The Characteristics of Successful Companies in the New Millennium


successful companies

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” — Norman Schwarzkopf

When it comes to your career, or earning a living, how do you know which company you can bet on?  If you have your own business, what does it take to be successful in the new world?

Change is a constant, and, if anything, change will happen at a faster rate.

What are the attributes of successful companies that can compete in a dynamic and global market?

I found a great nugget in the book, The Complete MBA for Dummies, by Dr. Kathleen Allen and Peter Economy.  They share what they think successful companies need to do to be successful in the new world of business.

What Successful Companies Need to Do

According to Allen and Economy, here are key attributes that successful companies need to do to succeed in the new world of business:

  1. Spot fundamental changes in the world and create opportunities from them before these changes take hold in the general business population.
  2. Look and act smaller to respond quickly to change.
  3. Create niches in the market that they can dominate.
  4. Put the customer at the center of everything they do.
  5. Use teams to innovate and develop products quickly.
  6. Plan for total quality in every area of the business.
  7. Implement flatter and more team-based structures.
  8. Form strategic partnerships with other companies in their industry.
  9. Create real value.

I think this is a great set of characteristics and it matches my experiences of some of the most successful teams and organizations.

Customer at the Front and Center

I especially like the point about putting the customer front and center.  On one of the team’s I was on, we developed a process we called “Customer-Connected Engineering.”  The idea was to engage the customer throughout product development.  We involved the customer early on in project planning to help identify, rate, and prioritize scenarios.  We also deeply engaged the customer during design, and throughout product development, and product release.

If at any point, you didn’t have five customers that stood behind you, or that would stand on stage with you, you were at risk.  If customers didn’t want what you were building, then who were you building it for?

Creating Real Value

I also like the point on creating real value.  It’s one thing to make stuff that’s neat.  It’s a very different question to ask, “What will customers pay you for?”  Your idea might sound good or look good on paper, but does the customer want to buy what you’re selling?  (And here’s another rub, as Bill Gates says, the market doesn’t always want or do the right thing — especially when it comes to the greater good.)

The best way I’ve seen to find true value is to focus on the pains, the needs, and the desired outcomes of the customer.  Most importantly, prototype and test it.  Not everything you throw against the wall will stick, and when the rubber meets the road, there are always surprises.

If your current company is not operating this way, it might be at risk.  Don’t point your fingers at the company.   Instead, point the finger back to you and ask yourself, “What can I do about it?”

Never give your power away.  Instead, do it like Gandhi, and be the change you want to see.


  1. @ David — True that.

    The way I check the company is I check the vision, mission, and values. The culture is a big deal. And the the culture is what people really value, not what they say they value 😉

    Timing is a big deal, too. One career path is to ride the waves of companies on the rise, and enjoy the success. Another path is to be part of a turnaround, and help make the waves.

    With great challenges, come great rewards, but at the end of the day, the real trick is to find a place where you can live your values, become more of who you are, and expand what you’re capable of.

  2. How timely.
    While the vision, mission, values with the new company I work for are great it’s going to be interesting to watch closely its execution and if what we produce sticks on the wall.

  3. @ Alik — Yes, the execution is incredibly revealing.

    I have a set of questions I use to check an organization’s execution. I don’t have it handy, but it’s something like this:
    1. What have you delivered? (Over the past 6 months)
    2. What do you plan to deliver? (Over the next 6 months)
    3. How do things get done?

    # 3 tells me all sorts of things about whether it’s customer-focused, whether it’s heavy planning, whether things get done by teams or heroic efforts, whether budget helps or if people are living off fumes, etc.

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