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Best of the Best 2002

Organizations that are defining new standards of excellence and reinventing whole industries.

In April 1998, Fast Company introduced The Agenda: an annual awards issue that recognizes excellent companies for stand-out strategies. At a time when change is fast, powerful, and relentless, when the flow of information is overwhelming, when anything seems possible, these categories suggest what matters — not just what is doable, but what is worth doing.

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Here is Fast Company’s best of the best — a list of the innovative, relentless companies that we hold in the highest regard and the stories that demonstrate those winning practices.

Best Practices of the Best Companies

2002

The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore

Strategic Innovation Dr. Irwin Redlener has spent his career devising solutions to large-scale problems of health care for disenfranchised children. The most recent expression of his single-minded agenda combines excellence in pediatric care with cutting-edge design, the latest technology, and the joyous worldview of Carl Sagan. Polly LaBarre

Web-Exclusive Feature
Dr. Irwin Redlener’s strategic innovations don’t end at the hospital gate. Read a Web-exclusive account of his “medical missionaries.”

A Gigabit at the Bedside
This interactive virtual portal brings the Carl Sagan Discovery Program to life at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.


Commerce Bank

Customer Service
Commerce Bank is one of America’s best-performing financial institutions, with a stock that grew more than 2,000% in 10 years. It is also America’s most convenient bank, with a fanatical commitment to “wowing” its customers. Chuck Salter

Saying Yes to Change
If you think like a retailer, as Commerce Bank does, then you’re constantly coming up with ways to enhance the customer experience.

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Guinness

Brand Marketing
How do you refresh a 243-year-old brand? By brewing a modern experience that combines the power of history with the allure of contemporary design. Guinness Storehouse, in Dublin, reimagines how a brand can perform for customers, employees, and the community. Scott Kirsner

The Power of Small Ideas
The initial schematic for Guinness Storehouse was sketched out — where else? — on a cocktail napkin.


Special This Year

New Leaders, New Agenda

These six leaders stepped into their top jobs at a time of enormous challenge: worried workers, scarce resources, demanding customers. Here’s what each of them has to say about their approach to passing today’s tough test and setting the agenda for the future. Edited by Alison Overholt


2001

U.S. Military Academy

Grassroots Leadership
If Harvard Business School is the West Point of capitalism, then where is the West Point of leadership? It’s in West Point, New York. Here’s how raw cadets become resilient commanders. Keith H. Hammonds

Action Items
The five leadership qualities that give West Point graduates an edge over the competition.

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Hindustan Lever

Strategic Innovation
Most giant global companies focus on the same market: middle-class consumers in rich countries. Hindustan Lever focuses on India’s rural poor. Meeting their needs isn’t just about lowering prices. It’s about developing products and processes that do more with less. Rekha Balu

Web-Exclusive Feature
Hindustan Lever’s strategic ingenuity has the potential to improve the quality of life for India’s rural citizens. Now the company is exporting those ideas to other parts of the world — from Indonesia to the Congo.

Action Items
A high-growth agenda for strategists looking to address rural customers.


EMC Corp.

Customer Service
Under the leadership of Mike Ruettgers, EMC bounces back from a near-death experience to become one of the “four horsemen of the Internet.” At the heart of EMC’s rise has been its fanatical devotion to customer service. The company has benefited from this critical insight: If you want service to pay off, don’t treat it as a profit center. Paul C. Judge

Action Items
On-site product upgrades maximize flexibility and minimize errors.


2000

Ford Motor Co.

Grassroots Leadership
As part of a cultural overhaul, Ford is embarking on a sweeping attempt to mass-manufacture leaders. It wants to build an army of “warrior-entrepreneurs” — people who have the courage and skills to topple old ideas and who believe in change passionately enough to make it happen. Keith H. Hammonds

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Action Items
Six rules for new business leaders from a Ford veteran and mentor.


Imagination Ltd.

Total Teamwork
Teamwork is how Imagination works. As the company creates interesting experiences for its customers — and for its customers’ customers — it is also creating a space at its own headquarters in which “the team experience” flourishes. Charles Fishman

Action Items
Four steps for herding an extraordinary collection of talent into fast-working, high-performance teams.


MicroStrategy Inc.

People and Technology
MicroStrategy Inc. is setting the agenda for leveraging digital technology to create a fast, focused, and well-run organization; to strengthen relationships with customers, suppliers, and partners; and to cultivate new market opportunities. Chuck Salter

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
A year after MicroStrategy Inc. made our Agenda issue for its visionary use of the Web, the company’s outspoken CEO shares the key to surviving a nearly catastrophic crash.

Action Items
Four rules for a young, aggressive company that’s applying the latest technology to its internal and external operations.

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Pioneer Human Services

Social Justice
One of the largest self-sustaining nonprofits in the country, Pioneer has succeeded as a business by employing society’s most marginalized people, many of whom have been deemed unemployable by other companies. Cheryl Dahle

Action Items
Four key points of a nonprofit agenda that emphasizes performance as well as people.


1999

Navy Commander D. Michael Abrashoff

Grassroots Leadership
D. Michael Abrashoff sees his mission as nothing less than the reorientation of a famously rigid 200-year-old hierarchy. His aim: to focus on purpose rather than on chain of command. Polly LaBarre

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“I let people know that there’s no excuse not to change.”

Action Items
Five rules for running a tight ship with grassroots leadership.


The Freeplay Group

Social Justice
The Freeplay Group, based in Cape Town, South Africa, builds products that capture the imagination of the world — and that change the world. Cheryl Dahle

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Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“We’re trying to go from being funky and by-the-seat-of-our-pants to being more organized.”

Special Report
The Freeplay Group announces major layoffs.

Action Items
Five principles for making a difference as well as making a profit.


Mayo Clinic

Total Teamwork
Teams of doctors, nurses, and technicians at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic bring new-economy practices to “old-fashioned” medicine. Paul Roberts

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“It’s crucial that the people who make decisions actually know how those decisions will affect patients.”

Action Items
Five principles that define Mayo-style teamwork.

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Tivoli Systems Inc.

Fast Change
Tivoli Systems, a fast-growing outfit that was acquired by IBM, is teaching Big Blue how to move. Chuck Salter

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“I don’t want to use the word ‘structure,’ but there are now more things in place to help us manage a large global operation.”

Action Items
Five rules for blending the power of a corporate giant with the agility of a startup.


1998

Interface Inc.

Sustainable Growth
Ray Anderson of Interface Inc. points the way to high profitability and zero waste — a future that merges economic growth with social responsibility. Charles Fishman

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“I want to pioneer the company of the next industrial revolution.”

Action Items
Seven ways to achieve sustainable growth and environmentally friendly production.

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PeopleSoft Inc.

Human Technology
David Duffield of PeopleSoft Inc. shows how powerful computers, linked to a worldwide network, can generate productivity — and let loose the human spirit. Paul Roberts

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“You can’t grow by 100% per year forever.”

Action Items
How to develop cutting-edge technology that respects and nurtures its users.


Royal Dutch/Shell Group

Grassroots Leadership
Steve Miller of Royal Dutch/Shell offers a powerful model of what leadership means — a recognition that commitment and creativity come from all parts and all levels of an organization. Richard Pascale

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“We’re scrambling to keep up with the phenomenal rate of learning around here.”

Web-Exclusive Feature
Steve Miller marshaled a diverse group of Royal Dutch/Shell employees to transform the company’s operations in Europe. Now, as president, chairman of the board, and CEO of Shell Oil Co., he is using that same grassroots approach to meet a new challenge: diversity itself.

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Action Items
Shell’s guidelines for pumping up leadership at all levels.


SEI Investments

Total Teamwork
Al West of SEI Investments lays out the advantages of a fast and agile organization that practices one-for-all, all-for-one collaboration. Scott Kirsner

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“We couldn’t have achieved our current level of growth and success within a hierarchy.”

Action Items
Four important lessons for achieving total teamwork.