Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one.”   – Jim Collins, Author 


Book Data

Publication Date: October 26, 1994

Print Length: 372 pages 

Best Sellers Rank:

#39 in Business Teams (Amazon Books) 

 #44 in Startups (Amazon)  

 #114 in Company Business Profiles (Amazon Books)  

Sales: Over 3.5 million  worldwide 

The Topic

“Built to Last,” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, examines what sets ‘visionary’ companies apart from their competitors. Through extensive research, the authors identify core principles that have guided these long-lasting organizations, such as having a core ideology and adaptive mechanisms. The book argues that visionary companies excel not by solving problems as they arise but by adhering to enduring principles while innovating.

Through case studies and research, they identify the key characteristics and guiding principles that enable these companies to innovate, adapt, and excel over time. The book aims to provide a framework that other organizations can adopt to build lasting success.

The Ideal Reader

The book “Built to Last” is primarily aimed at business leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs who are interested in building and sustaining exceptional organizations. It’s also useful for business students and academics studying organizational behavior, strategic management, and leadership. In a broader sense, the book can be beneficial for anyone interested in understanding the factors that contribute to long-term organizational success and excellence. The insights provided are intended to guide and inspire leaders in creating enduring institutions.

CEOs and Executives: These high-level decision-makers are ideal readers because they have the power to shape the long-term vision and strategy of their organizations. They can implement the core principles outlined in “Built to Last” to steer their companies toward sustainable success.

Entrepreneurs: Start-up founders looking to build a lasting legacy will find this book invaluable. By understanding what sets visionary companies apart, they can incorporate these principles from the get-go, rather than trying to retrofit them later.

Business Students and Academics: Those studying business and organizational behavior can gain significant insights from the book’s extensive research and case studies. The book serves as a concrete resource for understanding the elements that contribute to long-term success, providing a strong foundation for future learning and research.

Middle Managers: Though they may not set the overall vision for the company, middle managers are instrumental in executing it. Understanding the traits of visionary companies can help them align their teams and projects with the broader goals of the organization.

Consultants and Business Analysts: These professionals often advise companies on strategy and best practices. The book can serve as a reference point for formulating recommendations and understanding the core dynamics that make companies successful in the long run.

Investors: Those who are looking to invest in companies with long-term growth potential will also find this book useful. It provides a framework for identifying companies that have the traits and organizational principles associated with enduring success.

The Promise

In “Built to Last,” authors Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras promise to provide readers with a deeply researched understanding of what makes visionary companies extraordinarily successful and enduring. They aim to distill these insights into actionable principles and strategies that leaders and organizations can adopt to achieve long-term excellence and impact.

By studying these ‘built to last’ companies, the authors offer a framework that can help readers create or transform their own organizations into visionary institutions that not only adapt to change but thrive over the long haul. The implicit promise is that, by applying these principles, readers can significantly increase the odds of building or being part of an enduring, successful organization.

The Title

The title “Built to Last” is both concise and evocative, capturing the essence of the book’s primary focus: organizational longevity and excellence. The title implies durability, intentionality, and quality—all attributes that decision-makers and business leaders aim for when building or running a company.

The subtitle “Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” clarifies and expands upon the main title. It indicates that the book is not just about endurance but about success and vision, tying these concepts to actionable “habits” that can be learned and applied. The term “Visionary Companies” elevates the subject matter, sparking interest in what sets these kinds of organizations apart.

Together, the title and subtitle create a compelling promise to the reader: this is not just a book about surviving in business, but a guide to thriving over the long term by adhering to proven principles and habits. They effectively convey the value proposition of the book, appealing to a broad audience of leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, and business aficionados interested in building or being part of an enduring, visionary company.

The Methodology

The authors employed a rigorous methodology to substantiate their findings in “Built to Last.” Their research approach is empirical, and it involves multiple case studies of ‘visionary’ companies compared against a set of ‘comparison’ companies in the same industries. These comparison companies are successful but not considered ‘visionary’ in the way that the focal companies are.

The authors based their conclusions on a six-year research project that involved not only case studies but also hundreds of interviews and thousands of pages of written material. The methodology is designed to ensure that the lessons drawn are deeply rooted in actual business practices and long-term performance, rather than being based on current fads or the opinions of the day.

The rigorous methodology lends the book its credibility, providing business leaders with insights they can trust and apply in their own organizations. The comparative approach allows the authors to isolate characteristics that are truly distinctive to visionary companies, enhancing the value and applicability of their findings.

The Structure


Introduction to the concept of ‘visionary’ companies and the need for the study

Brief overview of the methodology used in the research

Part I: Setting the Stage

Good Enough Never Is (or, The Best Never Rest)

Introduction to the foundational idea that visionary companies are never content with status quo.

Clock Building, Not Time Telling

Focus on the importance of building an organization, rather than just being a charismatic leader.

Part II: Characteristics of Visionary Companies

More Than Profits

Discussion on the importance of a core ideology that goes beyond just making money.

Preserve the Core / Stimulate Progress

Exploration of how visionary companies balance continuity and change.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)

Examination of the importance of having ambitious long-term goals.

Cult-Like Cultures

Description of how the corporate cultures in these companies are distinct and strong.

Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works

Discussion on experimentation and innovation.

Home-Grown Management

Focus on how these companies often promote from within.

Good Enough Never Is

Reiteration of the need for continuous improvement.

Part III: Conclusions and Implications

Building the Vision

Summary of key points and a guide on how to apply these principles to build a visionary company.


Discussion on how to align all the elements of the company around its core ideology.

Chapter Structure

The structure of Chapter One in “Built to Last” may differ slightly depending on the edition, but typically, the first chapter serves as an introduction to the foundational idea that visionary companies are never content with the status quo and are always aiming for improvement and growth. Here’s a generalized outline to give you an idea of how Chapter One could be structured:

Chapter One: Good Enough Never Is (or, The Best Never Rest)


Setting the stage for the entire book, and laying the groundwork for the central theme: that visionary companies are never satisfied with just “good enough.”

Case Studies or Anecdotes

Examples of visionary companies that embody the philosophy of never being content with just being “good.”

Contrast with Comparison Companies

Showing how these visionary companies differ from other successful, yet less enduring, companies in their constant push for improvement.

Core Concepts

Introduction to some of the key principles that will be discussed in more detail in later chapters, such as core ideology, Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs), etc

Common Misconceptions

Addressing some of the common myths or misunderstandings about what makes a company truly great and enduring.

Preview of Coming Chapters

A brief overview of what the reader can expect in the subsequent chapters.


Wrapping up the chapter by emphasizing the importance of never settling for “good enough” if the aim is to build a company that lasts. This structure serves to engage the reader right away, drawing them into the central thesis of the book, and sets the stage for the deeper dives into specific principles and case studies that follow in subsequent chapters.


What Made "Built to Last" a Best Seller?

The success of “Built to Last” as a bestseller can be attributed to several factors:

Timely Insights: The book was released at a time when business leaders were increasingly looking for sustainable models of success, moving away from quick fixes and short-term gains.

Rigorous Research: The authors, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, invested six years in empirical research, including case studies and interviews. This lent the book considerable credibility.

Actionable Advice: The book not only identifies what makes visionary companies but also provides actionable steps for businesses looking to achieve similar results, making it a practical guide.

Engaging Storytelling: The use of real-life case studies and anecdotes helped to illustrate the book’s key points in an engaging manner, making it accessible to a broad range of readers, from CEOs to frontline employees.

Broad Appeal: While primarily aimed at business leaders, the book’s insights are also applicable to a variety of disciplines, including non-profit organizations, governmental bodies, and even individual career development.

Authority and Expertise: Both authors are respected figures in their fields, and their expert perspectives gave the book an added level of authority.

Word of Mouth and Endorsements: The book received positive reviews and endorsements from influential people in the business community, which helped to bolster its profile.

Marketing and Visibility: Effective marketing strategies, including media appearances, book talks, and strong publisher support, helped to keep the book in the public eye.

Long-Term Relevance: The principles laid out in the book have proven to be enduringly relevant, leading to sustained sales over time.

Complementary to Other Works: Jim Collins later published other influential books like “Good to Great,” which created a compounding effect on the popularity of “Built to Last.”

The combination of these factors made “Built to Last” resonate with a broad audience, turning it into a bestseller and a staple on business bookshelves.

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