Anecdotes and common practices of super successful companies are distilled into lessons ending each chapter plus a list the 10 best characteristics of leaders at trailblazing companies such as stressing innovation, creating networks, and treating employees as if they were volunteers. Words: 649
In further edited excerpts from the original review* Nanette Byrnes (www.BusinessWeek.com) goes on to say:
To Kanter, the companies she discusses companies are models of what businesses can and should become—in her words, “instances of ‘positive deviance’ that are a harbinger of trends to follow.”
Kanter is a well-regarded professor at Harvard Business School, and the depth of her fieldwork lifts this book beyond cheerleading into something much more useful. She and a team of researchers spent more than three years doing 350-plus interviews at 15 different companies in more than 20 countries.
The book’s most persuasive sections are those that clearly tie corporate acts of social good to financial growth and success. A complex series of steps IBM (IBM) staffers took to help victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and other natural disasters provided both a crash course in management for young Indian workers and technical innovations IBM went on to sell through its “Smarter Planet” initiative.
It doesn’t take an act of God, however, or even a new mission statement, to get the ball rolling. An emphasis on social good at Brazil’s Banco Real began with cleaning up dirty alleys near its offices. That eventually morphed into, among other things, a line of profitable loans for environmental upgrades to cars and homes, as well as microloans to small businesses. Those loans have a default rate of just 4%, compared with 7% for banks in general. Handheld devices with fingerprint readers developed by India’s ICICI Bank (IBN) to help illiterate customers in remote locations have proved both cost-effective and fraudproof—and are becoming the gold standard in the industry for all sorts of transactions and customers.
At the root of these innovations is a corporate philosophy that strives for some kind of good beyond mere profits. At the same time, goodness can be good for the bottom line, too. David Kenny, former CEO of Digitas, an advertising agency now owned by Publicis Groupe—and one of the companies Kanter lauds—sees a shift in the landscape. “You cannot sell things anymore, because digital empowers people to make their own choices,” Kanter quotes Kenny as saying. “So we should be generous [or] they will not choose you. … Generosity breeds returns.”
At a time of financial crisis, climate change, vast economic disparities, and pandemics, the existence of companies trying to right wrongs and fix things is certainly soothing. And from Kanter’s descriptions, SuperCorps—Mexico’s Cemex (CX), Japan’s Omron, and Procter & Gamble (PG) are also on her list—tend to be well-run and fun places to work. Missing from the book, however, is a clear discussion of the difficult trade-offs that being high-minded requires. Doing the right thing can be expensive, after all. Another hitch is Kanter’s choice of exemplars. No particular metric had to be met for a company to be named a SuperCorp.
Kanter’s chosen companies together make a compelling argument that social imperatives, as much as an open corporate culture and a focus on problem-solving products, will characterize leading businesses in the decades to come. They won’t replace nongovernmental organizations and proactive political leadership. But they are sure to be increasingly involved in making the world a better place.
– The above article consists of reformatted edited excerpts from the original for the sake of brevity, clarity and to ensure a fast and easy read. The author’s views and conclusions are unaltered.
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