James C. CollinsThe Business Guru in True Sense! Published On: Monday, August 03, 2015 Views 5860


Born on the 25th of January 1958; James C. “Jim” Collins III better known as James C. Collins is the world renowned business consultant, author, and lecturer, who has successfully changed the way business is looked upon & its functioning.

James has taught companies on subjects like — how should they grow, how should they attain superior performance, how should good companies transform into great companies, and many more.

Being an author, James has given around a quarter century of his life researching and writing 6 best-selling Management books.

Talking about him; James is an ardent rock climber and has also has some records listed under his name and continues to climb at the 5.13 grade.

He has completed Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford University, an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Colorado & the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University, and has also completed his bachelor’s in mathematical sciences.

What is even more award winning is that, he is married to the former triathlete & 1985 Ironman winner, Joanne Ernst and together they live in their 2,500 Sq Ft Craftsman-style house in California, which they had bought 14 years ago.

A Quick Preview Of His Life!

He had met and began dating his lady love Joanne while he was at Stanford, and happened to get engaged, and then married later that year.

After completing his MBA, James went on to work for McKinsey & Company as a Consultant for almost 18 months, after which he then moved on to work with Hewlett- Packard as their Product Manager.

Now one random day, Joanne expressed views to James that she had the potential to win the Ironman Triathlon, to which he without a second thought, gave up his job at Hewlett-Packard and began training her and managing other tasks like negotiating her sponsorships with companies such as Nike and Budweiser. With such great support from her husband, Joanne just had to win the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in 1985.

Those were the times when, Joanne was the famous-half of the couple, and often people confused James’s last name to be Ernst. But that just made him even more proud of her wife.

Anyway, soon after the Triathlon was over, James finally began with his career once again, but this time as a researcher and teacher at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Jim Collins Website

While he was at it, in 1995, he also founded a management laboratory to conduct research and teach executives from the corporate and social sectors in Boulder, Colorado.

During that time, Collins also happened to work for CNN International as a Senior Executive and many other social sector organizations, like Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Girl Scouts of the USA, the Leadership Network of Churches, the American Association of K-12 School Superintendents, and the United States Marine Corps.

In other words, he was more of like a teacher to these Senior Executives and CEOs from hundreds of corporations.

While he was at it, he also entered into the field of Authorship in 1994, and has till date written and published 6 best-selling books, which include: -

  1. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras (1994)
  2. Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company by James C. Collins and William C. Lazier (1995)
  3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t by James C. Collins (2001)
  4. Good to Great and the Social Sectors by James C. Collins (2005)
  5. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by James C. Collins (2009)
  6. Great By Choice by James C. Collins and Morten T. Hansen (2011)

Since the time his books have gone on to become Management Best-Sellers and have created a buzz in the corporate world, there have been numerous requests to give speeches keep pouring in every week from corporations and trade associations. But to keep a balance, he has managed to learn the art of saying “NO” and gives very limited lectures or speeches; as a matter of fact, he only gave 18 speeches in 2009, and more than 1/3 of these were free of cost for the non-profit groups.

Other than that, he often also declines company’s offers to consult them, and only if the company or its product intrigues him, is when you would see James sharing his wisdom to them.

His consultation unlike the rest is also very unique and would involve pointed questions asked by James, whereas, he would challenge and push the company and its executives to come up with their own answers.

The World Through His Eyes!

Collin’s Research Process

Now like they say – “The grass is always greener on the other side”! Similarly, out of first- hand experience I can say that, as much as fascinating writing looks, It definitely is not so much fun, in fact — it is rather more “painful,” “excruciating” and “brutal”, as described by James…

The initial process before the writing begins, sucks up the most of him. For every book that he writes, he hires a team of researchers from universities (typically from Stanford and the University), to help him during long summers of work. These researchers usually come from different walks of life and are not necessarily associated with Business subjects.

Now to hire these, is altogether a different process, wherein, he learns as much as he can about them, looks at their transcripts, searches for small glitches in their past one year academic record, etc before he meets them.

What he looks for in these candidates is: smartness, curiosity, willingness to death-march and some spark of irreverence.

He does all this, because his theory says that if he will meet them, he may like them, and later all the assessments of the person are going to be filtered on the basis of the fact that he likes them. So to make sure he gets quality crowd, he follows this process.

In addition, he also gives these candidates a list of different academic activities like field work, lab work, etc and asks them to rank the activities in order of their preference.

This gives him a clear idea of their interests and once all the hurdles are completed, he finally meets the people who clear the tasks.

Now this research process, costs him around and mostly more than $500,000 and when the research gets completed, James goes into the “cave mode” for several months at a stretch, after which starts the “Monk Mode” wherein, he goes through all the pages of every binder that’s been assembled, making notes that he will then use for a first draft.

James excels at the American method of experimental yet practical business research. His process also includes gathering of masses of data about a particular group that he wishes to study about, then compares the same with a control group that is not entirely excellent, and then finally goes out and finds statistically significant differences.

TRIVIA – James Had Written Checks Out of His and His Wife’s Personal Savings, For His First Two Books.

His Published Work

James is the present time’s true preacher of Leadership and Business in general!

After spending more than a quarter century into researching and writing, he has managed to author & co-author six best-selling books which has a more than ten million copies sale worldwide and some of these books of his have been translated into 25 to 32 languages as well.

James C. Collins Books

These books in one line describe: -

  • Built To Last, is his classic which talks about some visionary leaders who build companies that leave a long lasting effect and remain visionary for generations.
  • Good To Great, his #1 bestseller, explains and observes why some companies and/or leaders stand out and give better quality results than the rest;
  • Good To Great And The Social Sectors, is his first book’s companion work which is follow-on of what the first book tries to convey.
  • Other than that, How The Mighty Fall, gives a deep insight into how once-great companies walk on the path of self-destruction.
  • And lastly Great By Choice, which we personally like – is about how some companies manage to flourish in chaos and why many others are not able to – along with the leadership behaviours that are required to be able to survive in this world which is overwhelmed by turbulence, disruption, uncertainty, and dramatic change.

His two books — “Built to Last” and “Good to Great” — have been breakout hits, and have sold about seven million copies combined.

Other than that, James can also be found frequently contributing to Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Fortune and other publications as well.

What He Says

In the words of James C. Collins – “A great company will have many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”

Now James is a person who is more into the vision/mission thing and believes that the most successful companies are the ones that have a clear mission. And according to him, the same can be done four different ways:

  1. By targeting – Creating set targets for themselves and achieving them
  2. By identifying a common enemy – Finding a common competitor / enemy and targeting to defeat them.
  3. By setting up a role model – Finding a role model company from any industry and aiming to become them. (Exempli Gratia: To be the Rolls-Royce of the Real Estate Industry)
  4. By an internal transformation – Bringing about changes within the company.

Other than that, James often also has been seen talking about “Level 5 leader” in his writings. By this, he points out to the five-tier hierarchy of leadership characteristics. In other words, A Level 5 Leader is someone who symbolizes “a contradictory mix of personal humility and professional will.”

According to James, there are seven key factors that form the heart of his analysis, and Level 5 Leadership is only one! The others include:

  1. First Who … Then What – The companies with the Good-to-great potential, first assemble a key team before setting strategy
  2. The Stockdale Paradox – Companies adopt complete faith in their long-term success along with the will to face the most hard-hitting facts about their current situation (just like: former Vietnam prisoner of war Admiral James Stockdale)
  3. A Culture of Discipline – Companies who maintain a culture of strict personal discipline with high individual independence along with entrepreneurial behaviour by the employees, tend to produce the best results
  4. Technology Accelerators – The companies with the Good-to-great potential are the ones which indeed are technologically savvy, but you will never see them as technologically driven. Technology for them, is just as a means to an end.
  5. The Flywheel – It’s a momentum that is an outcome of a steadily turning of a giant flywheel. Similarly, transformations that occur through a process of small & large changes that happen over the period of time, are far more better than just one single momentum or effect.
  6. The Hedgehog Concept – This concept is relatable to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus who had written – “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The companies with the Good-to-great potential succeed, when they focus on one big purpose above all else, along with keeping three big factors in mind:- Becoming the best in the world of their field
    - Doing work about which people are passionate
    - And clearing a solid model to make money on the long run and for a long period.
    - This key business ratio is said to be one of James’s most important contribution.
  7. Becoming Great – According to James, Good is the enemy of great. Most people in the world tend to look back and realize that they did not have a great life, because it’s easy to settle for a good life.

To sum it all; in a world overpopulated with self-styled gurus who flaunt around advices on Business & Leadership with no knowledge and credibility of their sayings, James is definitely a rare gem!


“A businessman by blood, but a business writer out of passion”! As a Business Writer; Karan’s forte lies in writing some really interesting Case Studies about Companies/Eminent Personalities covering aspects which certainly, would not bore you to death!

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