What is the secret of enduring greatness for a company? Jim Collins, a prominent writer on business management has answers.

He is the author of business books which are among the all time best sellers. He wrote Good to Great and co-authored Built to Last

In his recent article in Fortune magazine, The secret of enduring greatness, Collins revisits his familiar theme of business survival and endurance. His data includes who’s in and out of the Fortune 500 list.

And this is what he concludes is the secret of enduring greatness for a company: “Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, whether you make it onto the Fortune 500, and whether you stay there, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.”

I was prompted to read the short Collins article by a recent post by the New Yorker, Bruce MacEwen, at his Adam Smith, Esq blog. Like MacEwen I’m into law and economics and I have read and own copies of the above two Collins books.

Unlike me, MacEwen has deep knowledge of economics. Given current economic sentiment in the US it is timely that he emphasises the following sentence from the Collins article: “Throughout history the greatest companies have used adverse times to their advantage.” I agree, having direct experience of the Australian economic downturns of 1973, 1982 and 1990-92.

So for our businesses we need to build stamina and positive vibes to endure 2008 and onwards. It was timely then that today, the New Zealander and technology and marketing specialist/generalist, Jason Kemp, at his blog alerted me to the existence of audio files at the Collins website. On Kemp’s recommendation I listened to an interview with Collins about his path to becoming a self-employed professor.

As regards his whole body of work I’m impressed that Collins has come to conclusions about business  endurance that my own experience finds to be true, at least in the United States and Australian contexts.

Collins has guts. In February 2000, at the height of the dot com money for jam scam merchants’ festival, he published his article Built to Flip in the US magazine, Fast Company. For more on Collins, Lightbulb has referred to his work previously, here and here.

So is business decline inevitable as indicated by my diagram below? In light of this post I say decline does not have to come, at least during the next phase of your career or business. It depends on you, how well you work with the collaborators you have, and the quality of the advisers you select.

Your future depends on your day to day behaviours and habits. I’ve reached beyond Collins for ideas on those subjects. This post ends with views from two additional sources.

I find useful these 80/20 rule ideas of the Englishman, Richard Koch:

  • Make selling to the top 20% of customers a firm obsession.
  • Focus on selling the 20% of solutions generating 80% of sales.
  • To think 20%, act 20%; mentally block out the 80%.
  • Impose impossible time scales to ensure the tasks completed are the vital ones.
  • Ally yourself with the 20% of people that make a difference, prune the rest.
  • Put superior effort into a small number of important things and average effort into the large number of unimportant things.
  • What could you do at work in 2 days to get the same outcome as 5 days?
  • Expect tomorrow’s 20% to be different to today’s.
  • Identify lucky streaks.

Now watch and learn from serial entrepreneur Scott Galloway speaking in 2021 on what he terms The Algebra of Wealth.

Good luck. Comments welcome.

Noric Dilanchian