ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Stories of Business Legends that Inspire Greatness

Updated on October 29, 2011

Business Leader Stories: Inspiring Greatness

The Business Legends are movers of the industry. They have made revolutionary transformations to the way we live, to how we approach life, and to how we breakthrough beyond what was commonly known as impossible.

Their lives can serve as compasses for us. Guides to show how to create breakthroughs in our own lives. How to live our dreams. How to unleash the human spirit which is limitless!

The Visual Revolution of Apple & the Return of Steve Jobs

an excerpt from The E-Myth Enterprise, Michael E. Gerber

There was once a relatively small company that was struggling against great odds to gain market share from a huge Goliath of a company. The little company sputtered for years, suffering from poor leadership and a mix of neatly indistinguishable products that confused consumers, that performed poorly, that were unattractive in design. Their already meagre market share continued to plummet, as did the value of their stock. They were on the verge of going away forever when someone had a brilliant idea: "Let's bring back one of our original founders to run the place. He appears to be the last person associated wit this company who had any sort of vision."

So they did. They brought in a founding partner to be the new CEO. So dire was the financial condition of the company - but so much faith did the new CEO have in its potential - that he agreed to return to work for an annual salary of one dollar, plus stock options.

He began to turn things around almost immediately. He oversaw the design of a sleek new product and soon thereafter offered it in a range of bright colors that were mimicked by scores of other companies that manufactured everything from ring binders to kitchen blenders. The product took off. It set a new standard for visual preference in terms of color.

Success followed success, until one day in 2001, the CEO stood in front of a crowd at a company's annual convention and announced a new product that would revolutionize an entire industry, and eventually account for 70% of a particular market.

Yes, that CEO is Steve Jobs. The company, of course, is Apple. The long list of revolutionary products includes the original colourful iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone. The company is no longer on the verge of extinction, and the stock options (along with his Pixar Animation Studios investment of course) proved to be a good thing for Steve Jobs. He is now, among others, the Walt Disney Company's largest singe shareholder.

Through its products, its packaging, and its retail stores, Apple demonstrates how important the visual ideal is to business.

Design

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

- Steve Jobs

Design Revolution starts with an Apple

Understand the Essential Skills in Enterprise Success

(photo from startup.nmnaturalhistory.org
(photo from startup.nmnaturalhistory.org

Bill Gates and 10,000 hours with Computers

an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers"

Many would know Bill Gates as one of the richest men in the World, being the Founder of Microsoft, and an active philanthropist. How did the story Bill Gates the business legend really begin? Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" captures his story uniquely. The following is an excerpt from his book, which digs a little deeper into the origins of Bill Gates.

"Bill Gates father was a wealthy lawyer in Seattle, and his mother was the daughter of a well to do banker. As a child, Bill was precocious and easily bored by his studies. So his parents took him out of public school and at the beginning of seventh grade, sent him to Lakeside, a private school that catered to Seattle's elite families. Midway through Bill Gate's second year at lakeside, the school started a computer club.

The Mother's Club at school did a rummage sale every year, and there was always the question of what the money would go to, as Bill Gates remembers. Some went to the summer program where inner city kids would come up to the campus. Some of it would go for teachers. That year, they put three thousand dollars into a computer terminal down in the funny little room that we subsequently took control of. It was kind of an amazing thing.

It was an "amazing thing" of course, because this was 1968. Most colleges didn't have computer clubs in the 1960s. Even more remarkable was the kind of computer Lakeside bought. The school didn't have its students learn programming by the laborious computer card system, like virtually everyone else was doing in the 1960s. Instead, Lakeside installed what was called an ASR-33 Teletype, which was a time sharing terminal with a direct link to a mainframe computer in downtown Seattle. "The whole idea of time sharing only got invented in 1965," Bill Gates continued. "Someone was pretty forward looking." Bill Gates got to do real-time programming as an eight grader in 1968.

From that moment forward, Bill Gates lived n the computer room. He and a number of others began to teach themselves how to use this strange new device. Buying time on the mainframe computer the ASR was hooked up to was expensive - even for a wealthy institution like Lakeside - and it wasn't long before the $3,000 put up by the Mothers' Club ran out. The parents raised more money. The students spent it. Then a group of programmers at the University of Washington formed an outfit called Computer Center Corporation (C-cubed) which leased computer time to local companies. As luck would have it, one of the founders of the firm, Monique Roca, had a son at Lakeside a year ahead of Gates. Would the lakeside computer club, Rona wondered, like to test out the company's software programs on the weekends in exchange for free programming time? Absolutely! After school, Gates took the bus to the C-Cubed offices and programmed long into the evening.

C-cubed eventually went bankrupt, so Bill Gates and his friends began hanging around the computer center at the University of Washington. Before long, they latched onto an outfit called ISI (Information Sciences Inc.) which agreed to let them have free computer time in exchange for working on a piece of software that could be used to automate company payrolls. In one 7-month period in 1971, Bill Gates and his cohorts ran up 1,575 hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe, which average out to 8 hours a day, 7 hours a week.

"It was my obsession", Bill Gates says of his early high school years. One of the founders of ISI, Bud Pembroke, then got a call from the technology company TRW, which had just signed a contract to set up a computer system at the huge Bonneville Power state in southern Washington State. TRW desperately needed programmers familiar with the particular software the power station used. In these early days of the computer revolution, programmers with that kind of specialized experience were hard to find. But Pembroke knew exactly whom to call: those high school kids from Lakeside who had been running up thousands of hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe. Bill Gates was now in his senior year, and somehow he managed to convince his teachers to let him decamp for Bonneville under the guise of an independent study project. There he spent the spring writing code, supervised by an man named John Norton, who says Bill Gates taught him as much about programming as almost anyone he'd ever met.

Those 5 years, from 8th grade through the end of high school, were Bill Gates's Hamburg and by any measure, he was presented with an even more extraordinary series of opportunities.

Opportunity number one was that Bill Gates got sent to Lakeside. How many high schools in the world had access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968? Opportunity number 2 was that the mothers of Lakeside had enough money to pay for the school's computer fees. Number 3 was that when that money ran out, one of the parents happened to work at C-Cubed, which happened to need someone to check its code on the weekends turned into weeknights. Number 4 was that Gates just happened to find out about ISI, and ISI just happened to need someone to work on its payroll software. Number 5 was that Bill Gates happened to live within walking distance of the University of Washington. Number 6 was that the university happened to have free computer time between 3 and 6 in the morning. Number 7 was that TRW happened to call Bud Pembroke. Number 8 was that the bets programmers Pembroke new for that particular problem happened to be 2 high school kids. And number 9 was that Lakeside was willing to let those kids spend their spring term miles away, writing code.

And what did virtually all of those opportunities have in common? They gave Bill Gates extra time to practice. By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own software company, he'd been programming practically non-stop for seven consecutive years. He was way past 10,000 hours. How many teen-agers in the world had the kind of experience Bill Gates had? "If there were 50 in the world , I'd be stunned." Bill Gates says. "There was C-Cubed and the payroll stuff we did, then TRW - all those things came together. I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events".

(photo from lsnyder.wordpress.com)
(photo from lsnyder.wordpress.com)

Starbucks, Schultz, and Success through Persistence

from Napaleon Hill's "Think and Growth Rich", revised by Arthur Pell, Ph.D

A good example of determination and persistence is Howard Schultz, the "Starbucks man." It takes a person with vision, fortitude, and unswerving confidence to make a new concept succeed.

Schultz was hired to manage retail sales and marketing for a small coffee distributor who had a few retail outlets in Seattle. He was twenty-nine and just married. He and his wife left their home in New York City to accept this new job. About a year later, Schultz visited Italy on a buying trip. As he wandered around Milan, he noticed how important coffee was to the Italian culture. Typically, the workday starts with a cup of rich coffee at a coffee bar. After work, friends and colleagues once again meet at the coffee bar for a leisurely stop before heading home. It is a center of Italian social life. Schultz visualized this transferred to America. It had never been done, but he felt it could work because of the high quality of Starbucks coffee.

It became Schultz's obsession. He was determined to build a national chain of café's based on the Italian coffee bar, but the Starbucks owners were reluctant. They were in the wholesale coffee bean business; the restaurants they owned were only a small part of their operation.

To implement his goal, Schultz left Starbucks and planned a new company. In 1986, Schultz opened his first coffee bar in Seattle. It was an immediate success. Schultz soon opened another in Seattle and third in Vancouver. The following year he bought the Starbucks company and adopted its name for his enterprise.

Schultz believes that the quality of Starbucks will one day alter how everyday Americans conduct their lives. If Schultz has his way, a cup of Starbucks will become a basic part of American culture. His concept has paid off: Starbucks' sales have increased nine fold for every year since 1988.

Schultz envisioned hundreds of Starbucks coffee shop across America where business people would stop on their way to work and come to after work to relax. Shoppers would stop for a pick-me-up. Young people would meet their dates over coffee rather than cocktails. Families would come for refreshment before or after the cinema.

Starbucks incurred losses for three straight years-more than $ 1 million in 1989 alone- but Schultz never gave up. He had a firm conviction that this was the way to build a company and that the losses would soon turn into profits. Once his Seattle stores were profitable, Starbucks spread slowly into cities- Vancouver, Portland, Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago-and later to the Eastern cities and overseas. Starbucks has become a household name all over the world and an example of American marketing ingenuity. And it has made Howard Schultz one of the world's richest people.

Persistence

Be persistent no matter how slowly you may, at first, have to move.

With Persistence will come success.

- Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

(photo from en.wikipedia.org)
(photo from en.wikipedia.org)

The Quality Guarantee at L.L. Bean

an excerpt from The E-Myth Enterprise, Michael E. Gerber

1912: Freeport , Maine ,

His name was Leon Leonwood Bean, and he was - by some accounts - the less than enthusiastic manager of a family dry goods business in Freeport , Maine . His clear preference, it seemed was to go hunting and fishing, a passion that he pursued with great regularity. But keeping his feet dry and comfortable during the wet and snowy months of fall and early winter proved to be a real problem.

In the early 1900s, rubber was the only material available that could keep someone or something dry. In fact, the idea of putting rubber soles on footwear had actually been invented by the Mayans sometime in the 10th century. Among the fastest runners of their time, the Mayas actually molded hot liquid rubber around their feet to make a nearly perfect fit. However, rubber boots were not a great option for hiking miles at a time in the back country woods of Maine . So in a moment of inspiration, or possibly desperation, L.L. Bean came up with the idea of stitching a leather top to a rubber shoe bottom, and the Maine Hunting Boot was born. And being enamored with his creation, he soon decided to go into the hunting shoe business.

L.L. Bean launched his new venture the following summer, and theidea seemed to catch on. He quickly sold 100 pairs of the hunting shoes by direct mail to a list of Maine hunting license holders. Not a bad start in a world that at the time was dominated by mail-order giants like Sears, Montgomery Wards, and J.C. Penney. But there was one slight problem. On the 90 of these original pairs, the leather tops quickly separated from their rubber bottoms - and the customers quickly asked for a refund. Determined to make the shoes and his fledgling business work, Bean came up with a better design backed by a guarantee "to give satisfaction in every way".

And to affirm his commitment to getting it right every time for every customer, he put the following notice on the wall of his store in Freeport :

NOTICE

I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and the customer is still satisfied.

- L.L. Bean, 1916

This combination of an innovative product that me a real customer need and an unconditional guarantee of satisfaction would be the start of a direct-mail empire that is today a household name and one of the most successful and trusted merchants and brands in America. The Maine Hunting Boot can still be found, but with the addition of Gore-Tex, in the company's famous catalog, on its Web site, and in its retail stores. As for the guarantee, it remains - in even more explicit terms - an essential part of the success of L.L. Bean.

"Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L. Bean that is not completely satisfactory."

100% Satisfaction Guaranteed.

I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and the customer is still satisfied.

- L.L. Bean, 1916

The Rise of the House of Rothschild

an excerpt from Peter Drucker's "Managing for Results"

For the third approach, that of maximizing resources, there is no more instructive example than the rise of the House of Rothschild. it was anything but a foregone conclusion. In the late1790s Meyer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the dynasty, was still only a small- town money-lender, barely known in the main centres of international finance. Less than twenty years later, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the House of Rothschild was the unchallenged financial great power of Europe, treating with other great powers such as France or Russia as an equal, and barely polite to minor princes and potentates. What had catapulted the Rothchilds to success in that short period was systematic maximization of the resources of the family.

The family had four first-rate resources in the four older sons, Nathan, James, Amschel and Salomon. Four each their father (or more probably their mother) found and selected the major opportunity best fitted for his talent and character, the opportunity where the individual 'resources' could make its greatest contribution.

Nathan was the ablest, daring and highly imaginative. But he was uncouth and arrogant. He was given London at the time the greatest financial centre in the world, but also a ruthlessly competitive market where financial and economic power was daily being fought by aggressive business professionals who cared nothing for manners and counted only hard cash.

Napoleon's Paris went to James. Paris was then - and for a century to come - the greatest capital market on the continent. It was also the most treacherous spot in the financial universe. The financial conspiracies and plots in the novels of Balzac - James Rothschild's contemporary - were only partly fiction. Spies, paid by government or by competitors, were everywhere. Finance was a political business; yet political upheaval - revolution, terror, tyranny and restoration - were endemic and destroyed many mightier financial powers than the Rothschilds then were or cloud expect to be for years to come. But this was just the spot for James - in fact he might have been misplaced anywhere else. He throve on intrigue and had been the political strategist of the family from early years.

Salomon, courteous, patient and dignified to the point of pomposity, went one client, the Hapsburg Court, with its interminable delay and indecision, its stiff ceremonial and its self - important aristocracy. Frankfurt, finally, though home to the Rothschilds, was the least important of all financial centres in Europe. It became the seat of the family's 'general manager', the industrious, conscientious Amschel who loved nothing better than the back office. He kept his brothers informed through voluminous had written letters. He built and ran the far - flung private network of information and intelligence which - before the age of daily newspaper, post office , telegraph and telephone - gave the Rothschilds a near - monopoly on fast and dependable knowledge of world affairs. His greatest contribution was probably in the personnel field. He found, recruited and largely trained the German - Jewish boys with a passion for anonymity who as confidential clerks and managers became the backbone of the business.

What the Rothschilds did not do, is however, even more revealing. They did not assign to Kalmann, the fifth son, any opportunity whatever. Instead they sent him to Naples - one royal court where there was no business, and where therefore no major damage could be done to the Rothschild standing or to their fortunes. There would have been plenty of important opportunities had the family wanted Kalmann to have one. Both Hamburg and Amsterdam were important enough to warrant establishing business partners and agencies there. The Rothschilds also were aware of the opportunities of the fledgling United States across the Atlantic. But Kalmann had neither superior ability nor superior industry, at least not by Rothschild standards. And it is the one absolute rule in maximizing resources that one never entrusts an opportunity to a non - resource, that is to mediocrity. It cannot turn the opportunity into advantage. But to every opportunity corresponds a risk; mediocrity is therefore bound to harm if entrusted with opportunity. If one has a fifth son and, as a family, has to take care of him adequately, it is cheaper to support him in royal style out of harm's way than to put him in charge of opportunities.

What is important is not that General Motors, Edison, and the Rothschilds became great and strong; it is that they started near the bottom. Whether the penniless Prussian officer Siemens, or the half - deaf, almost unschooled, errand boy Edison; the provincial, awkward - not to mention Jewish - Rothschilds in a world of prejudiced, arrogant aristocrats, or the undeveloped Japanese clans of 1860; they all started with nothing, except a systematic approach. Even General Motors, while a large corporation for the America of 1920, was a poor second to ford. One can argue, of course, that even without any such approach Siemens and Edison would have been notable inventors, the Rothschilds well - known bankers, and General Motors a sizeable company. What gave them leadership, however, was the systematic approach with which they applied their ability to the opportunities time and history had put within their grasp.

All three approaches have one thing in common: they build on strength; they look for opportunities rather than for problems; they stress attainable results rather than dangers to be avoided. In fact they are complementary. Each serves a distinct function and purpose. Together they convert the insight of analysis into a programmed for effective action.

The Rothschild Values

...

Concordia, Integritas, Industria

(Unity, Integrity, Industry)

...

Figure out what Made the Rothschild's Successful!

(from fabulously40.com)
(from fabulously40.com)

Jack Canfield and The Persistence which cooked up Chicken Soup

an excerpt from Jack Canfield's "The Success Principles"

Most people are familiar with the phrase "Ready, aim, fire!" The problem is that too many people spend their whole life aiming and never firing. They are always getting ready, getting it perfect. The quickest way to hit a target is to fire, see where the bullet landed, and then adjust your aim accordingly. If the hit was 2 inches above the target, lower your aim a little. Fire again. See where it is now. Keep firing and keep readjusting. Soon you are hitting the bull's eye. The same is true for anything.

In the fall of 1991, Mark Victor Hansen and I began the process of selling our first "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book to a publisher. We flew to New York with our agent, Jeff Herman. All of them said they weren't interested. "Collections of short stories don't sell". "There's no edge to the stories." "The title will never work." After that we were rejected by another 20 publishers who had received the manuscript through the mail. After being rejected by more than 30 publishers, our agent gave the book back to us and said, "I'm sorry, I can't sell it for you." What did we do? We said "Next!"

We also knew we had to think outside of the box. After weeks of wracking our brains, we hit on an idea that we thought would work. We printed up a form that was a promise to buy the book when it was published. It included a place for people to write their name, address, and the number of books they pledged to buy.

Over a period of months, we asked everyone who attended our speeches or seminars to complete the form if they would buy a copy of the book when it was published. Eventually, we had promises to buy 20,000 books.

The following spring, Mark and I attended the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California, and walked from booth to booth, talking to any publisher who would listen. Even with copies of our signed pledge forms to demonstrate the market of our book, we were turned down again and again. But again and again, we said "Next!" At the end of the second very long day, we gave a copy of the first 30 stories in the book to Peter Vego and Gary Seidler, co presidents of Health Communications, Inc., a struggling publisher specializing in addiction and recovery books, who agreed to take it home and look it over. Later that week, Gary Seidler took the manuscript to the beach and read it. He loved it and decided to give us a chance. Those hundreds of "nexts" had paid off! After over 130 rejections, that first book went on to sell 8 million copies, spawning a series of 80 best selling books that have been translated into 39 languages.

And those pledge forms? When the book was finally published, we spated an announcement to the signed forms, sent them to the person at the address on the form and waited for a check. Almost everyone who had promised to buy a book came through on his or her commitment. In fact, one entrepreneur in Canada bought 1,700 and gave on to every one of his clients.

When we started marketing the first "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to give away free excerpts from the book to small and local newspapers in exchange for them printing at the end of the story telling people that the story was excerpted from "Chicken Soup for the Soul", which was available at their local bookstore or by calling our 800 number. I had never done this before, so I wasn't sure if there was a correct way to submit a story to a newspaper or magazine, so I just sent off a story from the book entitled "Remember, You Are Raising Children, Not Flowers!" that I had written about my neighbour and his son, along with a cover letter to the editor of LA parent magazine. The letter read:

Jack Bierman

LA Parent

Dear Jack,

I would like to submit this article for publication in the LA Parent. I have enclosed a brief bio. I would like you to print the little blurb I included on my new book "Chicken Soup for the Soul" with my article. If you would like a copy of the book, I would be more than happy to send one to you!

Thank you for your time!

Sincerely,

Jack Canfield

A few weeks later, I received the following letter back.

Dear Jack:

I was annoyed by your fax. How dare you tell me to include "the little blurb on your book". How could you assume I'd be interested in this little bit of unsolicited word processing. Then I read the article. Needless to say, I'll run your little blurb and then some!

I was moved by this exercise and am sure it will touch the hearts of the 200, 000 plus readers from here to San Diego.

Has it ever appeared anywhere in my demographic? If so, where? I look forward to working with you on raising children, not flowers.

Best regards,

Jack Bierman, Editor in Chief

I had not known how to submit a proper query letter to an editor. There was an accepted format that I was unware of. But I took action anyway. In a subsequent phone call, Jack Bierman generously taught me how to do it better next time. Now I was in the game and I was learning from my experience. Ready, fire, aim!

Within a month, I had submitted that same article to over 50 local and regional parenting magazines all across the United States. Thirty-five of them published it, introducing "Chicken Soup for the Soul" to over 6 million parents.

It's time to quit waiting for:

Perfection. Inspiration. Permission. Reassurance. Someone to change. The right person to come along. The kids to leave home. A more favourable horoscope. The new administration to take over. An absence of risk. Someone to discover you. A clear set of instructions. More self-confidence. The pain to go away.

Get on with it already!

Have you ever noticed that the last six letters in the word satisfaction are "action"? In Latin, the word "satis" means "enough". What the ancient Romans understood clearly was that enough action ultimately produces satisfaction.

Your Dreams are your Real Job

"No" is a word on your path to "Yes". Don't give up too soon. Not even if well meaning parents, relatives, friends, and colleagues tell to get a "real" job.

Your DREAMS are your REAL job.

- Joyce Spizer, Author of "Rejections of the Written Famous"

The Dream Works of Spielberg

excerpt from Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich, updated edition

Another man who exemplifies being master of his fate is Steven Spielberg, one of the all time great motion picture directors. He dreamed of being a movie director from childhood. He began making amateur films with a primitive camera when he was still a child, and the dream never subsided.

How Spielberg broke into Universal Studios is a legend in the movie industry. He took the Universal Studios Tour, an attraction that enables visitors to get an inside look at the movie business. Visitors ride around the studio lots on a train. Steven sneaked off the tram and hid between two sound stages until the tour ended. When he left at the end of the day, he made a point of saying a few words to the gate guard.

Day after day, he went back to the studio for three months. He walked passed the guard, waved at him, and he waved back. He always wore a suit and carried a brief case, letting the guard assume he was one of the students with a summer job in the studio. He made a point of speaking to and befriending directors, writers, and editors. He even found a vacant office, and listed his name in the building directory.

He made it his business to get to know Sid Sheinberg, then head of production for the studio's television arm. He showed him his college film project, which so impressed Sheinberg that he put the young man under contract with the studio.

His first full length film, The Sugarland Express, received critical acclaim and won best screenplay award in the 1974 Cannes film festival. Unfortunately, it did not do very well at the box office.

His big break came a year after when he discovered the book "Jaws". The studio had already decided to produce "Jaws" and had chosen a well know director to film it. Spielberg desperately wanted to make this movie. Despite the financial failure of The Sugarland Express, his self confidence had not diminished, and he persuaded the producers to dismiss the chosen director and give the film to him.

It was not an easy assignment. From the beginning, trouble beset the production. It ran into technical and budget problems. However, when "Jaws" was released in June 1975, it enjoyed two-fold success: it broke box office records, and the critics loved it. Within a month of its release, the film had taken in $60 million at the box office, an unheard of amount at that time.

Over the next few years, Spielberg directed several movies, including the popular Indiana Jones series, the award winning The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, and ET. He later directed Jurassic Park, which would also become at its time, the most successful movie in history, the third Spielberg film to break the record. It also brought in over $1 billion in gross receipts, toys, and other merchandise.

Spielberg continues to pursue his dreams. When he and two other Hollywood moguls created their own production company "Dream Works".

(from wellsfargoinfo.com)
(from wellsfargoinfo.com)

The Deep Hedgehog Understanding of Wells Fargo

an excerpt from "Good to Great" by Jim Collins

UNDERSTANDING WHAT YOU CAN (AND CANNOT) BE THE BEST AT

"They stick with what they understand and let their abilities not their egos, determine what they attempt." So wrote Warren Buffett about his $290 million investment in Wells Fargo despite his serious reservations about the banking industry. Prior to clarifying its Hedgehog Concept, Wells Fargo had tried to be a global bank, operating like a mini-Citicorp, and a mediocre one at that. Then, at first under Dick Cooley and the under Carl Reichardt , Wells Fargo executives began to ask themselves a piercing set of questions: What can we potentially do better than any other company, and, equally important, what can we not do better than any other company? And if we can't be the best at it, then why are we doing it at all?

Putting aside their egos, The Wells Fargo team pulled the plug on the vast majority of its international operations, accepting the truth that it could not be better than Citicorp in global banking. Wells Fargo then turned its attention to what it could be the best in the world at: running a bank like a business, with a focus on the western United States. That's it. That was the essence of the Hedgehog Concept that turned Wells Fargo from a mediocre Citicorp wanna- be to one of the best-performing banks in the world.

Carl Reichardt, CEO of Wells Fargo at the time of transition, stands as a consummate hedgehog. While his counterparts at Bank of America went into a reaction-revolution panic mode in response to deregulation, hiring change gurus who used sophisticated models and time-consuming encounter groups, Reichardt stripped everything down to essential simplicity. "It's not space science stuff," he told us in our interview. "What we did was so simple, and we kept it simple. It was so straightforward and obvious that it sounds almost ridiculous to talk about it. The average businessman coming from a highly competitive industry with no regulations would have jumped on this like a goose on a June bug."

Reichardt kept people relentlessly focused on the simple hedgehog idea, continually reminding them that "there's more money to be made in Modesto than Tokyo." Those who worked with Reichardt marveled at his genius for simplicity. "If Carl were an Olympic diver," said one of his colleagues, "he would not do a five-flip twisting thing. He would do the best swan dive in the world, and do it perfectly over and over again."

The Wells Fargo focus on its Hedgehog Concept was so interest that it became, in its executives' own words, "a mantra." Throughout our interest views, Wells Fargo people echoed the same basic theme-"It wasn't that complicated. We just took a hard-nose look at what we were doing and decided to focus entirely on those few things we knew we could do better than anyone else, not getting distracted into arenas that would feed our egos and at which we could not be the best."

This brings me to one of the most crucial points of this chapter: A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.

Every company would like to be the best at something, but few actually understand-with piercing insight and egoless clarity -what they actually have the potential to be the best at and, just as important, what they cannot be the best at. And it is this distinction that stands as one of the primary contrasts between the good-to-great companies and the comparison companies.

The Hedgehog Concept

"A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial."

- Jim Collins, "Good to Great"

Discover what makes Enterprise leap from Good to Great!

Be Inspired! - Choose your favorite Story of a Business Legend

We wanted to know which business legend inspired you the most? Whose life story has shared with you nuggets of learning to fuel your game to the next level? Share your thoughts!

Who of the Business Legends inspired you the most?

See results

New Guestbook Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • creativeinc lm profile image

      creativeinc lm 6 years ago

      Nice lens. I enjoyed it!

    • shericaruso68 profile image

      shericaruso68 6 years ago

      Inspiring quotes! I enjoyed this lens