September 2004
A Relationship Story – The Power of Doing Things Differently

Do you know who Alan Wurtzel, Colman Mockler, and David Maxwell are? They are CEO’s of three of the most successful U. S. companies over the last 25 years. Why don’t you recognize their names? Their companies are household names – Circuit City, Gillette, and Fannie Mae – so why not the CEO’s? Even the most casual observer of popular culture might assume that only high-profile self-promoters succeed, especially doing something as “significant” as leading a world-class company. Not true! These companies did things differently.

The key message in “Good to Great” by Jim Collins is that only certain companies understand and exemplify the bold behaviors necessary to be truly special and outperform every competitor. While each of the Good to Great “behaviors” are examples of doing things differently, what I found truly counterintuitive was that each chief executive was self effacing and humble, focusing their considerable professional will on building the company and its people.

The real power was created from the relationships within the company and with customers, and not the “relationship” between the CEO and the public eye. The priorities embodied in this behavior must invariably make these great companies to work for, and thereby able to attract great people.

In the “Deviant’s Advantage” by Watts Wacker and Ryan Mathews, it is argued that deviance is the source of all innovation (hold on now…they’re talking about positive deviance – a force for transformation). “The well of deviance irrigates the imagination; offers an inexhaustible font of new ideas, products, and services; and, in the end, is the source of all innovation, new-market creation, and for business, ultimately represents the basis of all incremental profit”. We each know examples of deviance that fuels innovation and success, but here are 3 of my favorites:

  • Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson to be the first African-American to play in the modern major leagues. Of course, the impact on society was huge, but the business impact on the Dodgers was unmistakable. They were in 6 World Series in the next 10 years, after only one in the previous 26 years.
  • John F. Kennedy prophesizing that we would go to the moon by the end of the 60’s. Not only did this provide the paradigm-stretching challenge to make it happen, it also helped fuel the technology creations that have shaped the last 40 years.
  • A couple of nerds who were ahead of the curve and knew the hardware didn’t matter. Microsoft is a great example of the power of deviance in business.

A unique approach to executive search consultancy is what makes McDermott & Bull a special firm – building real relationships of trust with our clients and sharing resources beyond our search services; contributing to the business community in industry organizations; providing a networking platform for executives in transition through McDermott & Bull’s Executive Network; and also by only adding members to our team who embody this model. The firm must be a unique – how else to explain why they would hire a “different” sort of guy like me?

The primary areas of focus in my search practice are the Building Industry and related products, and Manufacturing/Technology. I welcome your ideas for continuing to grow my practice in these areas, but I am happy to be of assistance to any good company who seeks a trusted relationship with a consultancy partner.

Book Ideas For You: Good To Great by Jim Collins and the Deviant’s Advantage by Watts Wacker and Ryan Mathews. Let me know what you think.


Jeff Black
Principal Consultant
McDermott & Bull Executive Search