Unformatted text preview: GOOD TO GREAT
Why Some Companies
Make the Leap ...
and Others Don’t JIM COLLINS Dedication This book is dedicated to the Chimps.
I love you all, each and every one. Contents
Chapter 1 - Good is the Enemy of Great
Chapter 2 - Level 5 Leadership
Chapter 3 - First Who ... Then What
Chapter 4 - Confront The Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)
Chapter 5 - The Hedgehog Concept - (Simplicity within the Three
Chapter 6 - A Culture of Discipline
Chapter 7 - Technology Accelerators
Chapter 8 - The Flywheel and The Doom Loop
Chapter 9 - From Good To Great To Built To Last
Epilogue - Frequently Asked Questions Appendix 1.A - Selection Process for Good-To-Great Companies
Appendix 1.B - Direct Comparison Selections
Appendix 1.C - Unsustained Comparisons
Appendix 1.D - Overview of Research Steps
Appendix 2.A - Inside Versus Outside CEO Analysis
Appendix 5.A - Industry Analysis Rankings
Appendix 8.A - Doom Loop Behavior in the Comparison Companies
Appendix 8.B - Summary of Acquisition Analysis Notes
Index Acknowledgments About the Author
Praise for Good to Great
Also by Jim Collins
About the Publisher MEMBERS OF THE GOOD - TO - GREAT RESEARCH TEAM
ASSEMBLED FOR TEAM MEETING, JANUARY 2000 First row: Vicki Mosur Osgood, Alyson Sinclair, Stefanie A. Judd, Christine
Second row: Eric Hagen, Duane C. Duffy, Paul Weissman, Scott Jones, Weijia
Third row: Nicholas M. Osgood, Jenni Cooper, Leigh Wilbanks, Anthony J.
Fourth row: Brian J. Bagley, Jim Collins, Brian C. Larsen, Peter Van Genderen,
Not pictured: Scott Cederberg, Morten T. Hansen, Amber L. Young
Photo credit: JIM COLLINS COLLECTION. Preface As I was finishing this manuscript, I went for a run up a steep, rocky trail in
Eldorado Springs Canyon, just south of my home in Boulder, Colorado. I had
stopped on top at one of my favorite sitting places with a view of the high
country still covered in its winter coat of snow, when an odd question popped
into my mind: How much would someone have to pay me not to publish Good to
It was an interesting thought experiment, given that I’d just spent the previous
five years working on the research project and writing this book. Not that there
isn’t some number that might entice me to bury it, but by the time I crossed the
hundred-million-dollar threshold, it was time to head back down the trail. Even
that much couldn’t convince me to abandon the project. I am a teacher at heart.
As such, it is impossible for me to imagine not sharing what we’ve learned with
students around the world. And it is in the spirit of learning and teaching that I
bring forth this work.
After many months of hiding away like a hermit in what I call monk mode, I
would very much enjoy hearing from people about what works for them and
what does not. I hope you will find much of value in these pages and will
commit to applying what you learn to whatever you do, if not to your company,
then to your social sector work, and if not there, then at least to your own life.
March 27, 2001 The pagination of this electronic edition does not match the edition from which it was created. To locate a
specific passage, please use the search feature of your e-book reader. Chapter 1
Good is the Enemy of Great That’s what makes death so hard—unsatisfied curiosity.
West with the Night1 Good is the enemy of great.
And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.
We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We
don’t have great government, principally because we have good government.
Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a
good life. The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because
the vast majority become quite good—and that is their main problem.
This point became piercingly clear to me in 1996, when I was having dinner
with a group of thought leaders gathered for a discussion about organizational
performance. Bill Meehan, the managing director of the San Francisco office of
McKinsey & Company, leaned over and casually confided, “You know, Jim, we
love Built to Last around here. You and your coauthor did a very fine job on the
research and writing. Unfortunately, it’s useless.”
Curious, I asked him to explain.
“The companies you wrote about were, for the most part, always great,” he
said. “They never had to turn themselves from good companies into great
companies. They had parents like David Packard and George Merck, who
shaped the character of greatness from early on. But what about the vast majority
of companies that wake up partway through life and realize that they’re good,
but not great?”
I now realize that Meehan was exaggerating for effect with his “useless” comment, but his essential observation was correct—that truly great companies,
for the most part, have always been great. And the vast majority of good
companies remain just that—good, but not great. Indeed, Meehan’s comment
proved to be an invaluable gift, as it planted the seed of a question that became
the basis of this entire book—namely, Can a good company become a great
company and, if so, how? Or is the disease of “just being good” incurable? Five years after that fateful dinner we can now say, without question, that
good to great does happen, and we’ve learned much about the underlying
variables that make it happen. Inspired by Bill Meehan’s challenge, my research
team and I embarked on a five-year research effort, a journey to explore the
inner workings of good to great.
To quickly grasp the concept of the project, look at the chart on page 2.* In
essence, we identified companies that made the leap from good results to great
results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. We compared these
companies to a carefully selected control group of comparison companies that
failed to make the leap, or if they did, failed to sustain it. We then compared the
good-to-great companies to the comparison companies to discover the essential
and distinguishing factors at work.
The good-to-great examples that made the final cut into the study attained
extraordinary results, averaging cumulative stock returns 6.9 times the general
market in the fifteen years following their transition points.2 To put that in
perspective, General Electric (considered by many to be the best-led company in
America at the end of the twentieth century) outperformed the market by 2.8
times over the fifteen years 1985 to 2000.3 Furthermore, if you invested $1 in a mutual fund of the good-to-great companies in 1965, holding each company at
the general market rate until the date of transition, and simultaneously invested
$1 in a general market stock fund, your $1 in the good-to-great fund taken out on
January 1, 2000, would have multiplied 471 times, compared to a 56 fold
increase in the market.4
These are remarkable numbers, made all the more remarkable when you
consider the fact that they came from companies that had previously been so
utterly unremarkable. Consider just one case, Walgreens. For over forty years,
Walgreens had bumped along as a very average company, more or less tracking
the general market. Then in 1975, seemingly out of nowhere—bang!—
Walgreens began to climb... and climb...and climb... and climb... and it just kept
climbing. From December 31, 1975, to January 1, 2000, $1 invested in
Walgreens beat $1 invested in technology superstar Intel by nearly two times,
General Electric by nearly five times, Coca-Cola by nearly eight times, and the
general stock market (including the NASDAQ stock run-up at the end of 1999)
by over fifteen times.* Notes:
1. $1 divided evenly across companies in each set, January 1, 1965.
2. Each company held at market rate of return, until transition date.
3. Cumulative value of each fund shown as of January 1, 2000.
4. Dividends reinvested, adjusted for all stock splits. How on earth did a company with such a long history of being nothing special
transform itself into an enterprise that outperformed some of the best-led
organizations in the world? And why was Walgreens able to make the leap when
other companies in the same industry with the same opportunities and similar
resources, such as Eckerd, did not make the leap? This single case captures the
essence of our quest.
This book is not about Walgreens per se, or any of the specific companies we
studied. It is about the question–Can a good company become a great company
and, if so, how?—and our search for timeless, universal answers that can be
applied by any organization.
Our five-year quest yielded many insights, a number of them surprising and
quite contrary to conventional wisdom, but one giant conclusion stands
above the others: We believe that almost any organization can substantially
improve its stature and performance, perhaps even become great, if it
conscientiously applies the framework of ideas we’ve uncovered.
This book is dedicated to teaching what we’ve learned. The remainder of this
introductory chapter tells the story of our journey, outlines our research method,
and previews the key findings. In chapter 2, we launch headlong into the
findings themselves, beginning with one of the most provocative of the whole
study: Level 5 leadership. UNDAUNTED CURIOSITY
People often ask, “What motivates you to undertake these huge research
projects?” It’s a good question. The answer is, “Curiosity.” There is nothing I
find more exciting than picking a question that I don’t know the answer to and
embarking on a quest for answers. It’s deeply satisfying to climb into the boat,
like Lewis and Clark, and head west, saying, “We don’t know what we’ll find
when we get there, but we’ll be sure to let you know when we get back.”
Here is the abbreviated story of this particular odyssey of curiosity.
Phase 1: The Search
With the question in hand, I began to assemble a team of researchers. (When I
use “we” throughout this book, I am referring to the research team. In all,
twenty-one people worked on the project at key points, usually in teams of four
to six at a time.)
Our first task was to find companies that showed the good-to-great pattern
exemplified in the chart on page 2. We launched a six-month “death march of
financial analysis,” looking for companies that showed the following basic
pattern: fifteen-year cumulative stock returns at or below the general stock
market, punctuated by a transition point, then cumulative returns at least three
times the market over the next fifteen years. We picked fifteen years because it
would transcend one-hit wonders and lucky breaks (you can’t just be lucky for
fifteen years) and would exceed the average tenure of most chief executive
officers (helping us to separate great companies from companies that just
happened to have a single great leader). We picked three times the market
because it exceeds the performance of most widely acknowledged great
companies. For perspective, a mutual fund of the following “marquis set” of
companies beat the market by only 2.5 times over the years 1985 to 2000: 3M,
Boeing, Coca-Cola, GE, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Merck,
Motorola, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, WalMart, and Walt Disney. Not a bad set to
From an initial universe of companies that appeared on the Fortune 500 in the
years 1965 to 1995, we systematically searched and sifted, eventually finding
eleven good-to-great examples. (I’ve put a detailed description of our search in
Appendix 1.A.) However, a couple of points deserve brief mention here. First, a
company had to demonstrate the good-to-great pattern independent of its industry; if the whole industry showed the same pattern, we dropped the
company. Second, we debated whether we should use additional selection
criteria beyond cumulative stock returns, such as impact on society and
employee welfare. We eventually decided to limit our selection to the good-togreat results pattern, as we could not conceive of any legitimate and consistent
method for selecting on these other variables without introducing our own
biases. In the last chapter, however, I address the relationship between corporate
values and enduring great companies, but the focus of this particular research
effort is on the very specific question of how to turn a good organization into one
that produces sustained great results.
At first glance, we were surprised by the list. Who would have thought that
Fannie Mae would beat companies like GE and Coca-Cola? Or that Walgreens
could beat Intel? The surprising list—a dowdier group would be hard to find—
taught us a key lesson right up front. It is possible to turn good into great in the
most unlikely of situations. This became the first of many surprises that led us to
reevaluate our thinking about corporate greatness. Phase 2: Compared to What?
Next, we took perhaps the most important step in the entire research effort:
contrasting the good-to-great companies to a carefully selected set of
“comparison companies.” The crucial question in our study is not, What did the
good-to-great companies share in common? Rather, the crucial question is, What
did the good-to-great companies share in common that distinguished them from
the comparison companies? Think of it this way: Suppose you wanted to study
what makes gold medal winners in the Olympic Games. If you only studied the
gold medal winners by themselves, you’d find that they all had coaches. But if you looked at the athletes that made the Olympic team, but never won a medal,
you’d find that they also had coaches! The key question is, What systematically
distinguishes gold medal winners from those who never won a medal?
We selected two sets of comparison companies. The first set consisted of
“direct comparisons”—companies that were in the same industry as the good-togreat companies with the same opportunities and similar resources at the time of
transition, but that showed no leap from good to great. (See Appendix 1.B for
details of our selection process.) The second consisted of “unsustained
comparisons”—companies that made a short-term shift from good to great but
failed to maintain the trajectory—to address the question of sustainability. (See
Appendix 1.C.) In all, this gave us a total study set of twenty-eight companies:
eleven good-to-great companies, eleven direct comparisons, and six unsustained
comparisons. Phase 3: Inside the Black Box
We then turned our attention to a deep analysis of each case. We collected all
articles published on the twenty-eight companies, dating back fifty years or
more. We systematically coded all the material into categories, such as strategy,
technology, leadership, and so forth. Then we interviewed most of the good-togreat executives who held key positions of responsibility during the transition
era. We also initiated a wide range of qualitative and quantitative analyses,
looking at everything from acquisitions to executive compensation, from
business strategy to corporate culture, from layoffs to leadership style, from financial ratios to management turnover. When all was said and done, the total
project consumed 10.5 people years of effort. We read and systematically coded
nearly 6,000 articles, generated more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts,
and created 384 million bytes of computer data. (See Appendix 1.D for a
detailed list of all our analyses and activities.)
We came to think of our research effort as akin to looking inside a black box.
Each step along the way was like installing another lightbulb to shed light on the
inner workings of the good-to-great process. With data in hand, we began a series of weekly research-team debates. For
each of the twenty-eight companies, members of the research team and I would
systematically read all the articles, analyses, interviews, and the research coding.
I would make a presentation to the team on that specific company, drawing
potential conclusions and asking questions. Then we would debate, disagree,
pound on tables, raise our voices, pause and reflect, debate some more, pause
and think, discuss, resolve, question, and debate yet again about “what it all
It is important to understand that we developed all of the concepts in this
book by making empirical deductions directly from the data. We did not
begin this project with a theory to test or prove. We sought to build a theory
from the ground up, derived directly from the evidence.
The core of our method was a systematic process of contrasting the good-togreat examples to the comparisons, always asking, “What’s different?”
We also made particular note of “dogs that did not bark.” In the Sherlock Holmes classic “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” Holmes identified “the curious
incident of the dog in the nighttime” as the key clue. It turns out that the dog did
nothing in the nighttime and that, according to Holmes, was the curious incident,
which led him to the conclusion that the prime suspect must have been someone
who knew the dog well.
In our study, what we didn’t find—dogs that we might have expected to bark
but didn’t—turned out to be some of the best clues to the inner workings of good
to great. When we stepped inside the black box and turned on the lightbulbs, we
were frequently just as astonished at what we did not see as what we did. For
• Larger-than-life, celebrity leaders who ride in from the outside are
negatively correlated with taking a company from good to great. Ten of
eleven good-to-great CEOs came from inside the company, whereas the
comparison companies tried outside CEOs six times more often.
• We found no systematic pattern linking specific forms of executive
compensation to the process of going from good to great. The idea that the
structure of executive compensation is a key driver in corporate
performance is simply not supported by the data.
• Strategy per se did not separate the good-to-great companies from the
comparison companies. Both sets of companies had well-defined strategies,
and there is no evidence that the good-to-great companies spent more time
on long-range strategic planning than the comparison companies.
• The good-to-great companies did not focus principally on what to do to
become great; they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop
• Technology and technology-driven change has virtually nothing to do with
igniting a transformation from good to great. Technology can accelerate a
transformation, but technology cannot cause a transformation.
• Mergers and acquisitions play virtually no role in igniting a
transformation from good to great; two big mediocrities joined together
never make one great company.
• The good-to-great companies paid scant attention to managing change,
motivating people, or creating alignment. Under the right conditions, the
problems of commitment, alignment, motivation, and change largely melt
• The good-to-great companies had no name, tag line, launch event, or program to signify their transformations. Indeed, some reported being
unaware of the magnitude of the transformation at the time; only later, in
retrospect, did it become clear. Yes, they produced a truly revolutionary
leap in results, but not by a revolutionary process.
• The good-to-great companies were not, by and large, in great industries,
and some were in terrible industries. In no case do we have a company that
just happened to be sitting on the nose cone of a rocket when it took off.
Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is
largely a matter of conscious choice.
Phase 4: Chaos to Concept
I’ve tried to come up with a simple way to convey what was required to go from
all the data, analyses, debates, and “dogs that did not bark” to the final findings
in this book. The best answer I can give is that it was an iterative process of
looping back and forth, developing ideas and testi...
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