Collins maps out good-to-great path

September 13, 2004


Greatness. It's something we talk about in sports and politics. Muhammad Ali and Abraham Lincoln, but what about greatness in business? Is there a path to follow?

At 9 a.m. today, Chicago's tech community gets a lesson in greatness when Good to Great author Jim Collins speaks at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. His audience includes more than 600 of the nation's top information technology executives, including many from Chicago. While most of us will be sipping our first cup of coffee, these CIOs will be listening to a former Stanford University professor who knows the keys to stepping ahead of the pack.

For 16 years, Collins has studied companies that dramatically outperform their competitors and the marketplace. Whether you're a tech type or not, Collins' fact-based findings are insightful.

One of his gleanings: Technology matters ... and it doesn't. "We did not find a single case of a company that ignited a shift from good to great with technology," Collins said. "It just didn't happen."

Collins will tell the CIOs to choose their colleagues carefully. Great organizations emerge from great teams of people, not vice versa.

"It doesn't matter if you're mayor, governor, CEO or superintendent of a school district," he said, "one of your most important tasks is to ask, 'What are the key seats on my bus?' 'Do I have the right people on the bus and the right people in the right seats?'

"If you create a climate where really interesting, creative people want to be, they make interesting and creative things happen."

He's not simply talking about Silicon Valley; he's talking about Chicago companies like Walgreen and Abbott, two of the companies mentioned in his book.

"A company reaches breakthrough when it understands what it can be the best in the world at, what it's passionate about and what drives its economic engine," Collins said. "Walgreen is a textbook Good to Great case."

According to Collins, Walgreen was passionate about drug stores. They understood they could be the best at establishing convenient drug stores. They learned their economic mantra was "profit per customer visit." Once Walgreen had that focus, management built a tremendous technology infrastructure that enabled them to operate a national network like a corner drug store.

"Every dollar invested in Walgreen from their breakthrough point beat Intel," Collins said. "It was the fourth best performing stock in the universe of stocks from 1972 to 2002."

Collins' remarks should make Walgreen CEO Dave Bernauer smile.

Bernauer is a former pharmacist turned chief information officer. He now runs the company. Most of the CIOs in the room and most people in Chicago wouldn't know Bernauer. He's not particularly interested in personal visibility.

According to Collins, that's one more trait of the leaders of great companies.

CHA wins info-tech award

Speaking of smiling, Chicago Housing Authority CIO Barbara Banks is beaming. CHA announces today that it's the recipient of an Information Integrity award provided by the Information Integrity Coalition and Naperville-based Unitech Systems.

The award honors CHA for its housing relocation system, a critical support system as CHA proceeds with its 10-year renovation program.

"Chicago is the only city in the country where we guarantee that families can come back to public housing when it is rebuilt," said Rayne Martin, CHA's director of relocation and supportive services. The system helps Martin and CHA property managers assure that resident rights are protected.

Bits & Bytes

Brad Spirrison hosts a cast of Internet political pundits at Eprairie's "Tech Elect," event Wednesday morning at Loyola University. Scott Heiferman of; David Wilhelm, Democrat strategist and venture capitalist; Jake Parrillo, Republican Internet strategist; Dan Proft, of Illinois Leader, and Sandford Morganstein of Populex are on tap. The moderator is David Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Center and whip of the Illinois delegation at the Democratic National Convention.

Frontline, the national supply chain technology show, comes to Navy Pier today through Wednesday to showcase the latest RFID technology.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners