annual meeting when discussing
explained why he admires them:
"For one, they
Without the din and prattle of
listen as well as talk;
and since there are fewer of them they generally know and
understand each other.
Second, small companies
move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in
Third, in small companies, with
fewer layers and less camouflage, the
show up very clearly on the screen.
Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone.
And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They
spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and
politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore
they can only do the important things. Their people are free
to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace
rather than fighting bureaucracy."
25 Lessons from
Presumably Bo Burlingham agrees
with Welch, perhaps adding that the size of a company such
as GE does not determine whether or not it has these
characteristics. Rather, he would identify 14 companies
which he calls "small giants." They range from Selima Inc.
(a two-person fashion design and dressmaking firm) to O.C.
Tanner (a company with 1,700 employees and annual sales of
$350-million). Although quite different in size and nature,
Burlingham has identified
"First, I could see
that, unlike most entrepreneurs, their founders and
had recognized the full range of choices they had about the
type of company they would create."
Leader: 4 Specific Attributes
"Second, the leaders had
overcome the enormous pressures on
to take paths they had not chosen and did not necessarily
want to follow."
"Third, each company had
an extraordinarily intimate relationship with the local
city, town, or county in which it did business -- a
relationship that went well beyond the usual concept of
"Fourth, they cultivated
intimate relationships with
and suppliers, based on personal contact, one-on-one
interaction, and mutual commitment to delivering on
the companies also had what struck me as unusually intimate
Culture: 5 Elements
"Sixth, I was impressed
by the variety of corporate structures and modes of
governance that these companies had come up with."
"Finally, I noticed the
leaders brought to what the company did. They loved the
subject matter, whether it be music, safety lighting, food,
special effects, constant torque hinges, beer, records
storage, construction, dining, or fashion."
Leader: 10 Roles
No doubt there are countless
other companies which also meet these criteria. Insofar as
they and the 14 "small giants" which Burlingham discusses
are concerned, nature of business is as irrelevant as size.
If I understand Burlingham correctly, they are driven by the
determination to be the best at what they do, to have close
ties to their communities, to create a great workplace
environment, to provide excellent service to their
customers, and to be terrific customers to their suppliers.
profitability as a by-product of doing those
initiatives. They wouldn't normally reduce an area of their
operations to increase profitability (although sometimes
they might have to). If they reduced it at all, it would be
to achieve those other goals.
Burlingham suggests that his
book be viewed as a "field report" on a group of
extraordinary companies, each of which has (his word) "mojo". Although "small giants" may
not be the backbone of the American economy, they are "its
heart and soul, and they are setting a new standard for
excellence on Main Street." When concluding this brilliant
book, Burlingham asserts that businesses "are the building
blocks, not just of an economy but of a whole
way of life.
What they do and how they do it have an impact that extends
far beyond the economic sphere. They shape the communities
we live in and the values we live by and the quality of the
lives we lead. If businesses do not hold themselves to a
high standard, the entire society suffers." Well-said.
Frankly, I envy those who have
not as yet read
because, among its many
benefits, it offers an eloquent, indeed compelling
affirmation of values we should but do not always live by.
With all due respect to Burlingham's business acumen, I
appreciate even more his obvious faith in what can ‒ and
should ‒ be accomplished if more of us became "small
giants" of decency and integrity. It is no coincidence that
many of those on Fortune's annual list of the most
highly-admired companies are also on its list of those