Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

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by Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras

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Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. They examined the companies from their very beginnings to the present day -- as start-ups, as midsize

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Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. They examined the companies from their very beginnings to the present day -- as start-ups, as midsize companies, and as large corporations. Throughout, the authors asked: "What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?"

Filled with hundreds of specific examples and organized into a coherent framework of practical concepts that can be applied by managers and entrepreneurs at all levels, Built to Last provides a master blueprint for building organizations that will prosper long into the 21st century and beyond.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras begin their groundbreaking analysis of "visionary companies" with the following bold statement: "We believe every CEO, manager, and entrepreneur should read this book." Although their language may sound slightly hubristic, the authors actually deliver the promised goods: Written in eloquent and accessible language, Built to Last, the result of an extensive six-year research study conducted at Stanford University, is a classic business book that surely deserves the accolades critics, readers, and its creators have heaped upon it.

Collins and Porras begin by defining the type of organizations they intend to examine. American Express, Ford, GE, Nordstrom, and Walt Disney are some of the 18 visionary companies -- widely admired, crown-jewel institutions that were founded before 1950 and have left "an indelible imprint on the world in which we live" -- to fall into the purview of their study. The authors then proceed to offer 12 management myths shattered by their research into these companies. Perhaps the most significant of these debunked pieces of conventional wisdom is the idea that change is the sole constant in the business world. Instead, Collins and Porras argue, "a visionary company almost religiously preserves its core ideology -- changing it seldom, if ever." From this adherence to a fundamental set of beliefs or a deeply held sense of self-identity comes the discipline and drive that enables a company to succeed in rapidly changing, volatile environments.

One of the enjoyable things about reading Built to Last is that its authors consciously chose to avoid the trendy phrases that sometimes make business books seem no more weighty or enduring than magazine articles. Instead, Collins and Porras have written a book that is meaningful, passionate, based on careful study, and, in its own way, built to last. (Sunil Sharma)

What makes some companies truly exceptional? This insightful narration takes a close look at America's corporate success stories. It explores 18 visionary corporations that have succeeded over the long haul, including Wal Mart, Walt Disney, 3M, Boeing, Hewlett-Packard and Sony. With examples and coherent organization, the authors investigate and compare these companies. The narration begins with an explanation of visionaries: "Visionary companies prosper over long periods of time, through multiple product life cycles and generations of active leaders." With this in mind, the authors compare Walt Disney with Columbia Pictures, Walt Mart with Ames and Citicorp with Chase. They called them "clock builders." Clock Builders have great ideas that endure. They build companies that can prosper far beyond the presence of any single leader and through multiple product cycles. The chapter titled, "cult-like cultures," explains why salespeople earn more money at Nordstrom than at other department stores. It also explores IBM's rise to greatness and the magic behind Walt Disney. In a FAQ chapter, the authors address questions such as:"Is there hope for old, large non-visionary corporations?" "What guidance would you give to a visionary company that seems to be losing its visionary status--like, say, IBM?" The book concludes with a blueprint for building organizations that will prosper into the 21st century.
Kevin Maney
Built to Last...is one of the most eye-opening business studies since In Search of Excellence.
USA Today
T.J. Rodgers
A 'must read' for any CEO who aspires to create a great company.
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, University of Evansville Library, Indiana

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harperbusiness Essentials Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

This is not a book about charismatic visionary leaders. It is not about visionary product concepts or visionary market insights. Nor even is it about just having a corporate vision.

This is a book about something far more important, enduring, and substantial. This is a book about visionary companies.

What is a visionary company? Visionary companies are premier institutions-the crown jewels - in their industries, widely admired by their peers and having a long track record of making a significant impact on the world around them. The key point is that a visionary company is an organization - an institution. All individual leaders, no matter how charismatic or visionary, eventually die; and all visionary products and services-all "great ideas" - eventually become obsolete. Indeed, entire markets can become obsolete and disappear. Yet visionary companies prosper over long periods of time, through multiple product life cycles and multiple generations of active leaders.

Pause for a moment and compose your own mental list of visionary companies; try to think of five to ten organizations that meet the following criteria:

  • Premier institution in its industry
  • Widely admired by knowledgeable businesspeople
  • Made an indelible imprint on the world in which we live
  • Had multiple generations of chief executives
  • Been through multiple product (or service) life cycles
  • Founded before 1950
Examine your list of companies. What about them particularly impresses you? Notice any common themes? What might explain their enduring quality and prosperity. How might they be different from other companiesthat had the same opportunities in life, but didn't attain the same stature?

In a six-year research project, we set out to identify and systematically research the historical development of a set of visionary companies, to examine how they differed from a carefully selected control set of comparison companies, and to thereby discover the underlying factors that account for their extraordinary long-term position. This book presents the findings of our research project and their practical implications.

We wish to be clear right up front: The "comparison companies" in our study are not dog companies, nor are they entirely unvisionary. Indeed, they are good companies, having survived in most cases as long as the visionary companies and, as you'll see, having outperformed the general stock market. But they don't quite match up to the overall stature of the visionary com- panies in our study. In most cases, you can think of the visionary company as the gold medalist and the comparison company as the silver or bronze medalist. We chose the term "visionary" companies, rather than just "successful" or "enduring" companies, to reflect the fact that they have distinguished themselves as a very special and elite breed of institutions. They are morethan successful. They are more than enduring. In most cases, they are the best of the best in thdir industries, and have been that way for decades. Many of them have served as role models -icons, really - for the practice of management around the world. (Table 1. 1 shows the companies in our study. We wish to be clear that the companies in our study are not the only visionary companies in existence. We will explain in a few pages how we came up with these particular companies.)

Yet as extraordinary as they are, the visionary companies do not have perfect, unblemished records. (Examine your own list of visionary companies. We suspect that most if not all of them have taken a serious tumble at least once during their history, probably multiple times.) Walt Disney faced a serious cash flow crisis in 1939 which forced it to go public; later, in the early 1980s, the company nearly ceased to exist as an independent entity as corporate raiders eyed its depressed stock price. Boeing had serious diffi-culties in the,mid-1930s, the late 1940s, and again in the early 1970s when it laid off over sixty thousand employees. 3M began life as a failed mine and almost went out of business in the early 1900s. Hewlett-Packard faced severe cutbacks in 1945; in 1990, it watched its stock drop to a price below book value. Sony had repeated product failures during its first five years of life (1945-1950), and in the 1970s saw its Beta format lose to VHS in the battle for market dominance in VCRs. Ford posted one of the largest annual losses in American business history ($3.3 billion in three years) in the early 1980s before it began an impressive turnaround and long-needed revitalization. Citicorp (founded in 1812, the same year Napoleon marched to Moscow) languished in the late 1800s, during the 1930s Depression, and again in the late 1980s when it struggled with its global loan portfolio. IBM was nearly bankrupt in 1914, then again in 1921, and is having trouble again in the early 1990s.

Table 1.1

The companies in our Research Study

Visionary Company

American Express
General Electric
Johnson & Johnson
Philip Morris
Procter & Gamble
Walt Disney

Comparision Company

Wells Fargo
McDonnell Douglas
Chase Manhattan
Texas Instruments
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Howard Johnson
RJR Nabisco

Built to Last. Copyright © by James C. Collins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Jim Collins is author or coauthor of six books that have sold in total more than ten million copies worldwide, including the bestsellers Good to Great, Built to Last, and How the Mighty Fall. Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. He now operates a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, where he conducts research, teaches, and consults with executives from the corporate and social sectors.

Jerry I. Porras is the Lane Professor of Organizational Behavior and Change, Emeritus, at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business where he served as an Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and frequent executive education teacher. He studies ways of aligning companies around their purpose and core values to produce lasting high performance.

Brief Biography

Boulder, Colorado
Date of Birth:
January 25, 1958
Place of Birth:
Aurora, Colorado
B.S. in mathematical sciences, Stanford University, 1980; M.B.A., Stanford University, 1983

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