Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Keynote Presentation from Jim Collins: How Good Organizations Can Become Great



Jennifer Finer, conference director for FEI and Peter Koen, Conference Chairperson for FEI opened up the morning with some introductory remarks. Soon after Peter Koen introduced the morning’s first keynote speaker, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last.

Jim begins by stating that he wanted to share some research that took him nearly five years to gather. A couple of opening quotes that set the tone for the presentation were, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance but a function first most of constant choice.”


Jim Collins stated that we will regain our prosperity and that it is unlikely that we will go into a system of stability. What separates items that build great companies? What environment allows company to stay in the mediocre state?

The world becomes more rapidly evolving, we would see a bigger premium in innovation. The comparison company and not the winner innovated. Innovation is important up to a point but what is that point?

There is no evidence that the great and powerful can not fall, eventually they do. The Mayans fell. Great enterprises that fall might look healthy on the outside but can actually be "sick". Companies in the late stages of the process are harder to cure, you want to be able to detect it early. We found 5 stages and you don’t fall until stage 4.
What are the stages? How do you identify?

It’s hard to detect early, but you can. Not everyone pulls out of it…Here’s the good news, you can fall into late stage 4 and still come back as a great company.

“Whether you prevail or fail, or do or die, depends more on what you do to yourself then what the world does to you. “

It is a cumulative process, it’s a nonsense question to say whats the one thing that made us great. We find more support for the cumulative process the more the world is out of control. Even in these environments most success stories are 20 years in the making. Those who take disciplined action distinguish those who win.

"Overreaching better explains how the mighty fall"

Jim Collins gives an example of how Rubbermaid introduced many products every 6-12 months, after 5 years it was no longer an independent company.
“We find no evidence that those who win predict what happen. Be prepared for what you cannot possibly predict.”

Leaders with the greatest humility produce the best results. The question in place should not be about your personality but the source of your ambition.

"Turbulence strengthen us, for those that are strong going in. Companies should be afraid if they are weak because it will expose and amplify their weakness."

"It’s what you do before the storm comes that outlines what will happen when the storm is here."

Companies can be categorized into 3 parts:

Category 1 – Very strong going into the tunnel - Focus on what can you do
Category 2 – Aren’t severely in peril, but not as strong as they want to be – Focus on the must then the can
Category 3- Caught weakened (GM is a great example) – What can we do and what must we do – Focus is on the must for survival

Jim Collins closes with this thought, "The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency."

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