Christian Stadler

 

On his book Enduring Success: What We Can Learn from the History of Outstanding Corporations

Cover Interview of February 07, 2011

The wide angle

I was always fascinated by the richness of history—and greatly frustrated that companies often spend millions on strategy evaluations without learning from their past experience or studying what they and other companies did in comparable past situations.

At rare occasions we remember that we can learn a lot from history.  For example, in the past couple of years many scholars, commentators, and politicians have drawn attention to lessons to be learnt from the Great Depression or the Asian Financial Crisis.

I think that we can leverage history much more often.  And my book is an attempt to do exactly this.

I selected 9 companies that outperformed stock markets by at least the factor 15 over the past 50 years, and that have been around for more than 100 years—and matched each of them with a comparison company that did well but not quite as well.

With the help of 8 researchers, I then collected vast amounts of information related to these companies.  We focused primarily on written accounts about the history of top and comparison companies, on material from their corporate archives, and on interviews with top executives, including 19 active and retired CEOs and chairmen.

As we compared the different histories, we slowly started to develop interpretations.  It was a step-by-step process.  For example, by comparing Shell and BP a certain idea would emerge.  We then tested whether this interpretation would also work for the other companies we studied.  Only those ideas that held across the board made it into the book.

No doubt, others might interpret our empirical material differently.  But by carefully presenting the stories, the book provides the reader with both a compelling interpretation and an opportunity to make his or her own judgments.  Hopefully this will encourage others to use history as a source for business insights.