The Built to Last author’s new book extols the vast transformational power of the really dull executive.
As companies like Cisco (CSCO) and Yahoo (YHOO) precipitously fall out of fashion, management theorists have set out to find the new avatars of economic prowess. This time around, sexy is out, dowdy is in.
Take the 11 companies examined in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins, co-author of the blockbuster Built to Last. His frumpy crew of new business paragons includes Gillette (G), Kimberly-Clark (KMB), Pitney Bowes (PBI), and Walgreens (WAG). Collins retraces their metamorphoses from mediocre to stellar, as measured in stock performance, and contrasts their progress with the performance of similar companies that haven’t produced such impressive stock results. (For details on how the companies were chosen, see “Making the Good-to-Great Grade,” on the next page.)
Collins doesn’t want for intensity; total immersion is his style. Good to Great, due out in October from Harper Books, was five years in the making and involved 21 researchers. (Collins calls them “Chimps.” He means it affectionately.) It took six months just to identify the “good to great” companies. Then Collins and his Chimps interviewed executives, sifted through press clippings, and methodically identified distinct patterns of success and failure.
Let’s pause here to acknowledge that, yes, Collins is a management guru, and as you may have read elsewhere in this issue, gurudom is fraught with peril. But the years of work that went into Good to Great yields some provocative and controversial insights. Such as: Charisma is a liability — something to be overcome, like a speech impediment. Executive compensation and company performance are not linked. And — brace yourself — technology has nearly zilch to do …