Dec 4

Engine 2: A Conversation in Mumbai

By | December 4th, 2018|Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

I just returned from a trip to India, where I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with P.R. Kothari, who leads strategy for Indian conglomerate Larsen & Toubro (L&T).

As my colleague and The Founder’s Mentality co-author Chris Zook noted nearly six years ago in the Harvard Business Review, L&T is one of about 100 companies that has managed to consistently deliver sustained, profitable growth over the past two decades or more. In India, as Chris noted this year in The Economic Times, it’s one of only three companies—along with Tata Group and Aditya Birla Group—that have remained among the top 15 companies by market cap or the equivalent since 1970.

Mr. Kothari has been there almost all that time. Having worked at L&T for 45 years, he has one of the longest tenures there, though not as long as L&T Chairman A.M. Naik, who has served for more than 50 years in the company. Started by two Danes (you guessed it, Henning Holck-Larsen and Søren Kristian Toubro) in 1938, L&T holds leading positions across several strong businesses in technology, engineering, construction, manufacturing and financial services. With $17 billion in revenue, it has grown by over 15% annually in the last 10 years. Oh, and one fun fact: L&T’s first bridge was built for the 1957 movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Although most of his businesses are enjoying double-digit growth, Mr. Kothari is already thinking about next-generation businesses that will take the company forward for years to come. In other words, he’s thinking about what we call Engine 2.


Jun 29

The Changing Question of China

By | June 29th, 2018|Insurgency|0 Comments

I’ve been visiting China for many years, and it’s amazing to watch how the “China question” keeps changing for Western multinational companies (MNCs). Here’s a 20-year perspective:

  • Twenty years ago, the question was “Is China important?” I would argue that most MNCs took about 10 years to answer “yes.” By 2008 or so, everyone realized that winning in China was critical.
  • Ten years ago, the question shifted to “Is China different?” It took another decade, but eventually most MNCs answered “yes.” Rather than treating China as any other market, companies began to shift strategies and allow their Chinese operations to do whatever it took to win. While I still don’t believe most MNCs have created real tailwinds to help their business, I’ve seen tremendous efforts to at least reduce the headwinds of “corporate support”!
  • Today, the question has shifted to […]
May 6

Introducing the Bain Micro-battles System℠

By | May 6th, 2017|Founder's Mentality defined, Insurgency, Micro-battles, Net benefits of scale and scope, Southward winds, The Journey North, The path to Scale Insurgency, Westward winds|0 Comments

Micro-Battles-220x207This Founder’s Mentality® topic has become quite hot, and we’re working with a lot of business leaders on how to become scale insurgents. Central to this work is the idea of micro-battles, which at their simplest help large companies rediscover the art of getting stuff done fast. Let’s introduce you to what we call the Bain Micro-battles System.

Context: The six building blocks on the journey to scale insurgency

Context matters. What matters most is the growth paradox: Growth creates complexity, and complexity kills growth. Understanding how companies respond to this core problem has led us to look at companies on two dimensions:

All great companies start as insurgents, at war against their industries on behalf of underserved […]

May 5

Create a Company of Insurgents

By | May 5th, 2017|Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

Company-of-Insurgents220x207Insurgent companies thrive on a culture of speed, focus and a direct connection to customers. But as any leader of a large incumbent company can attest, those cultural attributes are often the first casualty of a growing bureaucracy. Meetings and deliberation swallow up speed. Process and systems muffle the voice of the front line and customers. The sheer complexity of the portfolio overwhelms the clarity of the insurgent mission.

As we discussed in the first building block, reviving growth and sustaining it starts with rediscovering the insurgency and locking it in with the people who need to deliver it. But inspiring your people to act like insurgents also involves a concerted effort to revive the insurgent culture that was so critical to the company’s ability to win against larger competitors with deeper resources. The key is to reeducate the organization about what […]

May 4

Simplify to Fuel Growth

By | May 4th, 2017|Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

Simplify220x207Vocabulary matters in business. One of the problems many large companies face is that bureaucrats have won the vocabulary war. They want us to believe that the opposite of simple is advanced and that to simplify means to dumb down, to cut corners, to somehow be less advanced.

But for our purposes, the opposite of simple is complex. To simplify is to improve systems and processes by making them more straightforward. Importantly, simplification is also a way to redeploy. Streamlining something or making it easier to do allows you to free up resources and move them elsewhere to support other priorities.


May 2

Refocus the Operating Model on Your Franchise Players

By | May 2nd, 2017|Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

Franchise-players220x207As they drift along the default path toward struggling bureaucracy, companies very often lose focus on the employees who really matter—those in mission-critical roles. We refer to these employees as “franchise players.” They are the people who deliver the insurgent mission to customers.

Imagine, for instance, I’m a big box specialty retailer of kitchen and bathroom plumbing fixtures. My insurgent mission is to deliver “well-designed, contemporary kitchen and bath fixtures at wholesale prices.” Now imagine I’m a consumer attracted by that mission and I head into the store to buy a modern rain shower-type shower head. Who delivers that insurgent promise to me?

Well, first it must be the store category manager who is responsible for the shower head aisle. She has arranged the aisle, kept it clean, and made sure the right choices are easy to find. She’s also probably walking the aisle ready to advise me. All in all, she’s delivering the benefit of customer intimacy that is part of any great insurgent mission.


May 1

Build Engine 2 to Challenge Industry Rules and Boundaries

By | May 1st, 2017|Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

Engine-2-220x207Incumbent companies are notably bad at strategic adaptation and will always find it difficult to respond to the threat posed by insurgents in their industries. Yet sustainable growth often demands the ability to explore and commit to new revenue streams to offset the natural slowing of a mature core business. Leadership’s first priority has to be giving the core business model more room to run by reviving the Founder’s Mentality® and dialing in growth led by the front line. But leadership also has to entertain the notion of working on a new business model in parallel.

These things don’t have to be mutually exclusive—scale insurgents focus on optimization and innovation at the same time. The challenge involves mindsets. Most large companies have to force themselves to adapt their strategy-development process to cope with the chronic turbulence and uncertainty of global markets. This rarely comes naturally to an organization vested in the status quo. Large companies also have to look at the innovation challenge through a new set of lenses. They have to upend an incumbent’s propensity to fight the future and must encourage people to imagine how they can use the company’s biggest assets—scale and accumulated experience—to disrupt markets rather than defend them.


Apr 30

Rediscover the Insurgency and Capability Spikes to Accelerate Growth

By | April 30th, 2017|Frontline obsession, Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

Rediscover-insurgency220x207People who work for insurgent companies are on a mission to redefine their industries. They know what their company stands for, and they believe its offerings can transform an underserved customer segment. They have a clear bias for action and a loathing of bureaucracy.

But as these same companies evolve into industry leaders, the sense of insurgency that fueled their growth often wanes. People begin to define themselves by the timeworn rules of their industry and start defending the status quo rather than continuously reimagining it.

The first building block on the path to scale insurgency, then, is to rediscover the insurgency and lock it in with the key people who must deliver it. Think about three things here.


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).  […]

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