Finding the Soul of Big Business - Book Review

Finding the Soul of Big Business: One Company's Ego Elimination Strategy by Paula Marshall

I've lived in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area for almost 12 years. One organization that I've known about, without really knowing is Bama Companies, Inc., a 73 year old privately-held food services company. Bama is best known as a global pie and pastry provider to organizations such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut.

Paula Marshall (Web, blog, Twitter) became CEO in 1985 and has lead the company through growth and trials. Her passion for the company and it's people took her to learn leadership from some great leaders and writers, but primarily Dr. W. Edwards Deming. "I spent 5 years learning directly from Dr. Deming; I went to his seminars, took courses and became a sponge for his theories. His philosophies form the baseline of my management theories. More than anyone else, Dr. Deming provides a set of guidelines for management. They are not hard and fast rules, but what he referred to as 'obligations of management.'"

As CEO, Ms. Marshall has rationally applied the obligations of management and Dr. Deming's System of Profound Knowledge consistently across the organization for 25 years. The result is quite a company.

The author shares stories about her family, both her nuclear family and her corporate "family," mixed with an organized, reasonable argument for reasonable, rational, steady long term sustainable business success. She mentions for example that Dr. Deming advocated organizations must maintain a long-term (3-5 year and beyond) view of success. Bama Companies for example has taken the System of Profound Knowledge and Dr. Deming's 14 Points and made them the basis for "day-in, day-out application" within the Bama Companies.

Dr. Deming's 14 points include many topics we've blogged and written about before. Included in the 14 points are statements like:

  • Create constancy of purpose for the improvement of the product and service with the aim to become competitive, stay in business and provide jobs.
  • Adopt a philosophy of cooperation (win-win).
  • End the practice of awarding business on price alone and instead minimize total cost in the long run.
  • Institute training for skills, Adopt and institute leadership for the management of people recognizing their different abilities, capabilities and aspirations. The aim of leadership should be to help people...
  • Build trust.
  • Break down barriers between departments.
  • Eliminate numerical goals, numerical quotas and management by objectives. Substitute leadership.
  • Transformation is everyone's job.

One other interesting idea from the book shows how ideas come into favor through different channels. We talk about character-based leadership here at the Lead Change Group, quite a bit. A character-based leader is one that leads from who they are rather than from their rank or wealth or position. In the book, Ms. Marshall talks about inspired leaders and organic leaders. Each does what they do from a sense of who they are. Inspired leaders and self-motivated to do what's right and treat teammates with respect. Organic leaders are those that are grown from within, but also who understand the principles of respect and long-term sustainable business.

Eliminate numerical goals, numerical quotas and management by objectives. Substitute leadership.

The book avoids being a list of platitudes or a recollection of Dr. Deming's teaching.  It is a story about a community of people, a company, that has implemented a philosophy, improved the lives of hundreds of people and built a sustainable business that should continue to have a impact in the lives of their team, their customers, my community, and the world. I have much greater respect for the company and it's leader now that I have read the book and met the author and CEO.

Imagine your organization and your community at their best. Begin to practice the ideas from Finding the Soul of Big Business and you will start to achieve that reality! Get the book and join the move toward long-term sustainable organizations that operate for the well-being of all stakeholders, not just the stockholders.

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