The Renewal Factor

Robert H. Waterman, was coauthor with Tom Peters of IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE: LESSONS FROM AMERICA’S BEST-RUN COMPANIES. It was the biggest-selling business book in publishing history and has had a strong influence on managerial thinking since its appearance in 1982. Waterman is now head of his own consulting firm in San Francisco. He is also a director of several corporations, including Boise Cascade. His new book is strikingly similar to IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE; in fact, he says that it is a complementary book, as a strong emphasis on people as sources of renewal underlies both works. Both are based on the concept of trying to establish general success principles by finding out what American business has been doing right.

What American business has been doing wrong has been detailed in countless books and articles. At the heart of the problem was the fact that management was not accustomed to tough foreign competition and had grown complacent because of its enormous, protected domestic market.

Waterman and his staff conducted in-depth interviews with top managers at a carefully selected assortment of successful organizations, including giants such as IBM and such specialized enterprises as the San Francisco Symphony and Children’s Television Workshop. The findings and recommendations are complex but conveyed in user-friendly fashion, sprinkled with interesting anecdotes. The reader gets the impression that foreign competitors have learned the American way of doing business while too many Americans have forgotten it.

Waterman’s pragmatic approach seems peculiarly American. His book inspires confidence in American know-how and leadership potential. “Change breeds opportunity,” he writes. “The renewal factor is the opportunity that transforms threat into issue, issue into cause, cause into quest. . . . The renewing manager is engaged in a daily effort to fight corporate entropy, to welcome change, to uproot habits, and to use renewal to build the future.”