Thinking ahead

Think Big Act Small-How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive by Jason Jennings is an insightful work examining the success of nine amazingly profitable and well-run companies in the US who simply defied the conventional wisdom of thinking. An OER review.

Each year millions of businesses are founded worldwide. Sometime it’s an individual going solo in a home office. In other instances it’s friends and partners pooling resources to pursue a dream. And other times it’s the launch of a manufacturing or service facility designed to employ thousands. In the case of every new business there are two certainties: there was one big thinking behind the decision to make the leap.

Tradition says there are three ways to grow a company’s profits: Fire up the sales team with empty promises, cut costs and downsize, or cook the books. But what if there’s a better way – a way that nine amazingly profitable and well-run companies are already embracing? Jason Jennings and his research team screened more than 100,000 American companies to find nine that rarely end up on magazine covers, yet have increased revenues and profits by ten percent or more for ten consecutive years. Then they interviewed the leaders, workers, and customers of these quiet superstars to find the secrets of their astoundingly consistent and profitable growth.

Offering engaging case studies of nine of America’s best performing (if unfamiliar) businesses, Jennings identifies 10 practices they all have in common, which, he argues, catapulted them into the rarefied category of increasing profits and revenue by 10 per cent or more for at least 10 consecutive years. They cut across a wide spectrum of enterprises, but all, according to Jennings, have “nailed the fundamentals.” Ten bullet-pointed and chart-summarized chapters with prescriptive titles present the basics that these prosperous business have mastered and asserts that others who apply the principles will also fatten their bottom lines.

What they have in common is a culture – a community – based on a shockingly simple precept: Think big, but act small. It works for retailers like PETCO, Cabela’s, and O’Reilly Automotive, manufacturers like Medline Industries, service companies like Sonic Drive-In, private educational companies like Strayer, industrial giants like Koch Enterprises, and software companies like SAS.These companies think big ideas about solving customers’ problems, making better products, and creating value.

As Jennings observes in the introduction of the book, thinking big has been responsible for every advance, every development, and every successful business known to man. There were big thinkers behind rocket ships, skyscrapers, computers, assembly lines, fast-food hamburgers, and every leap forward in medical science. Along the way, the market place has handsomely rewarded many big thinkers. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Sam Walton all defied conventional wisdom, thought big, significantly changed the world, and amassed fortunes worth tens of billions of dollars in the processes.

In breezy prose with plenty of anecdotes from CEO and worker interviews, Jennings argues that regardless of how big a company becomes, acting big and ignoring the needs of employees, merchants and customers always leads to lost profit. Concluding sections offer business self- evaluation materials, fascinating background on research methodologies.

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