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Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies Paperback – 1 Jan 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (Jan. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0887307396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0887307393
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 923,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

This analysis of what makes great companies great has been hailed everywhere as an instant classic and one of the best business titles since In Search of Excellence. The authors, James C Collins and Jerry I Porras, spent six years in research, and they freely admit that their own preconceptions about business success were devastated by their actual findings--along with the preconceptions of virtually everyone else.

Built to Last identifies 18 "visionary" companies and sets out to determine what's special about them. To get on the list, a company had to be world famous, have a stellar brand image, and be at least 50 years old. We're talking about companies that even a layperson knows to be, well, different: the Disneys, the Wal-Marts, the Mercks.

Whatever the key to the success of these companies, the key to the success of this book is that the authors don't waste time comparing them to business failures. Instead, they use a control group of "successful-but-second-rank" companies to highlight what's special about their 18 "visionary" picks. Thus Disney is compared to Columbia Pictures, Ford to GM, Hewlett Packard to Texas Instruments, and so on. The core myth, according to the authors, is that visionary companies must start with a great product and be pushed into the future by charismatic leaders. There are examples of that pattern, they admit: Johnson & Johnson, for one. But there are also just too many counter-examples--in fact, the majority of the "visionary" companies, including giants such as 3M, Sony, and TI, don't fit the model. They were characterised by total lack of an initial business plan or key idea and by remarkably self-effacing leaders. Collins and Porras are much more impressed with something else they shared: an almost cult-like devotion to a "core ideology" or identity, and active indoctrination of employees into "ideologically commitment" to the company.

The comparison with the business "B" team does tend to raise a significant methodological problem: which companies are to be counted as "visionary" in the first place? There's an air of circularity here, as if you achieve "visionary" status by ... achieving visionary status. So many roads lead to Rome that the book is less practical than it might appear. But that's exactly the point of an eloquent chapter on 3M. This wildly successful company had no master plan, little structure, and no prima donnas. Instead it had an atmosphere in which bright people were both keen to see the company succeed and unafraid to "try a lot of stuff and keep what works." --Richard Farr --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"'One of the most eye-opening business studies since In Search of Excellence.'" (Kevin Maney USA Today)

"'Built to Last is an unusual business book - seriously researched, unconventional in its conclusions...[It] is well worth reading, particularly by those engaged in trying to reinvigorate our nation's largest enterprises.' " (Richard J. Tofel Wall Street Journal)

"'In Built to Last, Collins and Porras present a brilliant and lucid analysis and, yes, a blueprint for organizational excellence. It should be required reading.'" (Warren Bennis) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
James Collins is a management researcher from Boulder (Colorado, USA) and Jerry Porras is a professor of organizational behavior and change at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This book is really split up into three parts: (1) An introduction into the research.; (2) The core ideology of visionary companies.; (3) The habits of visionary companies; (4) Methods for implementation.
The authors explain their research methods of this six-year research project into visionary companies. "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 authors used the term 'visionary', rather than just 'successful' or 'enduring', to reflect the fact they have distinguished themselves as a very special and elite breed of institutions. In order to compose these visionary companies the authors started with a set of criteria which those companies had to meet: (1) Premier institution in its industry; (2) widely admired by knowledgeable businesspeople; (3) made an indelible imprint on the world in which we live; (4) had multiple generations of chief executives; (5) been through multiple product (or service) life cycles; (6) founded before 1950. With these criteria in mind the authors select 18 visionary companies from a wide range of industries, plus 18 comparison companies (which are not weak or bad companies either).
So what do these visionary companies have in common? They have core ideologies consisting of more than a bunch of nice-sounding platitudes.
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Format: Hardcover
As I dutifully plow through the currently popular business books - and I read only the ones that I need rather than for pleasure - I occasionally find a good and (fairly) interesting one. This is one of those books I would recommend. Instead of overflowing with ridiculously florid rhetoric about recycled banalities and excitement that is simply not justified, this book is based on solid research and is not afraid to offer un-spectacular advice.
It is about what the authors call "visionary companies," which stand for something beyond just making money and yet are profitable. They do well, and they do good. There is no doubt that such companies exist, which I admit in spite of my boredom and cynicism regarding most of the businessmen and "business intellectuals" that I deal with as a writer.

Set up like an academic study, the book is a synthesis of the authors' findings while taking a long historical view of consistently excellent (i.e. "visionary") companies like H-P, Merck, and P&G.

Not surprisingly, these companies do similar things: 1) they have visions and value that they try to uphold consistently throughout the company and to which they stay true over decades; 2) the set incredibly ambitious (and in retrospect realistic) goals that inspire their employees ("big hairy ambitious goals"); 3) they are cult-like in their beliefs in themselves; 4) they allow for trial and error, which lead to "evolutionary progress"; 5) they hire leadership from within; 6) they cultivate keeping their employees a bit off-balance ("uncomfortable") as a way of getting them to perform at their best; 7) they make sure that all elements work in concert and are internally consistent and self-reinforcing ("alignment").
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Format: Hardcover
This is an inspiring book, and informative. It answers the "what" question convincingly. I missed answers to the "why" questions. Why, for example, are successful visionary companies characterized by their emphasis on ethical standards? There are many possible explanations: the staff of the company are inspired by the ideals and give more to their employer; the companies reap payoffs in the long term from grateful recipients of their honorable deeds; the companies acquire a good reputation which increases sales and hence profits. More interesting, is the question of the logic of ethics in the business game - not even touched by these authors.
According to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, it does not matter what the company ideology is, as long as it is passionately believed by the management and employees. I find this a dubious claim, and not supported by the data. The ideological frameworks of the companies that were studied are not interchangeable, not for the trivial reason that the ideology of another company happens not to be the one believed by each of them. Boeing is unlikely to spend money on a program to cure river blindness in Africa. Why does Merck do this? Clearly, a pharmaceutical firm does well to invest in a reputation for medical generosity that flows from a passion for making people well? Merck is purchasing precisely the trust that pays-off in the medical market place. Trust reduces transaction costs, and in some cases is almost as good as a monopoly. Boeing, on the other hand, must buy a brand name attached to their dedication to engineering excellence. It does matter what companies are passionate about.
My company operates on the Internet. Our pledge includes the words: "The tragedy of the commons is the propensity of users to take more from the commons than they give.
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