Reviewed by Alyssa Eliasen
In his book "Small Giants" Bo Burlingham offers a non-traditional approach to business management. His main argument is that businesses do not necessarily need to expand in order to be successful. Rather, small giants, or companies who consciously choose to remain small, keep the focus on important aspects of business, not just on profits and outward expansion. These aspects include intimacy with clients, closeness with the community, and a close- knit environment between employees and management; Burlingham calls the sum of these facets the "mojo" of a company.
To prove his point, Burlingham chose fourteen companies and describes their business practices, leadership style, and governing philosophies in his book. The businesses range in size, age, and profits, but they all have the characteristics that make up the noteworthy mojo. When choosing the companies for his book, Burlingham had three criteria: each establishment remains small today despite facing a decision to grow or acquire other businesses, the chosen companies are imitated and respected by others in their industry, and they are recognized for their success by an unrelated observer.
Many, if not most, of the names on his list are not well-known; however, that is exactly Burlingham's point. The companies are successful in that the owners and founders are engaged in their industries because they are passionate about the company and its people. They believe that success is measured not on quantity, but rather quality. Innovation and community- building are the driving forces for small giants. The leaders of these companies set an example with their enthusiasm that carries on to the employees, and, in turn, to clients.
The examples in "Small Giants" show that when a company leader shifts his or her focus from physical growth and does not make impulsive decisions, the company reaches its goals and missions. The company's reputation grows, and thus relations with customers thrive. The leaders also believe that it is important to keep the control of the company within a group of people who are equally as dedicated to preserving the personality and environment of the business. For this reason, the companies that Burlingham studied are not publicly traded, so they do not have to answer to shareholders who may not understand the personality of the business.
Although Burlingham limited his list to those companies previously mentioned, he claims in "Small Giants" that such companies with mojo are not rare. In his final chapter titled "The Art of Business" Burlingham writes that although companies with mojo are not the majority in America, they certainly lend to the heart, soul, and "new standard for excellence on Main Street." Their commitment to quality and passion sets a new tone for businesses today.
Burlingham's method is idealistic, but he has shown, at least for the fourteen companies, that success can result. A common belief is that businesses must grow and sell to the public to be considered truly successful. His selection of small companies dedicated to maintaining the highest quality possible demonstrates the ideals Total Quality Management in practice. The whole reason that these companies chose to remain small is to increase the quality of customer service and relationships. Through these relationships, the companies can determine the customer's needs and fulfill them. The businesses harness the know- how of employees in order to raise the standards of excellence and innovation. The high levels of quality that these businesses produce give them positive reputations, and thus, they have a strong control of their respective industries.
On the other hand, this process requires extreme dedication to the company and in today's business environment, it proves to be difficult to maintain. Burlingham stresses that the leaders each faced a decision to grow, and struggled with it. Eventually, after careful consideration, they consciously chose not to expand, knowing that their decision could possibly be detrimental to their company. With such low numbers of employees, dollar amounts of profit, and levels of production, it is hard for smaller companies to reach a national, or even a global audience. They are very specialized in their products and must innovate constantly to keep up with larger companies with bigger budgets. Finally, with such a globalized economy, large companies are taking over large chunks of industries, cutting off smaller companies. For these reasons, Burlingham's "Small Giants" theory requires firm adherence to the plans and goals set by the leadership.
I would recommend this book to other public relations students because of the ideals that Burlingham stresses through his sample companies. The book is very well written, and contains several examples of companies who successfully remain small. I agree with Burlingham that a commitment to excellence and quality should be a goal for any company, regardless of size. Consumers are attracted to a company that focuses on more than just profits and expansion. A company with a dynamic corporate environment and exceptional customer service will attract a loyal client base which will continue to patronize the company because of the mutual respect and dedication to high quality goods and services. As stated earlier, small businesses with mojo are not the bulk of American companies, but they stand out and prove that high quality leads to corporate success. They will continue to show that business size really does not guarantee higher quality or satisfaction levels for today's consumer.