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Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't Hardcover – Unabridged, October 16, 2001
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Five years ago, Jim Collins asked the question, "Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?" In Good to Great Collins, the author of Built to Last, concludes that it is possible, but finds there are no silver bullets. Collins and his team of researchers began their quest by sorting through a list of 1,435 companies, looking for those that made substantial improvements in their performance over time. They finally settled on 11--including Fannie Mae, Gillette, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo--and discovered common traits that challenged many of the conventional notions of corporate success. Making the transition from good to great doesn't require a high-profile CEO, the latest technology, innovative change management, or even a fine-tuned business strategy. At the heart of those rare and truly great companies was a corporate culture that rigorously found and promoted disciplined people to think and act in a disciplined manner. Peppered with dozens of stories and examples from the great and not so great, the book offers a well-reasoned road map to excellence that any organization would do well to consider. Like Built to Last, Good to Great is one of those books that managers and CEOs will be reading and rereading for years to come. --Harry C. Edwards
From Publishers Weekly
In what Collins terms a prequel to the bestseller Built to Last he wrote with Jerry Porras, this worthwhile effort explores the way good organizations can be turned into ones that produce great, sustained results. To find the keys to greatness, Collins's 21-person research team (at his management research firm) read and coded 6,000 articles, generated more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts and created 384 megabytes of computer data in a five-year project. That Collins is able to distill the findings into a cogent, well-argued and instructive guide is a testament to his writing skills. After establishing a definition of a good-to-great transition that involves a 10-year fallow period followed by 15 years of increased profits, Collins's crew combed through every company that has made the Fortune 500 (approximately 1,400) and found 11 that met their criteria, including Walgreens, Kimberly Clark and Circuit City. At the heart of the findings about these companies' stellar successes is what Collins calls the Hedgehog Concept, a product or service that leads a company to outshine all worldwide competitors, that drives a company's economic engine and that a company is passionate about. While the companies that achieved greatness were all in different industries, each engaged in versions of Collins's strategies. While some of the overall findings are counterintuitive (e.g., the most effective leaders are humble and strong-willed rather than outgoing), many of Collins's perspectives on running a business are amazingly simple and commonsense. This is not to suggest, however, that executives at all levels wouldn't benefit from reading this book; after all, only 11 companies managed to figure out how to change their B grade to an A on their own.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is still, form my point of view, a great book to read as there are many things that are very useful. Jim references the UCLA bruins winning a NCAA championship and remarking that even though their coach John Wooden was a legend he had coached the team for 15 years before their first championship. Greatness takes time to mold and create and doesn’t happen over night. What I took as some of the best advice, “…every good-to-great transformation followed the same basic pattern – accumulating momentum, turn by turn of the flywheel – until buildup transformed into breakthrough.” The book is filled with many motivational and good forms of advice to follow which can in fact help drive a good company to greatness.
While all these attributes may contribute to succeess, the falure of this book was presaged in its first chapter, on pages 14-15 of the hardcopy version, where it asks and answers the mock question: "Will your findings continue in the new economy? The truth is, there's nothing new about the new economy." Anyone that had money in the stock market in September 2008, especially those that held stock in General Motors, knows the "new" economy is much different than the one anyone's seen going back to 1930. And all Collins' exemplars in this book bit the dust -- most doing so long before 2008.
Collins proof is in the pudding exemplars are 11 corporations whose stock values shot up at twice the rate of their competitiors during his period of research in the bamboozled economy of the 1990s that burned white hot. Today, less than two decades later, two of those companies are out of business, one has been liquidated, another had been bought by a bigger corporation, and all but one of the 11 had serious stock value declines by 2006, before the market meltdown of autumn 2008. Wells Fargo, the hero of chapter three, saw its stock value decline so greatly in the 2008 market meltdown that it became the poster boy company for federal bank bailout money the next year.
This chapter, and this company, are highlighted as successful leaders that bought out a similar bank, then got rid of all its employees. While such work was commonplace in the takeover mania of the 1980s, it was rarely heralded as find business practice anywhere but in this "study." Collins crew says Wells Fargo handled it properly because the people from the other bank wouldn't fit into the new company's business culture. The expeditious departure of long-time employees reminded me of Jimmy Hoffa's line in the movie of the same name Hoffa. Once elected international Teamsters president, Hoffa (nee Jack Nicholson with a bad haircut) turned to his assistant and told him, You're going to fire half these yokels tomorrow. Don't put it off so the other half will be secure and stay loyal." While this happens in business all over the world, there's no reason to suggest it is a good practice.
The bigger failure of the book is what actually happened to Collins' 11 exemplars of rising stock markets values. I looked at the stock values of each of the companies (the ones still in business) and all went backwards less than 15 years after this famous book -- and its recipe for success -- were written. Maybe the research team would say the management teams changed; otherwise, how can this book still be relevant as a model of business success in 2010? I think probably because the advice given is superficial, contradictory, and be can interpreted differently enough by any reader that is can be germane in the post-9/11, post 2008 recession world.
Fortunately, you don't have to read this book to understand what these are. The precepts of success in business are the same today as they were in the earlier days of the free market -- hard work, market segmentation and differentiation, effective capitalization, high risk/reward ratio, and dedication to customer service. Most of those values and practices aren't cited herein and you can largely ignore the ones that are.