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Built to Last Hardcover – Import, 2005
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.