Book Review: Inside the Success of 100 Great Businesses

July 13, 2011

Today I’ll be reviewing “Inside the Success of 100 Great Businesses” by Emily Ross and Angus Holland.  I asked Dave for a recommendation awhile ago and he suggested this entertaining book – thanks!

This book contains 100 short stories of how businesses in various industries were created, the challenges they faced, and the unique paths they took to achieve tremendous success. What I liked most about the narratives is that they focused on the people who created the businesses – their childhoods, backgrounds, and values.  It was interesting to learn about how these leaders were able to overcome adversity and direct their companies in the right direction.

Revolutionaries - IKEA
The sections of this book are divided into various “categories” of successful companies. One such category, the “revolutionaries,” includes companies that transformed their respective industries by undertaking bold new endeavors.  IKEA is a revolutionary company that is mentioned is the book.  I’m sure most of you have heard of IKEA and even bought some furniture from one of its stores.  For those of you who don’t know, IKEA is a company that provides affordable and fashionable furniture to the masses on a worldwide scale.  It was founded by Swedish entrepreneur Ingvar Kamprad in 1943 and is now the largest furniture retailer in the world.

Mr. Kamprad is credited for revolutionizing the furniture industry as he was able to make furniture, considered luxury goods at the time, accessible to the general public.  He accomplished this by aggressively undercutting his competitors and implementing innovative strategies to reduce production costs.  Viewed as a threat by other Swedish furniture companies, IKEA was eventually boycotted by The Swedish National Association of Furniture Dealers (at the time the biggest furniture association in Sweden).  Mr. Kamprad swiftly adapted to this roadblock that stood in the way of his company’s continued growth – he began producing furniture in neighboring Poland (across the Baltic Sea and to the south of Sweden) and hiring in-house furniture designers.  To save on storage and shipping costs, Mr. Kamprad came up with the ingenious idea to flat-pack the furniture in boxes (e.g., having the legs of a table detached) and sell them this way to customers.  Flat-packing also made it extremely easy for customers to transport furniture and assemble it in their homes.

Have you ever purchased furniture from IKEA?  If you look at the instruction manual, you will notice that there are only pictures and no words – this is such a simple yet powerful concept that efficiently creates a universal set of instructions. The pictures are clear and the assembly is minimal so that even a chimpanzee can put together IKEA furniture!*

Throughout the evolution of his company, Mr. Kamprad always emphasized the importance of having a proactive approach to meeting customer needs.  For example, when he noticed that customers were leaving the store during lunch hours, Mr. Kamprad installed cafeterias serving delicious and affordable food.  He also introduced child care services that made it comfortable for young families to remain in IKEA stores for extended periods of time.

Mr. Kamprad set up nine commandments that his employees are required to follow – these commandments center on the values of enthusiasm, humility, and responsibility.  These values define him as a person and so he is able to set a great example for employees to follow.  He also discourages extravagance and waste – although he’s a billionaire, he drives a beat-up Volvo, flies economy class, and rides public transportation whenever possible.

*This is not intended to demean the intelligence of (1) chimpanzees or (2) people who are unable to assemble IKEA furniture properly.

Is Lawline a “Revolutionary” Company?
The reason why I talked about IKEA at length is because I think Lawline shares many of its principles.  Lawline is a company that:

  • Is agile so that it can quickly adapt to technology and the needs of its customers;
  • Is constantly finding ways to become more effective in reaching goals and more efficient in performing tasks;
  • Is focused on providing stellar service to customers and faculty members; and
  • Embraces its core values so that they are the guiding principles from which decisions are made and actions are taken.

As Lawline strives to “become the universal standard for continuing education,” it begs the question as to what this phrase means – I interpret it to signify our endeavor to become the unequivocal leader of the continuing education industry that relentlessly sets and raises the bar for quality and service.

A company becoming the “universal standard” of an industry is not an easy accomplishment that occurs overnight or through the efforts of a handful of individuals – It can only be achieved through the collaborative effort of every employee to reach a common objective (the big picture), hard work, and a fierce determination to find a better way of doing every single task.  Each person is in the best position to ascertain the improvements can be made in their respective roles and should take responsibility in ensuring that such improvements come to fruition.

Will Lawline end up in mediocrity or rise up to the challenge and become the undisputed leader in continuing education? Each one of us is empowered to help steer our company down the path to success – cheers to the future of Lawline!

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