Role Models in business

The improvement journey does not end, there are always ways to get better at what we do.  However to get better at anything we also have to have the humility admit we are not perfect and the to learn from others.  The opportunity is to learn not only from those we are similar to ourselves or where there are direct comparisons, but also from others where we need to look for more tangential learning.

Below are are a few examples of role model companies from whom most businesses could learn something.  It is far from being an exhaustive list – please add your own examples via the comments thread.

Environment – Interface Carpets – Over the last ten years or so many companies have started to take environmental concerns seriously, few as seriously as Interface Carpets.  In his book “Mid Course Correction” Interface founder, the late Ray Anderson describes the realisation that his company was contributing to environmental damage as being like an arrow to his heart.  He subsequently set the company on a twenty year journey to zero environmental footprint through a combination of leasing, recycling and renewable energy.  In one of his two TED talks, Anderson also made the business case for sustainability, explaining how good “Mission Zero” has been for business.  Interface Inc is a public corporation.

Management and culture – WL Gore (the makers of Gore-Tex)

WL Gore has a flat, lattice-like organizational structure where everyone shares the same title of “associate.” There are neither chains of command nor predetermined channels of communication. Leaders replace the idea of “bosses.” Associates choose to follow leaders rather than have bosses assigned to them. Associate contribution reviews are based on a peer-level rating system.

Bill Gore articulated four culture principles that he called freedom, fairness, commitment and waterline:

  • Associates have the freedom to encourage, help, and allow other associates to grow in knowledge, skill, and scope of responsibility
  • Associates should demonstrate fairness to each other and everyone with whom they come in contact
  • Associates are provided the ability to make one’s own commitments and are expected to keep them
  • A waterline situation involves consultation with other associates before undertaking actions that could impact the reputation or profitability of the company and otherwise “sink the ship.”

In the lattice organization, associates are encouraged to communicate directly with each other and are accountable to fellow members of their teams. Hands-on product innovation and prototyping are encouraged. Teams typically organize around opportunities, new product concepts, or businesses. As teams evolve, leaders frequently emerge as they gain followership. This unusual organizational structure and culture has been shown to be a significant contributor to associate satisfaction and retention. (Source Wikipedia) WL Gore is a private corporation with 9,000 employees and nearly $3Bn in sales in 2010.

Culture Change – Ford –  These days, increasingly, people understand the importance of culture, but understanding how to design and sustain the kind of culture that leads to success is significantly harder.  When Alan Mullaly arrived at Ford, he a came to a company that was on a trajectory to irrelevance.  The company had become very siloed with desperate political infighting at the top of the business.  Mullaly, fresh from saving Boeing, set about culture change from the top, instituting a top down leadership culture change.  He did not go for wholesale replacement, but instead set up a new and far more collaborative set of working protocols, which he required his top executives to comply with – some left – but the results have been a significant reversal of fortunes with the company now being on a far firmer footing for the future; bonds have shifted from junk to investment status,  union relations have gone from toxic and highly expensive to more collaborative and products have become higher quality and more diverse after being over reliant on SUVs.  Bryce Hoffman wrote an excellent book on this transformation.

Please share your ideas of role model companies in these and any other categories you are inspired by.   Please comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
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About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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3 Responses to Role Models in business

  1. Simon says:

    Surely Dave Brailsford needs a mention, unless we class his input as sport orientated rather than business focused, he seems to embrace all what you talk about in the early part of the article especially with the tangential learning which I have heard he and Chris Boardman have taken a great deal from when building super successful British Cycling Teams. Cheers Sx

    • Neil Crofts says:

      Quite agree and always happy to include cycling in anything. Daves’ principle of “compounding marginal gains” means a real attention to excellence and looking for every improvement opportunity.

  2. Marcus Olozulu says:

    Read your blog on role models in business with a smile on my face as I happen to work for an organisation that fits the bill to a “T”

    Grand Union Housing – parent of subsidiaries Aragon Housing, MacIntyre Housing and recently South North Hants Homes is great organisation where albeit there is a management structure there is no hierarchy. There is an ingrained openness and honesty and a support structure that Inevitably holds everyone to the higher forms of themselves. Each and everyone are leaders and there is a sense of pride within all departments. Recently ranked as one of the top 100 best non profit organisations to work for – MacIntyre Housing where I am employed as a supported housing officer is like one big family – Everyone is encouraged and empowered to be frank and honest no matter what and thus we are propelled to be our very best all the time. Since the whole organisation just went through the ILP program this has tightened the fabric of motivational culture even further and I am so proud to work for the organisation. One thing you did not mention is fun!

    Events, team lunches, any kind of team building where fun is had is crucial in maintaining a positive working environment – It should never be taken for granted when things are going smoothly. Respect between departments and teams showing an appreciation of what each team do as part of the system of wheel cogs is all part of ensuring a motivational organisation.

    Because there is a mutual respect between departments and the management structure this ensures that there is a keen listening on all sides, whilst appreciating everyone’s strengths and area of expertise.

    Once again an inspiring blog Neil. Keep up the good work. One day I hope to be like you – inspiring and motivating teams in the work place as a job. That would be so cool. I will do it! 😉

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