Years ago Indra Nooyi made an audacious strategy shift beyond unhealthy snacks and drinks. She was prescient—as well as disciplined and tough—but the challenges are still daunting. ... The infractions might seem insignificant—one missing can of Pepsi on one shelf in one store in one city in one country—but for Nooyi it is this level of detail that sets her company apart. “We ought to keep pushing the boundaries to get to flawless execution,” she declares. “Flawless is the ultimate goal.” ... You can’t blame anyone at PepsiCo for feeling a sense of urgency—or embattlement—in recent years. Their staple products, soda pop and potato chips, are only slightly less demonized these days than cigarettes. ... now in her eighth year in the grueling crucible that is the leadership of one of America’s most globally recognized brands, it just may be a moment to exhale. You could even call it vindication. From the start of her tenure she dared to acknowledge what was obvious to everyone outside the business but unutterable to those inside it: Junk food makes people fat and harms their health. Nooyi began emphasizing products that are at least a bit healthier than the traditional chips and soda—a pivot some observers thought could sink the company. Now shoppers are proving her right.
Being in Turin also meant more opportunities to spend time with his grandfather Gianni. They met often for meals and long conversations about business. Slowly, says Elkann, the outlines of a future somewhere within the family firm began to take shape. Yet he was in no way prepared for the brief conversation that took place at Villa Frescot, the Agnelli family home in the pine-clad hills overlooking Turin, when he was 21. ... An older Agnelli cousin, who was being groomed for the capo position, had died suddenly, leaving a board seat open at Fiat. After lunch that day, Elkann recalls, his grandfather said, " 'I'm thinking about the appointment on the board, and I think it should be you.' I wasn't expecting that. I asked him, 'Do you think it makes sense?' " ... Fearing Morchio might quit if he didn't get what he wanted, Elkann flew to Geneva for a secret meeting with Marchionne. ... He had been appointed to Fiat's board a year and a half earlier, but the fact is, he was running a company that tests toasters and baby toys. "I had never made a car or a tractor," he says now. "I really didn't know s**t."
This year, Amazon became the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion in annual sales. Also this year, Amazon Web Services is reaching $10 billion in annual sales … doing so at a pace even faster than Amazon achieved that milestone. ... What’s going on here? Both were planted as tiny seeds and both have grown organically without significant acquisitions into meaningful and large businesses, quickly. Superficially, the two could hardly be more different. One serves consumers and the other serves enterprises. One is famous for brown boxes and the other for APIs. Is it only a coincidence that two such dissimilar offerings grew so quickly under one roof? Luck plays an outsized role in every endeavor, and I can assure you we’ve had a bountiful supply. But beyond that, there is a connection between these two businesses. Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence. Through that lens, AWS and Amazon retail are very similar indeed. ... A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change. They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events – by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore. If it’s a distinctive culture, it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove. The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one – just that it’s ours – and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful. ... We want to be a large company that’s also an invention machine.
Once you leave the giant department stores of New York City and head to the malls of suburbia, Ralph Lauren becomes a few racks of Oxfords, polos, and pleated pants. Reliably found in your local Dillard's, and just as reliably found on sale. ... She likens the brand to Michael Kors — oversaturated and devalued. "I would never buy Polo at full price." ... Most shoppers haven't encountered the totality of Ralph Lauren's world. How could they? Since the early 2000s, Ralph Lauren Corporation has owned and operated at least 25 different brands. ... Lauren has stepped aside to make way for a new CEO, Stefan Larsson — the first person besides Lauren to ever hold that title in the company's 50-year history. The company has been in the process of whittling down the brand list and there are plans to refocus on just three main lines: Ralph Lauren (the new umbrella label for Women's Collection and Purple Label), Polo Ralph Lauren, and Lauren Ralph Lauren. ... At the same time that Ralph Lauren is reevaluating its structure and bringing in fresh leadership, it also has to contend with the fact that the specific style of Americana that's so deeply embedded in every inch of the brand isn't something shoppers are clamoring to align themselves with now. If the privileged, preppy aesthetic that Lauren built his company around is no longer the height of aspiration, what will the future of Ralph Lauren look like? ... Lauren got his first shot at professional tie design at Rivetz & Co., a high-end neckwear company. It didn't go over well. "Rivetz was a traditional firm," David Price, whose father used to own the Rivetz & Co. business, explains. "They were doing all sorts of crazy pinks and oranges and all the Ralph colors, and the industry and the customer base at Rivetz thought it was just atrocious."
Even before all of Fuhu's money disappeared, Mitchell was having a doozy of a month. Three weeks before, he and his co-founder, Robb Fujioka--Fuhu's mastermind and headstrong president--had been contacted by attorneys representing the company's primary manufacturer, Foxconn. The Chinese giant was more than just a vendor. It was an investor and patron that had been instrumental in launching Fuhu on its meteoric rise. With gross revenue of $196 million and a three-year growth rate of 158,957 percent ... But behind the scenes, the company was falling apart. In recent months, it had racked up unpaid bills from just about everyone it did business with. And Foxconn--to which Fuhu owed between $60 million and $110 million, depending on who was counting--had finally reached its breaking point. The lawyers told Fujioka and Mitchell that until they paid their tab, their company would be cut off. ... The consequences of losing their supplier were laid out in a thick stack of a Tennenbaum loan agreement that the Fuhu bosses had never bothered to read. ... The rise and fall of Fuhu is a cautionary tale about the seductions of early success and the overconfidence it can breed. But most of all, it's the story of two entrepreneurs who pushed too hard to go big--one whose personal drive led him to take oversize risks against the advice of those around him, and one who failed to stop him.
American Apparel launched in 1988 as a T-shirt business that founder and former CEO Dov Charney ran out of his dorm room at Tufts University. After Charney opened his first retail store, on Los Angeles’s Sunset Boulevard in 2003, the brand quickly became a phenomenon, famous for its local, sweatshop-free manufacturing and notorious for its sexually charged advertising. ... As it became a public company in 2007 (through a reverse merger), American Apparel had 143 stores in 11 countries and was valued at nearly a billion dollars. ... It wasn’t just the merchandise that set the company apart. From the beginning, American Apparel eschewed fast fashion (the practice of copying new runway trends immediately and cheaply) in favor of generating its own iconoclastic staples. Instead of outsourcing manufacturing to low-wage overseas workers, it produced almost everything it sold for wholesale and retail in its own factory in Los Angeles ... Production and design now follow a strict calendar, set by Schneider. "You have to have your raw materials where they’re supposed to be, your bundling down, your product cut up and ready to sew—there are a thousand steps that go into making this run smoothly," Schneider says. "And it’s more complicated [at American Apparel] because you’re knitting your own yarn, you’re dyeing your own fabric, and you’re manufacturing everything here and shipping everything yourself." In part, as a result, niche items that fall outside of American Apparel’s knit-production expertise—sweaters, denim—are now being outsourced to other factories around Los Angeles.
You crave the recipe of his secret sauce. You believe you've identified some of its special ingredients: draft foreign players, shoot corner 3s, emphasize defense, share the ball, victimize trembling sideline reporters. ... You'd like to believe you've captured the essence of the bearded coach stomping along the sideline -- a blend of Midas, Yoda and occasionally a teeth-baring pit bull. ... But, in truth, you haven't -- you never could -- because you don't fully realize the simple truths of his journey: how the man who demands respect through discipline and selflessness was once an impatient Air Force cadet who complained vociferously (and repeatedly) to his coach about a larger role. How his bid to represent the United States in the Olympic Games as a player was squashed by petty politics. How his wish to coach the 2008 Dream Team was crushed by miscommunication and subterfuge. How he was passed over -- twice -- for the very Spurs job he now holds. How when he finally got that job, he spent his weekends passing out free wieners in a parking lot hoping to generate basketball interest in a football-crazed state. ... Talk to players, coaches and executives who have worked with Gregg Popovich, and they'll say these are the events that shaped him. Tremendous obstacles. Cold, hard truths. Popovich may float above the fray now, but he earned that ascent -- one gritty step at a time. ... The team's continuity, Pop explains, is why they succeed. Owner Peter Holt, Popovich and Buford have unconditionally backed one another for 22 years.
Professionals in many organizations are assigned arbitrarily to cases: appraisers in credit-rating agencies, physicians in emergency rooms, underwriters of loans and insurance, and others. Organizations expect consistency from these professionals: Identical cases should be treated similarly, if not identically. The problem is that humans are unreliable decision makers; their judgments are strongly influenced by irrelevant factors, such as their current mood, the time since their last meal, and the weather. We call the chance variability of judgments noise. It is an invisible tax on the bottom line of many companies. ... The prevalence of noise has been demonstrated in several studies. Academic researchers have repeatedly confirmed that professionals often contradict their own prior judgments when given the same data on different occasions. ... The unavoidable conclusion is that professionals often make decisions that deviate significantly from those of their peers, from their own prior decisions, and from rules that they themselves claim to follow. ... It has long been known that predictions and decisions generated by simple statistical algorithms are often more accurate than those made by experts, even when the experts have access to more information than the formulas use. It is less well known that the key advantage of algorithms is that they are noise-free: Unlike humans, a formula will always return the same output for any given input. Superior consistency allows even simple and imperfect algorithms to achieve greater accuracy than human professionals. ... One reason the problem of noise is invisible is that people do not go through life imagining plausible alternatives to every judgment they make. ... The bottom line here is that if you plan to use an algorithm to reduce noise, you need not wait for outcome data. You can reap most of the benefits by using common sense to select variables and the simplest possible rule to combine them.
Costco acts more like a cheerful cult than a hard-driving business. Its executives are proud of the fact that the company promotes almost exclusively from within. Even CEO Craig Jelinek, 62, plainspoken and without affectation, once collected shopping carts at a Costco predecessor, and 98% of the company’s store managers have risen through the ranks. Its top executives have been working together for 30 years, more or less, which makes them family as much as colleagues. It also means there are a lot of gray heads now at those budget meetings. ... And therein lies the concern. At that month’s meetings, there were warm and wistful send-offs for six of those gray heads, all senior vice presidents, now retiring. And even though they would be replaced by younger Costco lifers, the succession raises a question: As the company approaches its 35th anniversary, will the replacements keep Costco as Costco? ... It is the question. Lots of companies brag about their culture. But few are as proud of it or as dependent upon it as Costco is. Morgan Stanley retail analyst Simeon Gutman calls it a “super-culture,” which he describes as, “If we continue to serve and delight our customers, they’ll want to keep coming back.
Most importantly, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his passport, the man conceded that his name was not actually Muhammet Reza Reanjbar Rezaei. It was Abdulrahman bin Yar Muhammad. Moreover, he admitted that he was not actually Iranian: He had been born in Takhar, Afghanistan, and lived in Kabul with his wife and four children. ... Most importantly, they knew that the man arrested in Gaziantep was neither Muhammet Reza Reanjbar Rezaei nor Abdulrahman bin Yar Muhammad. And he was certainly not a refugee en route to Europe. ... the man in Gaziantep police custody was best known as Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, and he was on a desperate mission to reassert al Qaeda’s authority over its rebellious affiliate in Iraq. ... The Islamic State’s so-called caliphate would not be declared until 2014, but that is not when the group established an Islamic state. Indeed, just one day before Abd al-Hadi’s arrest, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Its mission was to govern territory and ultimately re-establish the caliphate. ... Al Qaeda’s leadership, hiding in the tribal lands of Pakistan far from Iraq, was not consulted. The announcement was therefore a deep challenge to al Qaeda’s authority and foreshadowed the violent, public divorce between the jihadi organization and what would become the Islamic State.
The 3G management model that Buffett so admires is worth a close look because it’s on track to eat the food industry. At its heart is meritocracy, broadly defined. Every employee must justify his existence every day. That’s great news for the very best performers; they are promoted with speed that’s unheard-of in lumbering old food companies. ... Underperformers get fired with the same alacrity. Budgeted costs also are evaluated unsparingly every year, or more often, and are eliminated if they’re no longer judged worth incurring. ... More important than the actual savings is the message. “We think and act like owners of our business, treating every dollar as if it were our own,” the company tells prospective employees. ... A central feature of this model is that it can’t work forever. It builds value only by buying more companies. ... So what’s next? Anyone who might know is not saying. Speculation in the industry is that since AB InBev can expand only outside its industry ... Another, larger factor could frustrate Kraft Heinz’s search for a much-needed takeover target: The entire food industry is “3G-ing” itself before Kraft Heinz can do it to the companies. Ever since 3G bought Heinz, every major U.S. foodmaker has announced an initiative to reduce its overhead significantly. 3G embraces a demanding discipline called zero-based budgeting, in which every unit’s budget is assumed to be zero at the beginning of each year, and every proposed expense must be justified anew.
This is the Tata long familiar to Indians and business watchers around the world: a group that tied itself to the principles of public service and humane treatment of workers and communities, a century before “corporate social responsibility” became a buzzword. ... Since Jamsetji set up his small trading company in 1868, it has expanded into a major name in global business, with annual turnover exceeding $100bn. Even amid this huge growth, it retained a name for stable leadership: in the first 144 years after it was founded in Mumbai, the group had only five leaders, all drawn from Jamsetji’s descendants. ... But this carefully guarded reputation for ethics and stability, a source of pride for Tata’s 660,000 employees and India itself, is now threatened by an unprecedented crisis. The upheaval began in October last year when Cyrus Mistry, the first chairman drawn from outside the founding family, was suddenly dismissed without explanation, exposing seething tensions between him and his predecessor Ratan Tata.
The performing powerhouse, founded in 1984 in Quebec, now encompasses 10 “resident” shows in the U.S. and Mexico, including O, and eight traveling productions, which tour to 130 cities around the world. Even as traditional circuses continued a long decline—in January, after a run of 146 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would soon shut down—a stunning 10 million people saw a Cirque show last year. Its extravagant productions are famed for their mixture of daredevil acrobatics and lowbrow clown comedy, pop hits and New Agey compositions, and daring design. (O, for example, takes place in and above a 1.5-million-gallon pool of water.) But lately Cirque has branched out in unprecedented and potentially lucrative ways: There are plans to launch a theme park and a kids’ entertainment project, and to design an interactive NFL store in New York’s Times Square. There are—of course—plans to go big in China. ... The year before the acquisition, Cirque reportedly brought in $845 million in revenue. (By comparison, all the shows on Broadway combined brought in $1.37 billion last season.) ... sees Cirque as a way to play a bigger, counterintuitive trend: a yearning for live entertainment in a digital era.
Together, the two of us owned more than 18,000 shares of Tejon Ranch, an investment our wives had advised us against. When we’d bought in about a year earlier, the shares had been worth nearly half a million dollars—a significant chunk of our retirement nest eggs. Tejon Ranch had appeared to us to be poorly managed. As professors who write about shareholder activism, we’d thought we’d seen an opportunity to mimic the big activists, such as Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn, who agitate to improve the transparency and performance of much larger companies. ... We had been pressuring Tejon Ranch’s executives, using the playbook that top activists have developed over the past decade or so. But the stock had tanked, we had lost more than $70,000, and we thought Bielli had lied to us.
Handing over control of a company is always tricky—Schultz, 63, officially relinquished the CEO job on April 3—and doubly so when it involves a charismatic, longtime leader who all but founded the company. ... In Schultz’s case, how does a notorious perfectionist who craves total control apply his perfectionism to the act of ceding control? That challenge is all the more fraught because his most notorious professional failure by far was his last attempt to leave as CEO, in 2000, a slow-boiling disaster that eventually concluded with his triumphant return. ... Beyond covering the planet with coffee bars, Starbucks has two main growth initiatives, which Johnson calls the “most critical things for the future of the company.” Johnson will be in charge of one of them: the continuing development of Starbucks’ digital and mobile operations. ... second key area will fall to Schultz. As executive chairman, he’s leading Starbucks’ push to develop a higher-end brand and “experiential destinations” to entice people who have abandoned malls to stop by a store. That strategy involves a three-pronged attack consisting of (1) the Roastery, a handful of massive, ultraluxurious coffee palaces inspired in part by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; (2) a new brand of rare and single-origin coffee beans called Reserve; and (3) a second line of boutiques—a notch above a regular Starbucks but not quite as over the top as the Roastery—also called Reserve.
That first year, the National Bank of Washington was swallowed up by Pacific National Bank of Seattle, which in 1981 was bought by Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bancorp, which in 1996 was bought by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which in 1999—as the consolidation frenzy was reaching its peak—merged with Norwest, a Minneapolis-based bank, in a $34 billion deal. ... Wells Fargo, which was founded in 1852 as a stagecoach express to carry valuable goods to and from the gold mines in the West, had a storied brand, so the new, combined company kept that name. But if Norwest’s name didn’t survive, its corporate culture did. ... In Kovacevich’s lingo, bank branches were “stores,” and bankers were “salespeople” whose job was to “cross-sell,” which meant getting “customers”—not “clients,” but “customers”—to buy as many products as possible. ... Achieving sales goals wasn’t easy. ... Wells Fargo’s own analysis found that between 2011 and 2015 its employees had opened more than 1.5 million deposit accounts and more than 565,000 credit-card accounts that may not have been authorized. Some customers were charged fees on accounts they didn’t know they had, and some customers had collection agencies calling them due to unpaid fees on accounts they didn’t know existed. Gaming was so widespread that it had even spawned related terms, such as “pinning,” which meant assigning customers personal-identification numbers, or PINs, without their knowledge in order to impersonate them on Wells Fargo computers and enroll them in various products without their knowledge. ... The quotas for the bankers at Guitron’s branch totaled 12,000 Daily Solutions each year, including almost 3,000 new checking accounts. Without fraud, the math didn’t work.
Not only would they be working overtime to hammer together the most influential piece of consumer technology of their generation, but they’d be doing little else. Their personal lives would disappear, and they wouldn’t be able to talk about what they were working on. ... Like many mass-adopted, highly profitable technologies, the iPhone has a number of competing origin stories. There were as many as five different phone or phone-related projects — from tiny research endeavors to full-blown corporate partnerships — bubbling up at Apple by the middle of the 2000s. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my efforts to pull the iPhone apart, literally and figuratively, it’s that there are rarely concrete beginnings to any particular products or technologies — they evolve from varying previous ideas and concepts and inventions and are prodded and iterated into newness by restless minds and profit motives. Even when the company’s executives were under oath in a federal trial, they couldn’t name just one starting place.
It’s tempting to imagine a future in which Ghosn’s itinerary is considered a valuable artifact: a window into what globalization was really like in 2017, when it was spreading further than ever and, at the same time, getting slammed by waves of populist discontent. ... If the politics of the past year have left any sort of mark on him, it’s imperceptible as he strides onto the stage for the Q&A. These are his people—students of business, not politics—and most of the questions they lob his way are as familiar as old friends: What drives you to take over struggling companies, and how do you always seem to turn them around? How were you able to become the first foreigner to run a major Japanese company? What’s your secret for winning the trust and loyalty of employees throughout so many diverse cultures? ... “I keep my eyes on the scorecard,” Ghosn tells them. Production, profit, growth—the bottom line. Diversions constantly arise, but he’s learned to manage the distractions, which he says assume different forms in different parts of the world.
There are three basic conditions if you want to work for Jack Stack, and they go for everybody from senior executives down to the people who clean his company's bathrooms. The first is you have to learn how to read and understand the company's financials, the second is you really have to believe there is no "I" in "team," and the third is you have to get into the habit of asking, "What could go wrong, and what are we going to do when it does?" ... Over the years, SRC has evolved into a highly entrepreneurial miniconglomerate that has launched more than 60 companies in industries ranging from banking to medical devices to furniture. It has also developed an unusual culture--a humane, Midwestern blend of quantitative management, radical transparency and practical paranoia--that has made it the flagship of what's known as the open-book-management movement.