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Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business Essentials) Paperback – Bargain Price, August 20, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

This analysis of what makes great companies great has been hailed everywhere as an instant classic and one of the best business titles since In Search of Excellence. The authors, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, spent six years in research, and they freely admit that their own preconceptions about business success were devastated by their actual findings--along with the preconceptions of virtually everyone else.

Built to Last identifies 18 "visionary" companies and sets out to determine what's special about them. To get on the list, a company had to be world famous, have a stellar brand image, and be at least 50 years old. We're talking about companies that even a layperson knows to be, well, different: the Disneys, the Wal-Marts, the Mercks.

Whatever the key to the success of these companies, the key to the success of this book is that the authors don't waste time comparing them to business failures. Instead, they use a control group of "successful-but-second-rank" companies to highlight what's special about their 18 "visionary" picks. Thus Disney is compared to Columbia Pictures, Ford to GM, Hewlett Packard to Texas Instruments, and so on.

The core myth, according to the authors, is that visionary companies must start with a great product and be pushed into the future by charismatic leaders. There are examples of that pattern, they admit: Johnson & Johnson, for one. But there are also just too many counterexamples--in fact, the majority of the "visionary" companies, including giants like 3M, Sony, and TI, don't fit the model. They were characterized by total lack of an initial business plan or key idea and by remarkably self-effacing leaders. Collins and Porras are much more impressed with something else they shared: an almost cult-like devotion to a "core ideology" or identity, and active indoctrination of employees into "ideologically commitment" to the company.

The comparison with the business "B"-team does tend to raise a significant methodological problem: which companies are to be counted as "visionary" in the first place? There's an air of circularity here, as if you achieve "visionary" status by ... achieving visionary status. So many roads lead to Rome that the book is less practical than it might appear. But that's exactly the point of an eloquent chapter on 3M. This wildly successful company had no master plan, little structure, and no prima donnas. Instead it had an atmosphere in which bright people were both keen to see the company succeed and unafraid to "try a lot of stuff and keep what works." --Richard Farr --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

What makes a visionary company? This book, written by a team from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, compares what the authors have identified as "visionary" companies with selected companies in the same industry. The authors juxtapose Disney and Columbia Pictures, Ford and General Motors, Motorola and Zenith, and Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments, to name a few. The visionary companies, the authors found out, had a number of common characteristics; for instance, almost all had some type of core ideology that guided the company in times of upheaval and served as a constant bench mark. Not all the visionary companies were founded by visionary leaders, however. On the whole, this is an intriguing book that occasionally provides rare and interesting glimpses into the inner workings and philosophical foundations of successful businesses. Recommended for all libraries.
Randy L. Abbott, Univ. of Evansville Lib., Ind.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Harper Business Essentials
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Collins Business; 3 edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060516402
  • ASIN: B001W6RRNY
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (318 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #857,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

217 of 234 people found the following review helpful By Martin Schray on March 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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.
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87 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Walter H. Bock on January 31, 2005
Format: Paperback
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?
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137 of 154 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 27, 1997
Format: Paperback
"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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