Oh, Great

If anybody can point us in the direction of greatness, our money is on this guy.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the May 2002 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Over the years, he's become something of an entrepreneurial icon. Jim Collins is the co-author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies(HarperBusiness), a national bestseller for more than five years. More recently, he wrote Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't(HarperBusiness). So for our 25th anniversary issue, we dragged him out of his management research laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, and talked to him about entrepreneurship-the good, the bad and the great.

What have been the greatest changes in entrepreneurship in the last 25 years?

Jim Collins: About every 20 years, roughly, there is a fundamental idea that profoundly changes the economic landscape. The last really huge idea was around 1980, that entrepreneurship is a systematic, repeatable discipline. That is the most important management or economic idea of the past 40 years-entrepreneurship is not a mystery; it's not alchemy. That idea is why you had the rise of venture capital, entrepreneur[ial] courses in business schools, and magazines like Entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is really what's driven our economy in the past 20 years. [Your] 25th anniversary issue is a celebration of the fact that this idea is embedded in our society. Being an entrepreneur is an honorable and respectable career choice. Back in 1975 or 1980, if kids went to their parents and said, "I'm not going to work for IBM. I'm going to go start my own company," most parents would think, "Where did we go wrong?" It was like heading into the wilderness.

Do you have one piece of advice that could make a company great?

Collins: One of our greatest mythologies is that there is one great thing. In fact, one of the most dangerous afflictions in modern business is the search for a single answer-that it's going to be the acquisition, the leader or the innovative strategy. It's a combination of all the factors.

But I can tell you where to start becoming great. Start with figuring out who should be on the bus, who should be off the bus and who should be in what seat. Only then should you decide where to drive. It's first who, and then what. It never begins with a great product or a great innovation or great vision. All those things eventually come, but it always starts with who.

Entrepreneur Magazine's 25th Anniversary Issue
Discover the trends that have shaped management, technology, marketing, franchising and money for the past quarter-century--and what trends will shape the next 25 years--in Sterling Silver.

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