About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office. He is the co-leader of Bain's Global Strategy practice, the founder of the firm's Customer Strategy & Marketing practice and a member of Bain's European Consumer Products and Technology practices. In addition, he leads Bain's Founder's Mentality 100 initiative. He is coauthor of "The Founder's Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth" (Harvard Business Review Press; June 7, 2016). James is a recognized leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. With more than 25 years of consulting experience, he has worked extensively for multi-national companies in consumer products, oil and gas, technology and telecommunications, healthcare and other industries. He advises clients on the development of global growth strategies, emerging market entry strategies and turnaround strategies. James earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
Feb 6

Leon: Founder’s Mentality in Action

By | February 6th, 2017|Frontline obsession, Insurgency, Video|0 Comments

It’s popcorn time again.   A while back we offered up a little film on Jaipur Rugs and how the company’s founder and his leadership team kept their insurgent mission alive by connecting their weavers and customers.   Now we tell the story of UK-based fast food chain Leon and the founder’s quest to answer a simple question:  “What if God Made Fast Food?”

Please enjoy this remarkable story of Founder’s Mentality in action.  As you watch the video, ask yourself:

  1. Are our people as passionate about the insurgent mission of our company as Leon’s team?   (For that matter, you might ask whether your own company still has a clear insurgent mission.)
  2. Does this passion translate into a different customer experience?   Does your company have the same sense of frontline empowerment, where each team feels like mini-founders transforming their industry?


Dec 29

State the Obvious

By | December 29th, 2016|Death of the nobler mission, Insurgency|0 Comments

switch-220x207I’ve just returned from Argentina where I had a chance to meet with the management team of Mercado Libre, Argentina’s largest company by market cap, and one of four Argentinian unicorns (insurgent companies valued at greater than $1 billion). As often happens in these meetings, I was able to see Founder’s Mentality in action: In this case, Marcos Galperin, the CEO and founder, explained that what really defines his team is its profound belief in technology and its ability to continually disrupt industries. The Mercado Libre story also provides a simple lesson: Talk about the obvious. More on that in a moment.

First, a bit of background on the company. A group of Stanford Business School students founded Mercado Libre in 1999 in a garage in Buenos Aires while finalizing their studies.  The founder, Marcos Galperin, is still the current CEO. The company has emerged as the largest online retailer in Latin America and Galperin is recognized as one of the world’s top entrepreneurs. In addition to being named Argentina’s Entrepreneur of the Year (2012), Fortune named him one of the top entrepreneurs under age 40 in 2010, an honor he shared with Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) and Marc Andreessen (Netscape co-founder).  […]

Dec 28

FxE=R: Finding the Right Balance

By | December 28th, 2016|Founder's Mentality defined, Frontline obsession, Net benefits of scale and scope, The curse of the matrix, The Journey North|0 Comments

Finding balanceEarlier this year, I used the fading summer months as an excuse to choose a nice pub in the bucolic London suburb of Richmond to meet with Richard Rose and Noel Collett, the respective chairman and chief executive of Crawshaws. What I didn’t expect in such leafy surroundings was a math tutorial, but I came away with a new understanding of a simple equation: FxE=R.

Let’s back up. I have long been fascinated by Crawshaws, which is essentially a company of local butchers. Using the language of the Founder’s Mentality, you can tell its story simply. Crawshaws’ insurgent mission is to redefine the fresh meat industry by combining the best of a local butcher shop (community orientation, entrepreneurship and devotion to serving local consumers) with the best of a chain grocer (size, sophistication and central buyers who can secure great prices on fresh meat). The franchise players—the people with the mission-critical roles in such a company—are the local butchers (who deliver intimacy) and the national buyers (who deliver scale). How you create a company that strikes the right balance between them was the key question on our agenda. […]

Aug 22

Building Loyalty Through Spikiness

By | August 22nd, 2016|Insurgency|0 Comments

airplanes-istock-220x207We’ve written a lot in these blog posts about the power of leadership economics and how important it is to be spiky—to concentrate all your resources on a few critical battles to overwhelm your competition. We’ve also noted that most incumbent companies have a lot of trouble with this. Instead of constantly trying to free up resources from activity X so they can redeploy them to build leadership in activity Y, they spread internal investments around more or less democratically, budgeting an annual 2% to 3% bump for everybody.

The problem with this is that by trying to be good at everything, it is difficult to be great at anything. Yet leaders of large, complex companies continue to budget this way because the internal battles for resources can be fierce and leaders are reluctant to penalize teams that are working hard, even if their businesses show less promise than others. Eventually, of course, the cuts must come as mediocre parts of the business wither. And when they do, the effect can be brutal. Managers who are used to getting a regular 2% bump each year inevitably feel like losers when leadership shifts resources to others. The bigger your budget, after all, the more important your business must be, right? […]

Jun 8

Our Future: The Chair Is Empty

By | June 8th, 2016|Agile & Innovative Organization, Uncategorized|1 Comment

A CEO I spoke with recently told me he’d become so angry that he and his team weren’t dealing with their future issues that he put a sign on an empty chair in his boardroom. It read: Our Future.

In taping it to the chair he told his team, “This is the only way I know to get us to focus on our Engine 2 strategy. It has been months and we still haven’t freed up anyone to lead our Engine 2 initiative. So the sign will stay on the chair until we do, and every meeting I will make the same point: While every one of us is working hard on the present, let’s remind ourselves that no one is working on our future. That chair is empty.”

Here’s a picture of that empty chair:


I love this image. Here’s why: […]

Jun 6

Founder’s Mentality: We Wrote the Book on It

By | June 6th, 2016|Media, Video|0 Comments

fm-thumbnail-220x207Tomorrow, we start a new phase of our journey to explore the Founder’s Mentality with you.

Yes, tomorrow, June 7, is the official publication date of The Founder’s Mentality book.

But clearly the word has been out a while, thanks to you, the readers of this blog, and those who read the articles that Chris Zook and I have published in Harvard Business Review, on The Wall Street Journal‘s The Experts blog and elsewhere. The book is already ranked as a best seller on Amazon thanks to preorders alone.

We’re also pleased to say the book has been endorsed by some of the world’s best-known founders/CEOs:

  • Carlos Brito (CEO, Anheuser-Busch InBev)
  • Michael Dell (founder/CEO, Dell)
  • Adrian Gore (founder/CEO of Discovery Group)
  • Linda Rottenberg (Cofounder/CEO of Endeavor Global)
  • Les Wexner (founder/CEO of L Brands)

We’re really proud of that reception. So, whether you’re a longtime reader of this blog or new to the concept, we invite you to participate in the official launch. To get you in the mood, we’ve tried to summarize it in 200 seconds in the video below.


May 19

The Power of 10: Restoring Capability-Led Growth

By | May 19th, 2016|Owner mindset|0 Comments

fm-wheel-engine-capability-led-growth-220x207As an insurgent, you had one major asset: speed. Sure, the incumbents had scale, but you could mobilize resources to solve customer problems faster than the big boys. You could concentrate all your resources on a few critical battles to overwhelm your competition. You and your team focused on picking the right battles and making sure you had the capabilities you needed to win. It was exciting. And fun.

You didn’t actually think about reallocating resources to fund those battles and capabilities—as an insurgent, you just did that instinctively, all the time. Your team understood resource supply and demand. They knew where to concentrate resources because everyone was clear about who your most important customers were and which capabilities would make them pick you over the competition. And supply wasn’t a problem because you were in control of all the firm’s […]

Apr 15

Using Five Lenses to Restore Disruption-Led Growth

By | April 15th, 2016|Insurgency|0 Comments

fm-wheel-engine-disruption-led-growth-220x207As an insurgent, you declared war on your industry on behalf of underserved or new customer segments. You were little, but you were the disrupter, ignoring industry boundaries or the rules of the game as defined by the industry incumbents. You thrived in the turbulence you created or exploited. Much of your growth came from the risks you took. You pushed your team to ignore conventional wisdom, and you argued, sometimes at the risk of strategic discipline, that your horizons were limitless. […]

Apr 8

How Micro Battles Can Restore the Customer-Led Growth Engine

By | April 8th, 2016|Fragmentation of the customer experience, Frontline obsession|1 Comment

fm-wheel-engine-customer-led-growth-220x207As an insurgent, your company declared war against your industry on behalf of underserved customers. What you lacked in size, you made up for in speed, with every function focused on customers and the front line, working together to tackle customer issues quickly. This relentless experimentation not only helped your customers, it also produced a constant stream of innovation that was a major engine of organic growth.

But as you grew bigger and more bureaucratic, internal issues stole attention from customers. You now spend more time optimizing functions (and negotiating among them) than you do with your customers. Innovation is handled by a centrally controlled pipeline far from the front line. Customers are neither involved… nor welcome. And growth grinds to a halt.

Sound familiar? […]

Apr 5

The Lost Engines of Growth

By | April 5th, 2016|Frontline obsession, Lost voices from the front line|0 Comments

fm-wheel-engine-v02All leaders constantly must address the growth paradox: Growth creates complexity, and complexity kills growth. In these blogs, we have talked a lot about the first half of that paradox—that is, how growth creates complexity. We’ve highlighted how companies gain from the benefits of their new size as they grow—including scale and scope advantage, market power and influence—but lose their Founder’s Mentality. And we’ve examined the organizational costs of this loss—namely, speed, employee engagement and clarity about which talent matters.

In the next couple blogs, though, we’re going to focus specifically on the second half of the paradox—that is, how complexity kills growth—by discussing what we call the “lost engines of growth.” Below are the three engines we see companies losing most often. […]

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