Built to Last
This book reminds
me of the hero in the classic Greek tragedy. The hero is always
magnificent, but has a tragic flaw. This is a magnificent book with
a tragic flaw.
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.
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 Ð founded before 1950.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
see what other folks thought of this book, or to purchase it from
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22 August 2002
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