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Built to Last – Building an Enduring Business



Companies come and go – but some endure. What separates the truly outstanding ones from the average? Business author Jim Collins has made a career of studying how long-term successful companies excel in their fields. In “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”, Collins identified companies that are:

  • Premier institutions in their industries
  • Widely admired by knowledgeable business individuals
  • Have made an indelible impact on the world
  • Had multiple generations of chief executives
  • Have been through multiple product/ services life cycles
  • Are at least 50 years old

Collins identified 18 visionary companies (the outstanding) and 18 comparison companies (the average). At the date of publishing (1990), the visionary companies had outperformed the stock market by 15 times – whereas the comparison companies only outperformed it by two times.

BMW M6 1


Collins identified four philosophies (summary from ReadingGraphics book summary):


Visionary companies’ long-term successes do not come from a great idea or a charismatic, visionary leader. Rather, they are successful because of strong foundations embedded in the organizations that allow them to prosper beyond leaders and product life cycles. Their ultimate creation is the company itself – by focusing on organizational design rather than a specific idea or a unique market opportunity visionary companies build enduring institutions that outlive specific product lines.

Genius of the “And”

Visionary companies do not limit themselves to the “Tyranny of the OR”, e.g. stability OR change, low cost OR high quality. Instead, they find ways to embrace both extremes of various dimensions e.g. profits AND purpose, conservative AND bold, ideological control AND autonomy. They go beyond mere balance or compromise, to excelling at both extremes.

More than Profits

Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which money is only one component. They understand that profitability is necessary for the organization to exist and fulfill its purpose, but they are much more than profits. They pursue both profits and ideology. And, this core ideology is used to guide and inspire its people on all fronts.

Preserve the Core – But Stimulate Progress

A visionary company has a relentless drive for progress, yet it is concurrently ideological and progressive, i.e. it adapts without compromising its core ideals. There’s an ongoing dynamic interplay between the core and progress, and the visionary company embraces both successfully. To achieve this, they must translate them into concrete, tangible mechanisms that are deeply infused into the organization.

So What?

Ok, great. But we’re not building 3M or Kroger. How do these apply to small business owners? Not all of them do, but there are pieces we can apply – I think two are particularly applicable for us:

Genius of the “And”

The adage of “fast, cheap, or quality – pick two” is alive and well. While “cheap” is rather a bad word in business, “value” is not. Cheap implies poor quality, whereas value implies a quality product or service for a reasonable price. Efficiency can allow you to offer all three – having the correct suite of tools and products, a tight focus on time management, and a constant drive for self-improvement can help you achieve the genius of the and.

Preserve the Core – But Stimulate Progress

Think about what knowledge, attribute, or behavior makes your business what it is. For most of us, it is a laser-like focus on details. It’s not leaving polish residue in rubber trim. It’s remembering to clean the vent covers. It’s removing the rubber cupholder inserts and cleaning underneath them. But can we do MORE? And what if that laser-like focus isn’t enough to help you survive, or flourish? In combat, complacency kills. In the corporate world, complacency destroys businesses. What new skill can you learn? Teach yourself how to apply window tint? Once you’ve mastered it, move on to vinyl wrapping. Maybe you’re a production detailer that’s only been focused on pushing as many cars through as possible – polish up (insert groaning at the pun here) your paint correction skills to offer a more premium service.


It’s easy to settle into a routine and keep operating the way we always have been. I encourage you to take a few hours and consider where your business came from, where it is now, and where you want to take it in the future. I can’t recommend Jim Collins books enough – while they’re not tailored to small business, his findings can be applied throughout life.

Reference: ReadingGraphics Book Summaries – Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Nicholas Chopp
Revitalize Auto Spa
Honolulu, HI

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