There have always been companies that stand head-and-shoulders above their peers and the competition. They are loved by their shareholders, hated by the competition and known by all. Who are these companies and how can I find the next great company? All the great companies have something in common. Let’s look at a few of them:
In the July/August 2008 Conference Board’s article Doing God’s Work, it described how a bunch of ex-academics and technicians were working on the Macintosh project that had little chance of success until Steve Jobs took over. Jobs convinced them that they were creating something revolutionary. For three years the team worked like slaves with Jobs screaming at them. He kept morale up by telling them they had a higher calling, that they were doing God’s work. Andy Hertzfeld, one of the lead programmers, said “The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money; it was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater.” Ultimately, the Macintosh helped propel Apple Computer (AAPL) into the forefront of personal computing.
From childhood William H. (Bill) Gates was hard working, ambitious, intelligent and competitive. Gates used these characteristics to build Microsoft (MSFT) into an international behemoth. The company is oft the target of criticism and accusations of anti-competitive business practices. Under Gates leadership the company took a me against the world attitude and prevailed.
Lest you think this is a recent phenomenon, in 1870 John D. Rockefeller incorporated Standard Oil in Ohio with capital of $1 million. In response to laws limiting the scale of corporations, Rockefeller developed innovative ways of organizing, to effectively manage their fast growing enterprise. In 1911 as a result of public outcry, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Standard Oil must be dissolved and split into 34 companies. Some of the resulting companies names are very familiar: Exxon (XOM), Mobil (now part of Exxon), Chevron (CVX), Amoco (now part of BP), ARCO (now part of Sunco), Conoco (COP), Marathon Oil Company (MRO), Pennzoil (now part of Shell).
Thomas Alva Edison, “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, was an incredible visionary and inventor. He was also an extremely driven individual. There are stories of him working virtually non-stop for weeks on end. Edison would keep a cot in his lab for taking short naps during the night. Eventually, Edison founded 14 companies, including General Electric (GE).
What will be the next great company? Obviously, I don’t have a definitive answer (and if I did I probably would be too busy mortgaging the house to have time to share it). One thing I can say about the next great company, it will be run by a passionate leader that is a visionary who demands excellence from his employees and more so from himself. This leader and his company is out there somewhere, we just have to find him (or her).
Disclosure: Long in BP and GE