What makes great companies different from those around them? What are the management principles that, over time, have set these companies apart from others? The answers to these questions as provided by Built to Last are rooted in a six-year, in-depth study during which 18 “visionary” companies (including 3M, American Express, Boeing, Hewlett Packard, Marriott, Procter & Gamble, and Walt Disney) were compared to 18 competitor companies.
One of the common traits amongst big enduring companies is the ability to consciously manage continuity and change: these companies all have a strong core identity, as well as the desire to change and adapt, but never let the latter interfere with what the company stands for. Let’s start by defining what visionary companies actually are: they are leaders in their fields, that have been operating for at least 50 years, and have experienced steady success throughout. They are admired by experts in the sector and have a long history of making a significant impact on the world.
These companies prosper over long periods of time as a result of multiple cycles of product releases and numerous generations of proactive leaders. That’s not to say that they don’t make mistakes, release products that flop, or go through hard times: what separates them from the rest is the way in which they manage setbacks. They are well consolidated and capable of learning from their mistakes and getting better.