Management: Guru sticks by principles if not examples: Chastened US pundit Robert Waterman is still advocating the same strategies but is now rather more wary about 'tipping winners'

ROBERT WATERMAN is a chastened man. In his position, who would not be? After all, he and Tom Peters have received a lot of stick over the fall from grace of several companies featured in their best-selling In Search of Excellence.

Partly as a result, Mr Waterman's new book, The Frontiers of Excellence (which as its title would suggest ploughs pretty much the same furrow) looks at a handful of organisations rather than the 45 considered in the original. 'I wanted to take fewer companies and do them in more depth,' he said.

Nevertheless, he insists that he has not been diverted from his belief that organisations can learn from those that have been successful in their own or other sectors. Indeed, the latest book was published in the US under the title What America Does Right. Mr Waterman added: 'You can still learn a lot from IBM (one of the fallen stars of the former book) when it was at its best.'

Some of the companies covered, such as Motorola, the US electronics company, and Federal Express, the international courier, will be familiar to readers of studies of this sort. Mr Waterman makes no apologies.

Noting that even people working out of FedEx's small but busy courier offices can find the time to give directions to pedestrians, he says that Fred Smith, the chief executive, and his team achieved wonders in employee motivation.

But there are also less well- known organisations, notably Rubbermaid, a low-tech company noted for household goods, such as brushes, and Little Tikes toys, which still manages to invent a new product for every day of the year.

The more rigorous selection process means that many organisations were considered but few chosen. Not that that dissuaded the author from featuring organisations with which he was connected. He has included Levi's (featured in last week's Independent on Sunday), which is run by Robert Haas, a former employee of Mr Waterman's at McKinsey, the consultants, and Applied Energy Services, a company that he and friends set up to test whether a company that 'valued people and acted responsibly' could also be successful.

It is 'a bit of a cheat', admits Mr Waterman, but he included it, at least partly, because it had 'a fun value', which prevents executives from taking life too seriously, despite their concern about energy conservation. At AES, which despite expansion is still relatively small, this is comparatively easy to introduce. But he is encouraged that a large group such as Merck, the pharmaceuticals producer that is also discussed in the book, can adopt a similar attitude.

And he sees increasing evidence that business leaders are recognising that the idea that good conduct equals good business seems to work. Moreover, business school professors are more prepared to take that 'leap of faith'.

But for all his enthusiasm, and some of the book's discussions of the ways organisations are 'putting people first' verge on the hagiographical, he said: 'Overall, it's still back to Adam Smith', with competition and profit all-important.

He also acknowledges that constantly peddling fresh ideas can lead to companies switching from one fad to another without giving them time to work or apparently realising that no one idea will provide a solution.

'One of the things I was trying to get at is how long it takes for a company to change,' Mr Waterman said, noting that Motorola was now synonymous with total quality but had been practising it since 1979. Similarly, Levi's transformation is still incomplete and therefore difficult to write about in the book. 'All these concepts have something important behind them, but people only tend to try them for a couple of years and then drop them.'

So, if genuinely believing in and, in the current parlance, empowering your people at the same time as sticking to core principles are the keys to success, why do they fail?

The number one reason, says Mr Waterman, is that companies stay or become too centralised. Those that succeed divide into smaller units. Accordingly, while IBM remained too centred on mainframes for too long, Procter & Gamble, the household products company, is more a collection of brands that can be developed or let slip as market conditions determine. Linked to this is the inability to respond to changes in the market.

Companies that lose their way are not always destined to collapse he adds. He certainly hopes that is true of ASK Group, the database company of which he is a director, and is trying to turn round.

(Photograph omitted)

Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer (Financial Services) - London

£52000 - £57000 per annum + bonus, pension, private healthcare : Ashdown Group...

Senior FIX Analyst - (FIX, SQL, Equities, Derivatives)

£60000 - £90000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider of buy side tr...

Electronic Trading Platform Engineer

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Electronic Platform Engineer (Linux, UNIX, Perl,...

Market Making Support Analyst - (Support, Graduate, Maths)

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Market Making Support Analyst - (...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil