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Good to Great: A Guide for Investors

Updated: Feb 10

"Good to Great" is a concept popularized by Jim Collins in his book, "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't." The book explores the reasons some companies are able to make the transition from being merely good to truly great, while others cannot. For investors, understanding these principles can offer valuable insights into evaluating potential investments and recognizing long-term potential.

The Five Key Concepts

The "Good to Great" study identified five key concepts that differentiate great companies from their merely good counterparts. They are:

  • Level 5 Leadership: Companies that transition from good to great tend to have leaders who blend personal humility with professional will. These leaders prioritize the success of the company over their personal accolades. For investors: When analyzing a company, consider the character and track record of its leadership. Look for humility and a long-term commitment to the company's success.

  • First Who, Then What: Before deciding on a direction for the company, great companies first ensure they have the right people in place. This means getting the right individuals on the team and in the right positions. For investors: Evaluate the quality of a company's workforce and its corporate culture. Is the company known for retaining and nurturing top talent?

  • The Hedgehog Concept: Great companies focus on what they can be best in the world at, what drives their economic engine, and what they are passionate about. This concept is likened to a hedgehog, which does one thing very well: defend itself using its spines. For investors: Understand the core competency of the company. Does it have a clear niche or advantage that it can dominate over the long term?

  • The Culture of Discipline: Great companies have disciplined people who take disciplined action within a framework of freedom and responsibility. For investors: Examine the company's operational efficiency, consistency in decision-making, and adherence to its core principles.

  • The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Successful transitions from good to great are not the result of a single defining action, but rather the result of consistent effort and commitment, much like turning a heavy flywheel. For investors: Look for evidence of sustained momentum or, conversely, signs that a company is constantly changing direction without a clear plan.


To illustrate the application of the "Good to Great" principles, let's look at a couple of real-world examples:

  • Apple: Under the leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple transformed from a struggling computer company into a global tech powerhouse. This transformation can be attributed to Level 5 leadership (Jobs' relentless focus on product excellence) and the Hedgehog Concept (focusing on creating unparalleled user experiences).

  • Southwest Airlines: This airline, under the leadership of Herb Kelleher, exemplifies the Culture of Discipline and the Flywheel concepts. Southwest consistently focuses on operational efficiency, leading to low costs and high customer satisfaction. Their success didn't happen overnight but was the result of consistent efforts over time.

For investors, the "Good to Great" framework offers a unique perspective on evaluating companies' potential for long-term success. By focusing on leadership, team quality, core competencies, discipline, and momentum, investors can identify companies poised to make the leap from good to great, potentially resulting in significant returns on investment. As always, it's essential to conduct thorough research and consult with financial professionals before making any investment decisions.

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