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Think Big, Act Small: How America's Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive [Hardcover]

Jason Jennings
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 10 2005

Is it possible for a company to grow its revenues and profits by 10 percent or more for at least ten consecutive years, not counting acquisitions? That’s an incredibly high bar for growth and profitability, one that 99.99 percent of American companies can’t meet—including the famous ones that routinely land on magazine covers.

Management expert Jason Jennings screened 100,000 companies to identify nine little- known firms that have delivered stellar performance for a full decade or more, despite the ups and downs of the economy. And, as he reveals in his new book, these superstars have a lot in common despite their wide range of industries, which includes software, food services, medical supplies, and sporting goods.

It turns out that the best long-term performers all combine the strengths of a big organization with the hunger of a start-up. They build excellent relationships with their customers, suppliers, workers, and shareholders. They groom future leaders at all levels. They balance their short-term goals with their long-term visions. And they teach their managers to get their hands dirty.

Jennings did extensive interviews at his nine featured companies to find out exactly how they consistently increase revenue and profits without using manipulation or gimmickry. He reveals their unique approach to leadership and shows how any company, no matter what size or industry, can benefit from following their examples.

Think Big, Act Small may be the most powerful management book since Good to Great and Execution.



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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The latest insightful and inspirational title from Jennings (Less Is More; ...It's the Fast That Eat the Slow) again demonstrates potential profitability in contrary concepts. Offering engaging case studies of nine of the country's best performing (if unfamiliar) businesses, Jennings identifies 10 practices they all have in common, which, he argues, catapulted them into the rarefied category of increasing profits and revenue by 10% or more for at least 10 consecutive years. They cut across a wide spectrum of enterprises, but all, according to Jennings, have "nailed the fundamentals." Ten bullet-pointed and chart-summarized chapters with prescriptive titles present the basics that these prosperous business have mastered and asserts that others who apply the principles will also fatten their bottom lines. In breezy prose with plenty of anecdotes from CEO and worker interviews, Jennings argues that regardless of how big a company becomes, acting big and ignoring the needs of employees, merchants and customers always leads to lost profit. Concluding sections offer business self- evaluation materials, fascinating background on research methodologies and more data; the whole will not disappoint Jennings's fans.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Jennings has laid it out for you, Mr./Mrs. Corporate Executive. Now do you have the guts to implement what he says? This book is in the same class as Good to Great. I wish I had written it.” —Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment and The Art of the Start

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Imagine what a dismal place the planet would be if no one had ever had a big idea. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review Big, write small Feb. 5 2009
Format:Hardcover
A real way of thinking and how to treat people that leads to success. The book is well-written, easy to understand, and well-researched.

There are many great points made throughout the book, but it also is easy to take a few small ideas and apply them to everyday results.

Here are a couple of examples I use now. You'll find your own when you read this book.

How do you eat an elephant? Same as anything else, one bite at a time.

If it was worth doing the first time, it probably deserves one reinvention. If reinventing it doesn't work, let it go.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jennings' Most Important Book...Thus Far May 12 2005
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jennings' highly innovative, at times refreshingly unorthodox thinking was evident in his previously published books, It's Not the Big That Eat the Small...It's the Fast That Eat the Slow (co-authored with Laurence Haughton) and then Less Is More: How Great Companies Use Productivity As a Competitive Tool in Business.

As I read this volume, I was reminded of at least some of the material in Sun Tzu's The Art of War and, especially, the strategies recommended in a section called "Estimates" in Samuel B. Griffith's superb translation. For example: "All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance. When he is united, divide him. Attack when he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you." You get the idea.

Jennings is a staunch and eloquent advocate of this principle: Do much more and do it much better, faster, and do it with less. OK, but how? The answer to that question was revealed by rigorous and extensive research which he and his two associates (Brian Solon and Greg Powell) conducted. They began with 70,000 companies as candidates for designation as the best performing companies in the U.S. Among all of them, which have increased their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer? Only nine qualified: Cabela's, Dot Foods, Koch Industries, Medline Industries, O'Reilly Automotive, PETCO Animal Supplies, SAS Institute, Sonic Drive-in, and Strayer Education.

Back to "How?" Jennings identifies ten "Building Blocks" which, in combination, explain why each of those in an obviously mixed bag of companies has been and continues to be a best performer (i.e. among the top one-hundredth of 1% of all U.S. companies). It would be a disservice to both Jennings and to those who read this brief commentary to list them and then comment on each out of the context within which Jennings so skillfully presents them. Suffice to say that all organizations (regardless of their size or nature) need to have all ten Building Blocks as a core foundation on which to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% and then continue to do so year after year after year.

How revealing that the CEOs whom Jennings and his research associates interviewed indicate little (if any) interest in any of Sun Tzu's deception strategies...nor in what their competitors are up to, for that matter. They seem wholly preoccupied with sticking to their own "knitting," focusing on what their companies can do best, how to do it even better, and thereby deliver even greater value to their customers. Also, each seems determined to nourish and enhance the quality of life as well as standard of living of everyone involved in the enterprise. This is precisely what Jennings means when referring to building communities, Building Block #9. Employees, customers, and allies should be viewed as "partners" and treated as such.

Ultimately, one of the most formidable challenges for those in any organization is to achieve and then maintain an appropriate balance of "thinking BIG" while "acting small." Hence the importance of Section Three, "The Quad: A Self-Evaluation and Ranking," in which Jennings "breaks down the title of the book into four scenarios, each represented by a quadrant":

TSAS Think Small, Act Small
TSAB Think Small, Act Big
TBAB Think Big, Act Big
TBAS Think Big, Act Small

He applies this template to each of the ten Building Blocks. It remains for each reader to complete the self-evaluation, one which helps to measure her or his own organization's current situation. The details of this exercise are best revealed within the text, pages 189-201.

I highly recommend this book for reasons previously indicated but also because I cannot recall a prior time since the Great Depression when it was more difficult for companies to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer. Consider these statistics which Michael Gerber shares in his recently published E-Myth Mastery: "Of the 1 million U.S. small businesses started this year [2005], more than 80% of them will be out of business within 5 years and 96% will have closed their doors before their 10th birthday." Chilling statistics indeed. Here in a single volume is a rigorous analysis of how nine quite different companies have achieved and then sustained their "full economic and human potential."

How important and potentially valuable is this book? Please re-read the statistics provided by Gerber.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What I REALLY thought of this book July 8 2005
By Colm McCormack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you read McCormack's "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School", or Finkelstein's "Why Smart Executives Fail", prepare to feel slightly uncomfortable: Think Big Act Small shows they didn't go far enough!

I have read stacks of these books: some good, others downright daft. With or without a Degree or MBA, this latest offering from Jennings works. It cuts to the heart of the matter - no nonsense, no pretence. It is not preaching some new fandango concept that will be laughed out of existence in 2 or 3 years time. This book deals with reality and not wild academic end of the spectrum silliness. There is nothing in Think Big Act Small that I did not appreciate and cannot instil into my own company.

The first thing that strikes you is the books layout. In today's busy world, the last thing you need is some idiot dropping a 900-page masterpiece in your lap: NOT the case here. The book is well laid out and the writing style instantly invites you to dive in - but beware: it's LOADED! Everything has been distilled, concentrated...add water (read slowly and/or more than once).

Think Big Act Small has one of the most intriguing introductions I have ever read. The book is written in plain English and offers highly practical and realistic advice. Thankfully, it has not been written in the condescending "we are the best" preachy style of so many other authors floating around out there. Jennings himself sets out not knowing what the answers are. For him, and the reader, it is a journey rich with discovery and it is so easy to tag along with him as he goes (in fact, you'll find yourself trying to overtake him and get to the answers first).

The opening chapters might easily have been called "a collection of odd-balls". After taking time out to remember that this is what Jennings discovered and not what he set out to impart, the true amazement experienced by him becomes instantly contagious. The book deals with companies silently outperforming the Goliaths of their industries, even during tough years. So, if they can do it, why can't you or I? Think Big Act Small demonstrates we can and without throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

Jennings clearly has the golden touch: that amazing ability to point to what most of us miss but without indulging in jargon, technical language or condescending tones. He demonstrates quite clearly that common sense is not at all common.

Think Big Act Small is a keeper - not some coffee table book to be read and discarded. Time and time again I found myself staring off into the distance as the book revealed undiscovered truths about my own company. This is a book for continual reference. Any change of mood, perspective or circumstances led to me picking it up again and viewing various chapters in a new light. As we sometimes say here in Ireland: this book would be "cheap at twice the price!" Alarmingly, colleges are NOT teaching what Jennings has discovered. My views: BUY it, READ it, KEEP it and KEEP GOING BACK to it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly Useful for Growing Businesses Jan. 23 2006
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We recommend this book to all companies dealing with growth. If your business is content with staying small, skip it. Read this book if you are in a growing business or in one that lost its way while it expanded. The final quiz section, where author Jason Jennings walks you through a series of exercises to identify where your business falls in his rubric, is not so impressive. Skim it. Everything else in the book is stunningly useful. Jennings and his staff did a lot of research, including both statistical analysis and first-person interviews. They also reflected seriously on the sorts of businesses they should hold up as models for others to follow. These model businesses operate in fields ranging from fast food (SONIC) to sports outfitting (Cabela's). Some of these enterprises - such as Strayer University, the higher education representative - initially seem too specialized to provide generalizable lessons, but Jennings succeeds in making them relevant. The result is a book that is entertaining and convincing, if not always easy to follow. After all, Jennings wants you to become proficient at business fundamentals, an asset which is, as he notes, both rare and difficult.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST read for anyone in ANY business June 5 2005
By Hari Narayanan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Think Big, Act Small is one of the best business books I have read this year. Even though it has not been around for 20 years, I consider this book to be a "classic" on par with Think and Grow Rich and How to Win Friends and Influence people.

This is not a book you read and leave, this book provides great insights on success fundamentals and serves as a tool to you evaluate your business and improve it "real-time". It helps you reverse engineer your business to be successful. You can implement the 10 principles starting with the Assembly lines all the way to the Customer.

This book is simply a "must read" for anyone serious about achieving maximum results in their business life. I have really benefited and hope you will too!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Masterful Job telling how it is in the world of the Best July 22 2005
By gfagen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jason has done it again! If you want to know what the best companies in the world do to be exactly that, THE BEST, this book is a must read. Success leaves clues and Jason has done a masterful job of giving you an inside look at the companies setting the standards for the world of business. There are very few "good" business books and even fewer "great" ones. This one is destined to be of the latter. If you are interested in business, own a business or hope to someday, this book and its wisdom need to be part of your library.
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