they apply to your real life in the real world of competitive business rather than treating them as some kind of final truth.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2003
As shared before, my review methodology is to give a book some time so I can accurately comment to the degree of which it impacted my life. In the case of "Built to Last," I am writing a review a full 3 years after completing this most excellent book.
I am not exaggerating, then, when I say that this is among a select group of the most powerfully influential business books I've read. There is something about the methodology, the way the conclusions are presented, that makes it stand out as an excellent read. The content is, as some would say, quite "sticky."
Take, for example, their selection criteria for what constitutes an "Visionary Company." The company had to be in business something like 60 years, so they can see how a culture had "outgrown" their genesis business model (think about that!!!). They had to be outstanding market leaders, so there is some tie to the bottom line, and so on. Personally, these metrics have become ingrained, such that I repeatedly find myself gauging where my organization is relative to these metrics.
Secondly, the book expands upon each attribute of a "visionary company," such as having "big hairy audacious goals (BHAG's)," or having what some call a "cult-like culture." Each section expands upon each with direct examples of how the identified companies espouse these attributes.
For example, there is much discussion on how firms such as Boeing is famous of undertaking aggressive projects (BHAG's), or how Nordstrom's culture is so powerful it's akin to oil and water (the right people just fit; the wrong people are self-ejected).
I have found it fascinating, however, to watch the featured companies since completing the book. HP, for example. Why in God's name would HP chose to get into the PC business? This barely appears to align with "The HP Way." And for a while it appeared that Boeing no longer attacked BHAG's when they rejected the notion of a super-sonic passenger airliner, although their involvement in the Joint Task Force Fighter project certainly appeared in-line with their culture.
Finally, I have noted many books whose authors were influenced by this book. Either the book itself was directly referenced, or the ideas were clearly gained from its reading. My recommendation: buy it and read it. I doubt you will ever forget it.
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