Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2006   by Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

Required Reading

For reasons that go beyond the change in seasons, the arrival of warmer weather has come as a welcome change for me.

I am sure I am not alone in feeling that life’s been a bit tough on the business front, tougher than it used to be, and perhaps with less assurance than ever that the collective efforts of our industry would be rewarded. You can’t open a newspaper without being reminded of some gruesome automotive prediction.

Oh, and occasionally some bit of data would slide across my desk, telling me that we’re all getting older and nobody wants to work in the aftermarket to replace us.

Add to this a few nagging aches and pains that have plagued me this winter, and it has all served to make me just a little depressed.

None of which has anything to do with my point, of course, except for the fact that it made me more determined than ever to get out of the office.

Two recent meetings in particular have stuck with me: one with Jeff Fortin of Fortin’s Automotive; the other with Robert Tribe, recently departed from the industry (temporarily I hope). Both spoke at length about how the book “From Good to Great” has influenced them. They were neither the first nor, I am sure, the last to refer to this tome on management excellence. In fact, it has come up at least half a dozen other times in conversation over the past five years.

I simply got too tired and too embarrassed to keep admitting I hadn’t read it. So I did. If you haven’t already, so should you.

The point is that there are some definable characteristics of companies that can go from good to great and not just stay good. The book focuses on publicly traded companies that I’m sure you know–Kimberly Clark, Walgreen’s, Nucor–and a handful of others. For one, the book lays to rest the myth that the superstar CEO will lead a company to salvation and excellence. In fact, the best-performing companies had CEOs who came from within. And those CEOs weren’t necessarily paid more than the outside recruits, either. What the defining characteristic seems to be is that they were modest about their own capabilities, sticklers for excellence, surrounded themselves with the right people in the right positions, and then let those people get on with it. And if things didn’t work out, the blame game was off limits.

The idea is that the leadership sets the tone and takes charge of putting the right people in place, but they collectively set the direction for the company. And once decided, they stay the course.

Now, there’s a lot more to it than that, but I challenge you to look around your own operation and decide whether your company culture promotes excellence and teamwork, or is basically a culture of ego of the owner, president or CEO. Does the boss tell people what to do, or do the people say and do what needs to be done?

According to author Jim Collins, greatness does not flow because the heads of “great” companies have the answers, though they are invariably very well-versed in the companies and the markets they serve. What they do is ask the right questions. And there is one other important quality they have in common: they aren’t afraid to change what must be changed, tradition and history be damned.

And it’s not about money either; all comparisons featured companies with equivalent resources. Some became great; others became history.

The underlying factor that leads from good to great isn’t about willingness to change; it is about insisting on change, and taking it on faith that if you have the right people in the right positions, excellence will be achieved.

No book will change your company, but this one will probably change the way you look at yours, and at yourself.

There now, don’t you feel better already?

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