In business, good is the enemy of great

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on January 12, 2015

“Good is the enemy of great” are the opening words of “Good to Great,” the best-selling iconic book by preeminent leadership and management thought leader Jim Collins, on “why some companies make the leap [to outstanding sustained performance] … and some don’t.” If you think that “good” is good enough, you will never become great.

When I became the president and CEO of PQ Corp., chairman of the PQ board Richard D. Wood Jr. gave me a copy of “Good to Great.” I will be forever grateful to Wood, because the book outlined the characteristics of companies that have achieved outstanding sustained performance. Collins’ book served as a guide for leading PQ during my tenure as CEO, and later as an independent board member at other companies, assessing their leaders and organizations.

Collins and his team of researchers poured over reams of data to uncover 11 companies that had cumulative stock returns at least 6.9 times that of the general market over a 15-year period. For perspective, from 1985 to 2000, GE had cumulative stock returns only 2.8 times that of the general market. Collins and his team then studied the characteristics of these companies and the characteristics of their CEOs, versus comparison companies that did not perform as well. Collins identified eight principles that differentiated these high-performing companies from the comparison companies. Here are the four differentiating principles that were most impactful for me:

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