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Built to Last?

Just because not every company lionized by Built to Last ("Was Built to Last Built to Last?" November 2004) a decade ago is now considered visionary doesn't mean that the ideas are flawed. In my view, however, they need to be supplemented with a conceptual shift. Economies and companies are not just brands, formulas, structures, and mysterious "forces." They consist of people. So of course something successful will cease to be so successful if either the people change or the circumstances facing those people undergo rapid change.

Philip Whiteley
Author and journalist
Bedfordshire, UK

I finished Built to Last three weeks before reading your article. I noticed exactly the things you mentioned, especially how many of the companies that were put on a pedestal had faltered. In fact, the whole book just seemed kind of stale and dated (probably because of my age: I am a 27-year-old salesperson). I am disappointed that Collins and Porras have no intention to look for a new group of companies to update their new edition. I'd put Whole Foods, Google, and Starbucks on the list.

Hanna Edwards
Account executive
Corbis Corp.
New York, New York

"Was Built to Last Built to Last?" kind of got my hackles up. I challenge you to look at any business book written before the Internet and September 11. They'd all come up short -- and Built to Last would look pretty good.

Jack Covert
President and founder
800-CEO-Read
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Brand U.S.A.

I noticed an important connection between "Brand That I Love" and "Was Built to Last Built to Last?" that's right on. How would the founders of our great nation review our current organization and the core values that got us here? If our stock is to go up in the foreign and domestic markets, we should ask whether management stopped applying the principles.

Stewart Zilberberg
Vice president
Scenery West
North Hollywood, California

Life in the Fast Lane

When I read "Living in Dell Time" (November 2004), I kept thinking, Dell is the next Wal-Mart, because I remembered "The Wal-Mart You Don't Know" (December 2003). Dell is definitely bullying its suppliers. If Dell really delivered every single time you order, I'd selfishly not care about that, but they don't. As my company's office manager/dictator/ supervisor/guru, I handled all desktop purchases as well as laptop purchases from Dell. It takes a million years before the product gets here, and representatives all have different answers and different reasons for why products are late or not yet in production. Maybe it's a different story with megacorporations than for a small company with five people. But I can assure you: Dell won't be on our list next time we need a computer.

Clara Park
Senior director
Jay K. Hoffman & Associates Inc.
New York, New York

One Unfair Idea

I am a senior leader in a very large corporation. While it's not my capacity in the workplace, I also happen to be an ordained interfaith minister. So although I read your "Fast Forward 2005" (November 2004) list with excitement, I was disappointed by your sarcastic take on the rise of corporate chaplains (number 26). Interfaith ministers and chaplains don't preach or prosyletize; they simply vow to serve all in need regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. Spirituality seems to be an increasingly pervasive topic in politics, pop culture, and dialogue among friends. Corporations are simply made up of people, so it's fair to assume that spirituality is already being discussed in the workplace. Why not have a well-trained, appropriately positioned person who can respond to spiritual matters? It might work. In fact, it might become a trend!

Anne Doss
Company name withheld

Singing the Layoff Blues

John A. Byrne's letter ("The Brand Called Us," November 2004) reminded me of the often overlooked effects of downsizing -- the silent effects it has on the partners, families, and spouses of the people who receive pink slips. We all know that cost reduction goes with the territory in business, but too often it's the very people who continuously strive for corporate excellence who are viewed as the burden.

Darrell Moss
Toronto, Ontario

In John A. Byrne's letter about his coping with layoffs at Fast Company, he wrote that he told his staff: "We create our own job security by doing our best work." I'll bet if he asked someone who, despite doing their best work, saw their job shipped to Bangalore, they'd disagree with him. I've been involved with layoffs at several large organizations where some of the brightest talent were victims of the numbers game. Sadly, employees today -- at a startup, a large corporation, or even Fast Company -- know that doing great work guarantees nothing.

Mike McClary
President
McClary & Co. Inc.
Scottsdale, Arizona

Cult of Personality

Personality tests ("Personality Tests: Back With a Vengeance," November 2004) create many potential pitfalls for those who use them for selection or promotion screening. The assertion that personality tests are "study- and/or cheat-proof" is misleading. Because of their proliferation, people are often exposed to these instruments several times. I personally know people who can create different profiles on several different instruments.

I've had a much better experience with behaviorally based interviews and exercises because they're derived from specific job and company variables rather than a one-size- fits-all methodology. They also recognize that, in most cases, the situation rather than the individual is the most influential element of job performance.

Steve Fansler
CEO
Affinity Development Corp.
Tucson, Arizona

Fast Fixes

December's "Innovation Scorecard" on the telecom-equipment sector reported incorrect data for the top companies' ratio of research-and-development expenses to revenue.

The correct data are:

Juniper Networks: 30%
Nokia: 10%
Plantronics: 8%
Polycom: 17%
Qualcomm: 13%

In "What Money Can't Buy" (December 2004), we incorrectly stated Google's market value, which was then approximately $37 billion.

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