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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
In recent years, Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written several books in which she focuses on individuals as well as groups that consistently produce peak performances. She understands and appreciates how difficult it is to become #1 in the given competitive marketplace and how even more difficult it is to maintain that ranking. As Tom Peters and Robert Waterman as well as Jim Collins and others have noted, that is true of major corporations and it is also true of athletic teams. In Confidence, Kanter correctly praises women's varsity basketball coach Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee. Since 1974, her teams have won eight national championships and twice won consecutive championships (1996-1998 and 2007-2008) but Tennessee is one of very few that have ever done so. Eight of the last ten NFL Super Bowl champions failed to make the playoffs the following year and only two teams during the same period won consecutive titles, the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. Thirty-eight of 43 other winners couldn't repeat.

My point is, that becoming a "SuperCorp" (however defined), especially in the current economy, is an admirable achievement but does not necessarily ensure a permanent position. That is why Reggie Jones selected Jack Welch to succeed him as CEO and then told him to "blow up" GE. That is why Toyota continues to generate so many suggestions to improve its incomparable production system and incorporated more than two million of them last year. That is why not once or twice but at least three times thus far, Tiger Woods has made radical changes in his swing (i.e. grip, stance, take-away, and/or follow-through) because he competes only against himself, no one else, and realized that improvements were needed. I suspect that, not having won a major this year, he continues to make additional refinements.

I have read and reviewed all of Rosabeth Moss Kanter's previously published books and consider this one to be her most informative, hence most valuable thus far. In it, she focuses on a number of "vanguard" companies and explains how each literally leads the way in terms of demonstrating how" vanguard companies create innovation, profits, growth, and social bond. The "supercorps"include Banco Real, CEMEX, IBM, ICICI Bank, Omron, Procter & Gamble, Publicis Groupe, and Shirshan Bank. All of them have been literally "in the forefront of an action, an example of change to come" in terms of both social purpose and profitable enterprise, not either/or. To a much greater extent than ever before, Kanter provides within her lively narrative reader-friendly check lists that facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points later. For example:

Four general forces to which vanguard companies respond (Pages 46-47)
Six advantages created with strategic use of values and principles (58-60)
Five advantages when social purpose is at the forefront (111-113)
Nine tenets of innovation initiatives that make a difference (211-212)
Seven guidelines that summarize vanguard practices (231-232)
"Ten Things That Anyone Can Do to Be in a Vanguard" (259-260)
Five characteristics of vanguard leadership (261-262)

Unlike most other business books whose authors heavily rely on lists of hollow bullet points, Kanter's checklists include detailed annotations. For example, "Relationships: Persuasion and diplomacy" is one of the characteristics of vanguard leadership. Kanter suggests that such a leader "Can communicate, listen, and inspire. Likes to connect, to collaborate, and to find solutions that are good for many people. Can enlist people in projects and motivate volunteers. Is partnership oriented, seeing opportunities to leverage resources by tapping networks. Work as an effective, enthusiastic mentor." However different they may be in most other respects, all of the CEOs of vanguard companies she discusses in this book - Fabio Barbosa (Banco Real), Lorenzo Zambrano (CEMEX), Sam Palmisano (IBM), K.V. Kamath (ICICI Bank), Hisao Sakuta (Omron), A.G. Lafley (Procter & Gamble), and Maurice Lévy (Publicis Groupe) -- possess highly-developed skills for establishing and nourishing relationships within and (especially) beyond their organization. Their effectiveness is explained by ability to see things in context and understand complex interactions between and among many variables. They have a bias for action and are results-driven when seeking solutions for their own organization as well as for the clients it is privileged to serve. They have what Daniel Goleman correctly describes as "emotional intelligence": exceptional self-awareness (of weaknesses as well as strengths), empathy, respect for individuality and principled dissent, and a sincere delight in others' achievements. They are also values-driven, take very seriously their fiduciary responsibilities as a steward of resources, and recognize, indeed embrace a higher calling than merely making money.

In vanguard companies, Kanter points out that competences and capabilities such as these are by no means limited to CEOs or only to executives at the C-level. On the contrary, they are developed in those who occupy positions throughout the enterprise, at all levels and in all areas. Kanter concedes that the vanguard model "turns organizations upside down and inside out. They become less hierarchical and more driven by flexible networks. They become more open and transparent to the outside world while bringing society and its needs inside. As an ideal and an aspiration, the vanguard model attempts to reconcile contradictions: to be big but human, efficient but innovative, respecting individual differences while seeking common ground, global in thinking but concerned about local communities." Given what Kanter characterizes as the "inexorable march of global change," organizations really have no choice but to adopt and then adapt the vanguard business model. The bad news is that that process will be immensely complicated and very, very difficult to complete. The good news is that it can be done, as the exemplary companies in this book clearly indicate.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2009
I haven't been this enthusiastic about a "business book" since reading Paul Herr's Primal Management: Unraveling the Secrets of Human Nature to Drive High Performance several months ago. This time, Dr Rosabeth Moss Kanter took several years, travelled the world conducting hundreds of interviews, and came up with what is essentially a blueprint for any corporation to use to become a "Super Corp". Even Kryptonite won't stop this corporate powerhouse.

What makes Kanter's book so compelling is the emphasis she places on social responsibility; the "vanguard companies" realize that taking care of people (employees, customers & the general public) goes a long way towards taking care of the bottom line. Also, like Paul Herr suggests, it's time to turn the typical hierarchial organization upside down, to create a more responsive and innovative workplace. This tends to improve communication within the organization, while creating a more positive environment for all the employees. The inevitable result: A highly engaged group of employees, with high morale & high productivity.

As we all know, the vast majority of corporate America has not been successful in achieving that sort of environment for quite some time; hence, poor productivity & lousy profitability.

Help is on the way. This book (hopefully) is destined to be widely read, even by the pompous CEOs in corporate America. The case studies of the successful corporations, like IBM & Proctor & Gamble are very real; the blueprints for success are tangible and not difficult to follow. The opportunities for struggling companies to turn things around are attainable, as long as the leadership is willing to accept positive change.

Let's hope they're listening this time around.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2009
Rosabeth Moss Kanter has added an extremely important book to her long list of thought-leading business works. Supercorp makes a most convincing argument that in the new business era we are entering firms seeking the traditional business goals of growth and profitability will have to include other value-creating goals aimed at satisfying a much broader set of stakeholders if they expect to be successful. Such has been the experience of vanguard firms that Professor Kanter describes and analyzes most effectively in this new book and such will be required of the rest of the business world in the future. The book not only gives solid documentary support for this thesis, but also provides insightful and practical prescriptions for how to pursue these new goals successfully.

A key premise of the book's thesis is that by including "higher values and principles" in the firm's mission statement and broadening that mission to include goals other than market dominance or shareholder value strategies will focus on more secure and longer-term objectives, within which the more traditional goals will be ensured. Thus, for example, IBM, one of the vanguard companies referred to throughout the book, lists among its "overarching values" dedication to every client's success, innovation that matters for the company and the world, and trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. These core values have translated into highly successful strategic initiatives that have not only led to IBM'S outstanding financial performance, but have yielded a range of additional strategic payoffs such as competitive differentiation and attracting and motivating highly talented staff.

The book is very readable and should be of interest to a wide audience, including not only business executives, but anyone interested in the dynamic interplay of economic and social forces in today's world. If businesses in a free market economy seek to create and capture value should they only focus on profit? Cannot value be thought of in broader terms, including returns not just to investors of capital, but to the larger society that buys their outputs, supports their operations, works in their organizations, allows them to inhabit their communities, etc? In fact, anyone interested in shaping or sharpening their opinions about the role and responsibility of businesses in our society should read this book.

As a business school professor I have the opportunity to gain insight into what the next generation of business leaders is thinking. A noteworthy trend I see is the growing awareness and belief that business institutions have responsibilities to society that go beyond shareholder value. Although I am an American and retired management consultant, I now teach business strategy in China to top-tier MBA students of that country. They, too, believe Chinese companies must focus on higher values and principles and they are fascinated with the thoughtful insights presented in the case studies discussed throughout Supercorp. In short, this book covers a theme of great global interest and handles it in a most practical and convincing manner,
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"And sow fields and plant vineyards,
That they may yield a fruitful harvest." -- Psalm 107:37

No one explores and describes management culture, practices, and attitudes better than Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. She often captures subtle insights that are invisible even to those who employ successful methods. SuperCorp is one of her very best books of this type, capturing the emerging trends of global companies that do well to attract and retain talent, acquire and build on other enterprises, innovate, and inspire people to do their best. The book builds on hundreds of interviews over three years in fifteen companies. The detailed stories of how each company (the book emphasizes Banco Real, Cemex, IBM, Omron, Procter & Gamble, Publicis Groupe, and Shinhan Financial Group with occasional insights into a few other companies, two of which were acquired by the focus companies) bring the observations to life.

This is a particularly good time to study emerging and successful global leaders. The leaders who seek to build stronger multinational ties are stretched particularly thin right now, and new Web-based technologies suggest new ways to integrate globally. As Professor Kanter observes, the current best practices are a transitional model . . . but one worth understanding.

The book focuses first on the organizational glue that social purposes and public values bring to large organizations that are spread thin around the globe. The stories are compelling, but my impression is that this perspective isn't terribly new. I remember hearing similar stories built around disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fire, and so forth) dating back into the 1950s connected to the largest American companies. In every decade since then, I have run into new stories of this type. I suspect that good neighborliness has long been a value in many well-run companies, but wasn't always highly visible unless you were looking for it.

I found the book's description of methods involved in encouraging the internal spread of best practices within the organization, the ways that acquisitions are integrated, and ways of developing bottom of the pyramid businesses to be more novel and interesting. Most of these practices I have only seen since about the 1980s, and they are not as frequently employed.

A major theme of this book is creating agile companies that rapidly achieve successful business model innovations. I agree that building a culture that provides a psychological incentive to do so is a good idea. Setting good examples in business model innovation and encouraging skill development are also important, but those aspects were not emphasized as much in these case histories. That was a missed opportunity. IBM and Procter & Gamble, for example, have done a great deal to make continuing business model innovation successful at many different organizational levels and in many different activities, much of which was not described in the book.

It would be good to update this book about every ten years or so to capture the evolution of the leadership and management principles and practices involved. I look forward to reading many such updates from Professor Kanter.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2010
In this excellent read, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Kanter demonstrates (through years of meticulous field research) the art of the possible: highlighting paragon corporations that have incorporated and aligned social citizenship objectives with their business objectives and strategy by using examples of corporations (ranging from Cemex to Shirshan Bank to P&G) that have leveraged their market power, unique resources and know-how to not only generate economic success, but also make important and lasting contributions to society. This is a refreshing and inspiring concept, and I hope more corporations follow these examples.

This book is in part inspiration and in part a roadmap: it shows that corporations can be a force for good, via successful case studies of how certain corporations ("super corps"/vanguard companies) have been able to align business objectives with social goals. These inspiring examples are then a model for other corporations to aspire to. The book is well-written, concise, lucid, and free-flowing. The case studies and storytelling allows the reader to internalize all the nuances of the concepts and ideas, and paints a very rich story in the process. Instead of just throwing around trite phrases, the book gives concrete examples. For example, in its emphasis on the importance of values, Prof. Kanter uses case studies such as that of Banco Real, showing the tangible results of a genuine emphasis on promoting cohesive and enduring values and culture, which has made Banco Real one of the most popular employers for college graduates.

Through the analysis and examples provided in Prof. Kanter's book, this model of corporate citizenship serves as an inspiring model for other companies to follow, demonstrating that social objectives are indeed in the economic interests of corporations. What I found most helpful was the section on ten things anyone can do to be in a vanguard, which creates an impetus for action. Too many books these days simply describe. This book describes, inspires, and sets a plan for action.

The only suggestion I would give to the author is maybe to include some case studies of vanguard small to medium sized community-based businesses. This may provide a more direct example/inspiration for small business owners to relate to, so that they too can emulate the practices of vanguard firms. However, since this book is already full length, a study of small to medium sized businesses probably merits a separate book in itself!

Overall, in an era of large public scandals and growing public distrust of big business, never has a book been so timely and so essential to enhancing rather than dividing the business-society relationship. The implications that can be drawn from this book is also of great importance to policy makers: in that business, government, and society need to work together to tackle society's biggest challenges. Only with the collective efforts and resources of these three sectors can the biggest impact be made, and that hostile infighting between business, government, and society is of no good to anyone. This is a very important and timely book and a must-read for policy makers, business leaders, scholars and informed citizens who want to make a positive difference for this world. The case studies are inspiring and informative, and the stats back up the stories. Overall, I highly enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2009
Dr. Kanter is well known for her research and publications at Harvard Business School. Three years, 350+ interviews, 15 firms in 20 countries, provided the rich result of this book. It is very impressive.

We all know corporate social responsibility (CSR) is crucial for the success of any firm. But where is the benefit? Kanter cited the real-world examples of Supercorp: IBM, Proctor Gamble, Digitas, Brazil Banco Real, India ICICI Bank, and Mexico Cemex, making this book a must read for all MBA students. I checked the website of Japan Omron. It has a division called Social System Business, truly original.

For small and medium-size firms that try to compete globally, it costs a lot of money to provide CSR. There were few examples of them. It is the only drawback of this book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2009
This is an exceptionally valuable and vital business read. It ties together many heretofore unconnected concepts in useful and usable ways. It makes sense of the past five years and points to a path for the next five.
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on August 21, 2014
Fast shipping. Nice wrapping. Highly recommended.
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