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The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve

Surprising Lessons from the Truly Greatest Corporate Leaders


"Good to great transformations don’t happen without Level-5 leaders at the helm. They just don’t." -- Jim Collins

This article appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Spirituality & Health. In 1996 a dedicated band of 22 researchers led by Jim Collins, director of a management research lab in Boulder, Colorado, set out to discover what transforms good companies into truly great companies. Their criteria for greatness were tough: The researchers sought companies that had underperformed the stock market for at least 15 years, then went through a transition, and subsequently outperformed the stock market by at least three times for the next 15 years. In others words, companies you wish you had put your kids’ college funds into. Starting with 1,435 companies that appeared on the Fortune 500 list from 1965 to 1995, the researchers eventually identified only 11 that made the cut — 11 companies with cumulative stock returns averaging a whopping 6.9 times the general stock market for 15 years. What these great companies turned out to have in common was a particular kind of leader during the transition period, but it wasn’t a headline-grabber like Chrysler’s Lee Iococca or GE’s Jack Welch. On the contrary, the …

Adapted from Good to Great by Jim Collins (Harperbusiness, 2001).

Stephen Kiesling is a former Olympic rower, cocreator of the Nike Cross Training System, and editor at large of Spirituality & Health. A 35th anniversary edition of The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence has just been published.

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