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In the Tradition of Business Classics

Rishikesha T. Krishnan

By Bo Burlingham
Penguin, Delhi, 2005, pp. 224, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 9 September 2007

This book continues in the tradition of contemporary business classics like In Search of Excellence, Built to Last, and Good to Great, but with an important difference—it is focused on ‘small giants’, fourteen American companies that though small in size (number of employees) have defied conventional wisdom and established a distinctive position for themselves in the eyes of industry observers and their peers. These companies are driven not by growth, publicity, or share-holder value, but by ‘being great at what they do, creating a great place to work, providing great service to customers, having great relationships with their suppliers, making great contributions to the communities they live and work in, and finding great ways to lead their lives’ (p. xvii). In other words, they are committed to excellence in whatever they do. And, they are profitable too!   Bo Burlingham describes all these companies as having mojo, a mysterious quality that is an amalgam of having a soul, harmonious relationships, an inner strength that comes from the broader goals these companies pursue and the character of the personalities of their founders. It is this mojo that translates into happy employees, delighted customers, and committed suppliers. This book reminds us of many of the virtues of outstanding small businesses—excellent employee relationships, a strong commitment to quality and customer satisfaction, and a missionary-like zeal to remain committed to a set of core values. Behind these enterprises are entrepreneurs who really care about their people, and maintain high levels of transparency in their policies and practices. They debate strategic business issues intensely, and with all key stakeholders. Employee ownership is more the rule than the exception. The high levels of commitment that employees reciprocate with result in high levels of productivity and individual initiative that are difficult to match in the large corporation. Many of the successful small giants in this book are also quite innovative—they have pioneered a new business model, created a new manufacturing process, or understood the needs of a particular segment of customers better than their competitors.   Individual entrepreneurs play an important role in shaping these ‘small giants’. They establish and shape the values. They slow down growth or carefully define the boundaries when they fear that the company’s mojo may be diluted, even if this means foregoing top- or bottom-line. While some may see this as obstinacy, I am reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s ...

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