Good to Great

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t – James C. Collins, Oct. 2001, 320 pages, Harper Collins Publishing, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019

Reviewed by: G.A. “Andy” Marken, president, Marken Communications Inc.,

Once you get past the pages of academic research this is a good selection if you want to know how to prepare yourself for the better job with the better company. A former faculty member at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, Collins helps you by outlining the kind of boss you should look for -- humble, persistent, disciplined, results-oriented and entrepreneurial. He also outlines the type of people they hire and promote --disciplined in thought and action who focus on success.

It will be interesting to see if Collins guidelines, like Tom Peters, stand the tests of time. Or like Peters he will have moved on to new findings, new results and will quickly explain that the management obviously lost sight of their long-term goals and yielded to the temptations of short-term expectations.

We find that reading management books helps us focus our thinking and activities to meld with those of senior management so we can do a better job in supporting them and helping them reach their objectives. That's why we felt the real solutions for sustaining growth and success were especially helpful since they dealt not with theory or academic philosophy but rather extended studies of real companies.

The funny thing is Collins discovers how easy it is for a company and senior management to be mediocre and sustain themselves. But by adding energy and momentum to the mix the company and managers can produce greater meaning from their work, which is directly reflected in the rewards that he or she receives.

Unlike many business gurus, Collins doesn’t simply set down guidelines for companies and their management teams; he actually studies the firms in-depth. Then he correlates the results of all the firms in all of the industries to develop a series of common denominators and patterns. Once that is done he looks deep inside to explain how the firms became great companies.

We don’t agree that stock price is really a measure of a great company given the state of the stock market and how quickly prices swing for no apparent reason. However we have to agree that at this point we don’t have another measurement since it is the one constant for every firm that is outside their long-term control.

Don’t suffer from the common concept that to help your company and management achieve greatness you need to focus on developing a high profile in the media and marketplace for your CEO. Instead, you need to know how to help him or her develop a full, rich corporate culture that gives employees something steady to hold onto in the turbulence of change.

When you’ve finished the book you’ll walk away with a clearer understanding of what makes a Level 5 leader and with that knowledge you’ll know if this is the type of boss you can cast your lot with for stability in your career. You’ll also have a better understanding of what he calls The Hedgehog Concept (the book is awash with newly coined jargon) which is best explained as keeping things simple so the company can make the transition from good to great.

Collins explains how a culture of discipline within the good corporation can be balanced with a spirit of entrepreneurship to give you a feeling of ownership in the company’s future and growth. As we all know the world is awash with technology and too often it is used as a crutch to support the firm. Collins points out that good to great firms know how to selectively choose and leverage technology -- even if it isn’t the latest fad technology.

The finding we found most interesting in light of current business events with the merger and acquisition activities and CEO replacements that have been signed is his Flywheel an Doom Loop finding. Over the past few years we’ve seen numerous CEOs come in with what they firmly believe is a vote of confidence from the board of directors to effect change -- sometimes radical, almost violent change. Mike Armstrong tried it with AT&T and his master plan failed. Carly Fiorina brought her strong will to HP, disrupted the culture of more than 30 years and attempted two mergers that were designed to help the company move into to the future.

The problem in both instances was that the two leaders spent more time in dictating and forcing change than in realigning and refocusing their managerial teams. In a word, the boss and the team weren’t on the same page of the change program. At the same time, their massive restructuring activities failed because most of the time was devoted to developing the new structure. Little or no time was spent discussing the need for the new structure or selling the vision of what the future was going to look like and how it was going to benefit members of the team.

Going from good to great from our perspective requires a tremendous amount of communications both internally and externally. So who should be the key advisor to the Level 5 Leader? Public relations! But it wouldn’t hurt if you read the book to find out what the boss was looking for in you and what is expected from you.


G. A. "Andy" Marken President Marken Communications, Inc. Santa Clara, CA Andy has worked in front of and behind the TV camera and radio mike. Unlike most PR people he listens to and understands the consumer’s perspective on the actual use of products. He has written more than 100 articles in the business and trade press. During this time he has also addressed industry issues and technologies not as corporate wishlists but how they can be used by normal people. He has been a marketing an...

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