March 19, 2015
Jack Covert Selects: The High Speed Company by Jason Jennings with Laurence Haughton
The High-Speed Company: Creating Urgency and Growth in a Nanosecond Culture by Jason Jennings with Laurence Haughton, Portfolio, 240 pages, $27.95, Hardcover, March 2015, ISBN 9781591847366
At the beginning of his review for one of Jason Jennings’s previous books (he has many), our founder Jack Covert wrote that “He writes the kind of books I like. They are research based, with interesting examples to support that research.” That research base is in strong evidence in Jason Jennings’s new book, The High-Speed Company, which opens with this shocking number:
Over the past dozen years, I’ve interviewed over eleven thousand CEOs, business owners, and highly successful entrepreneurs about their business and how they lead companies through good times and bad.
Of all the companies he’s ever approached, he’s only ultimately been denied access to two, and they both failed soon after so he wouldn’t have used them anyway. For those of you who have never tried to get in touch with a successful company executive to grill them about their business, that number is simply staggering and hints at the author’s diligence—a diligence aided by his director of research and development (and coauthor), Laurence Haughton. The short section of the introduction explaining their research process is itself enough to inspire awe. How they distill it all into actionable findings, engaging content, and fast tasks for the reader is a revelation.
But what are they trying to get at with all of this?
One of the most important questions I ask … is “What’s the biggest worry keeping you awake at night?”
The response is almost unanimous: Leaders worry about creating a sense of urgency in their organizations and operating quickly in an increasingly complex world.
If this talk of more urgency is making you nervous, if you’re thinking that you’re drowning already and can’t possibly go faster, relax…
High-speed companies actually breathe easier, burn less energy, are never frantic, and get to the decisions they’ve chosen before the competition. Most have a lot of fun along the way. The key to their cultures of urgency and growth is that their leaders have figured out that speed is the thrill, exhilaration, and pride that comes with getting rid of all the misguided things that most companies do that end up slowing them down and getting them stuck.
But that’s not to say there isn’t going to be a lot of work to put in to get there. The good thing is that you have the authors’ years of research and experience behind you as you go about using the book’s chapters as a series of practical applications on: Purpose, Principles and Values, The Customer, Transparency, why and how to Systematize Everything, Communication, Accountability, Prosperity, and Stewardship.
In the chapter on Transparency, they share one of our favorite stories, that of Jack Stack, SRC Holdings, and The Great Game of Business:
Jack Stack was thirty-three and had moved himself up from mailroom worker to plant superintendent when International Harvester sent him to Springfield, Missouri, to fix one of the company’s ailing manufacturing plants. He arrived to find the plant losing money and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Stack realized that, in its state, International Harvester would eventually sell the plant, shut it down, or let it die a slow death, so Stack went with the first option and he and the plant’s managers got together and bought it. In the outlandish, almost unbelievable 24-month story of getting the leveraged-to-the-hilt deal financed:
He learned to compute equity and liquidity ratios, debt and bond financing, cash flow, gross margin, and return on investment and how to read every single line of a P&L and balance sheet. He learned the vital signs of a business; because of this, he also knew he’d put his company at the very edge of a steep and deadly cliff.
And after doing the outlandish, he did the unthinkable:
He opened the book to the entire company and taught every team member, at every level, how to read and understand each line of every critical financial report—profit and loss statement, cash flow and receivables, key ratios, how the numbers were all interrelated—and most important what each employee could do to improve the numbers.
As the authors note, “Business owners have talked for years about getting everyone to think like the owner … ” but Jack Stack actually did it. And…
His big gamble paid off. Today SRC Holdings has thirty-eight companies employing 1,400 owners, does $550 million in annual revenues, and creates and opens two new businesses every year [and] Transparency has stuck. Once a week, at all of SRC’s thirty-eighty companies, the entire workforce reports to the lunchroom to review reports on cash, sales, profits, the business pipeline, and the key ratios that make a business successful. And it’s not just that Jack Stack’s SRC Holdings is transparent—it’s that the transparency gets the entire team on the same page about what their culture is and how it operates and allows them to act quickly and decisively when they need to.
Simply put, more transparency and trust creates more understating, an increased ownership of the processes employees enact, and an increased sense of urgency needed to get important things done every day.
You can expect the same engaging, often out of the ordinary vein, and sometimes unusual business stories to illustrate all of their research and each of the principles they put forth.
As the say themselves:
This little book is filled with big stories and ideas, even bigger lessons, and a bunch of business heroes who will help you build your high-speed company.
And because they would never say it themselves, we’ll say it: two of the foremost business heroes here are the ones doing the research and writing the book. For it is only their due diligence, attention to detail, adherence to strict values, and ability to put it all into an engaging package for business readers that gets the others’ lessons into the world.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.