What It Takes: Seven Secrets of Success from the World's Greatest Professional Firms


What It Takes is the story of what sets the greatprofessional firms, the acknowledged leaders in their industries,apart from all the rest. It is a blueprint for how to create,build, and maintain such a firm.

Having devoted a career that spans fifty years to consultingwith and studying professional firms in the Americas, Asia, andEurope, and developing Greenwich Associates from start-up to globalleader, author Charles Ellis learned firsthand how difficult it isfor an organization...

See more details below
BN.com price
(Save 26%)$40.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (15) from $20.99   
  • New (12) from $23.06   
  • Used (3) from $20.99   


What It Takes is the story of what sets the greatprofessional firms, the acknowledged leaders in their industries,apart from all the rest. It is a blueprint for how to create,build, and maintain such a firm.

Having devoted a career that spans fifty years to consultingwith and studying professional firms in the Americas, Asia, andEurope, and developing Greenwich Associates from start-up to globalleader, author Charles Ellis learned firsthand how difficult it isfor an organization to go beyond very good and attain, as well assustain, excellence. Now, he shares his hard-won insights with youand reveals "what it takes" to be best-in-class in anyindustry.

Enlightening and entertaining, What It Takes exploresfirms that are leaders in their particular field—from McKinsey& Company in consulting, Cravath, Swaine & Moore in law,Capital Group in investment management, the Mayo Clinic inhealthcare, and Goldman Sachs in investment banking—and thesuperior people who create and maintain them, in order to identifythe secrets of their long-term success.

While you might expect to find major differences, from industryto industry, in how the great firms set themselves apart, theprinciples they follow are few and nearly identical. What ItTakes breaks them down and reveals exactly how they can putyour organization in a better position to excel when properlyexecuted. The stories of the people, their decisions, and theirinteractions found throughout these pages bring these seven keys tosuccess to life:

  • Defining an inspiring mission
  • Recruiting the right people onto the team
  • Developing people—from early accelerated training throughcareer-long coaching
  • Establishing a strong culture that unites all in teamwork toserve clients
  • Assuring a strong client focus
  • Innovation at all levels—from tactics to grandstrategy
  • Providing leadership that brings all six together andidentifies problems and corrects them quickly

And while What It Takes contains many stories ofachieving excellence, this book also addresses the obstacles thattop-ranking organizations face in sustaining excellence. Itexamines how several of these firms have handled—andmishandled—recent mishaps and are struggling to rightthemselves. It also includes an instructive tale featuring ArthurAndersen & Co., a leader that stumbled and never made itback.

What It Takes skillfully shows you how innovation and acommitment to excellence can drive success, while also revealinghow easy it is to fall behind. With it, you'll discover whatseparates the great firms from the good ones and learn how toattain, and maintain, organizational success throughout theyears.

Read More Show Less

What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
“This is the best book about corporate leadership thatI've ever read.  Charley Ellis really knows what he's talkingabout.”—John Whitehead, former Co-Chairman,Goldman Sachs & Co., former Deputy Secretary of State

“Clear, crisp, and actionable insights on leadership,which can only come from a well experienced scholar andpractitioner like Charley Ellis in his usual wise simple andriveting story-telling style. And yes, simple doesn't meaneasy.”—Abdullatif A. Al-Othman, Governor, SaudiArabia General Investment Authority

What It Takes is Ellis' finest work onorganizational excellence. He has distilled the essentialprinciples of organizational excellence, illustrating them withpotent examples and memorable anecdotes. His intimate knowledge ofthe organizations, deepened by 300 interviewers with insiders,imparts powerful insights and lessons for those aspiring to buildand sustain great and enduring organizations.”—NgKok Song, Chief Investment Officer, Government of SingaporeInvestment Corporation

“Charley Ellis has taken an incisive look under the hoodof some of the world's greatest professional organizations and hasput his perceptive finger on not only what has made them succeedbut has also led them to endure.”—D. RonaldDaniel, former Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company

“Once, again, Charley Ellis has delved into the mysteriesof leadership with clarity and insight.”—JimRothenberg, Chairman, Capital Research and ManagementCompany

 “Charley Ellis looks hard at how great firmssucceed in fields as different as law, consulting and medicine . .. and finds what it takes that they have incommon.”—Jeff Bewkes, CEO, Time Warner

“Charley Ellis takes us through a series of master classeson corporate leadership.  This is an outstanding contributionto help us understand that which divides winners fromlosers.”—Lord Myners, former UK TreasuryMinister

“A very interesting study of the similarities anddifferences in the leadership of five very different professionalfirms.  Should be required reading for other firms in thoseprofessions.”—Samuel C. Butler, former PresidingPartner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore

What It Takes is a clear-eyed view into thecomplexities of building and sustaining great organizations.Charley Ellis’ artful storytelling imparts insights thatwould benefit anyone aspiring to thoughtful, effective leadershipthroughout markets and histories.”—Lei Zhang,Founder and CEO, Hillhouse Capital Management Group

“I cannot imagine anyone better qualified than Charley Ellisto analyze, identify and describe those characteristics whichseparate outstandingly successful professional firms from themerely very good ones.  This fascinating book should berecommended reading for anyone wishing to become a leader in any ofthe professions described and indeed for anyone with an ambition tosucceed in business.”—Peter Stormonth Darling,former Chairman, Mercury Asset Management

“Of course everyone knows of the five great institutionswhich are the subject of Charley Ellis' latest book. But what is itthat made them outstanding? Charley in this searching andunsentimental if admiring analysis provides answers: A good ideatransformed into a novel business model, passion, commitment, goodjudgment particularly in the early years and great people. AnotherCharley Ellis book to treasure.”—Sir WinfriedBischoff, Chairman, Lloyds Banking Group

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781118517727
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/11/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 413,936
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles D. Ellis was for three decades managing partnerof Greenwich Associates, the international business strategyconsulting firm. A popular teacher, he has taught advanced courseson investing at the business schools of both Harvard and Yale, isthe author of fifteen books, including the bestselling Winningthe Loser's Game, has served on the governing boards of YaleUniversity, Harvard Business School, Exeter, NYU Stern, the RobertWood Johnson Foundation, and chairs the Whitehead Institute.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction xi

I. Achieving Excellence

Chapter 1: Mission 3

An Inspiring Long-Term Purpose

Chapter 2: Culture 25

How We Do Things around Here

Chapter 3: Recruiting 47

Getting the Right People

Chapter 4: Developing People 65

Training, Educating, and Organizing for Excellence

Chapter 5: Client Relationships 97

Developing Ties That Last

Chapter 6: Innovation 111

Changing How the Game Is Played

Chapter 7: Macro Innovation 133

Changing the Game

Chapter 8: Leadership 151

Bringing the Secrets Together

Chapter 9: . . . and Luck 173

Sometimes It Really Matters

II. Sustaining Excellence

Chapter 10: Trouble 181

Excellence Challenged

Chapter 11: Arthur Andersen 211

Excellence Lost

Afterword 245

Thanks 249

Notes 251

About the Author 285

Index 287

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)