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Intelligent Fanatics Project: How Great Leaders Build Sustainable Businesses

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How does a great company sustain and grow profits for decades? Many people are familiar with Warren Buffett’s analogy of a moat: various defenses to thwart competition. But moats are fleeting; they are here today and gone tomorrow. The more important question is, who builds and maintains moats? Intelligent fanatics do. These leaders build high-performance organizations th How does a great company sustain and grow profits for decades? Many people are familiar with Warren Buffett’s analogy of a moat: various defenses to thwart competition. But moats are fleeting; they are here today and gone tomorrow. The more important question is, who builds and maintains moats? Intelligent fanatics do. These leaders build high-performance organizations that can dominate for decades. Intelligent Fanatics Project looks at the stories of eight intelligent fanatics who built dominant and enduring businesses. A $1,000 investment with each of these intelligent fanatics would, on average, have been worth $3.4 million thirty-seven years later—a 24.6% compounded annual return. They operated in a wide array of industries, in different time periods, on different continents, and against different economic backdrops, yet their leadership styles, strategies, corporate cultures, and values were similar. Intelligent fanatics are what every entrepreneur aspires to be and what every long-term investor dreams of finding and investing in early. Sean Iddings and Ian Cassel examine the common traits of these intelligent fanatics, to help both the investor and the entrepreneur generate extraordinary returns.


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How does a great company sustain and grow profits for decades? Many people are familiar with Warren Buffett’s analogy of a moat: various defenses to thwart competition. But moats are fleeting; they are here today and gone tomorrow. The more important question is, who builds and maintains moats? Intelligent fanatics do. These leaders build high-performance organizations th How does a great company sustain and grow profits for decades? Many people are familiar with Warren Buffett’s analogy of a moat: various defenses to thwart competition. But moats are fleeting; they are here today and gone tomorrow. The more important question is, who builds and maintains moats? Intelligent fanatics do. These leaders build high-performance organizations that can dominate for decades. Intelligent Fanatics Project looks at the stories of eight intelligent fanatics who built dominant and enduring businesses. A $1,000 investment with each of these intelligent fanatics would, on average, have been worth $3.4 million thirty-seven years later—a 24.6% compounded annual return. They operated in a wide array of industries, in different time periods, on different continents, and against different economic backdrops, yet their leadership styles, strategies, corporate cultures, and values were similar. Intelligent fanatics are what every entrepreneur aspires to be and what every long-term investor dreams of finding and investing in early. Sean Iddings and Ian Cassel examine the common traits of these intelligent fanatics, to help both the investor and the entrepreneur generate extraordinary returns.

30 review for Intelligent Fanatics Project: How Great Leaders Build Sustainable Businesses

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trung Nguyen Dang

    A nice, fast and easy read. The book is similar to the "The Outsiders". While "The Outsiders" focuses on the CEOs with great capital allocation skills, "Intelligent Fanatics Project" focuses on 8 companies/CEOs with phenomenal performance and culture. The book advocates (I agree) that culture is probably the most enduring and powerful force of business. Competitors can copy business model but not the culture. The characteristics of this high-performing culture are, in my own take: (the book list A nice, fast and easy read. The book is similar to the "The Outsiders". While "The Outsiders" focuses on the CEOs with great capital allocation skills, "Intelligent Fanatics Project" focuses on 8 companies/CEOs with phenomenal performance and culture. The book advocates (I agree) that culture is probably the most enduring and powerful force of business. Competitors can copy business model but not the culture. The characteristics of this high-performing culture are, in my own take: (the book lists out in too many points, I want to combine into three): 1) Decentralised organisation structure to create an entrepreneurial environment (even after companies have grown big) with lots of experimentation, no extensive detailed business plan and paranoia about productivity. 2) Employee culture: great incentive system that attracts the high-quality (not qualification) people, results in owner mindset and and has generally very low employee turn-over. Vision and purposes of the company need to be communicated well so that employees will "own" this vision. Employee first vs shareholder first. Treat employee well so that they will, in turn, treat customers well. 3) Strong founder who inspires and leads by example, who is frugal and imposes frugality across the firm, and has large founder ownership that results in long-term focus. None of these CEOs have any significant industry experience before. Firstly, experience is over-rated. Secondly, with no experience, these CEOs are not weighed down by the industry dogma. The main criticism of the book (and hence 1 star deducted) is that I am not sure if the author has captured all the ingredients of the featured businesses. He may have come up with a common model for these companies and only uses data/evidence to support his model. For example, the author talked about 4 key success factors for Southwest Airlines (LUV): 2 of which are easily copyable and have been copied (single aircraft portfolio and fast turn around time). But the entire chapter on Southwest did not mentioned one of the most outstanding feature: the well-know POS (Positively Outrageous Service). Employees in LUV are encouraged to provide POS at the expenses of the companies. Their stories of POS are regularly publicised in LUV internal magazines, re-enforcing this attitude among employees. I think this POS is way harder to copy than the previous two factors. This POS is well-covered in Nuts!: Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Freiberg, Kevin. Nuts was a source for the chapter in "Intelligent Fanatics Project" but somehow the author did not find it important. Lots of very successful businesses are laser-focused on customer service: Amazon, Zappos, JD.com, Home Depot ... etc. That said, the "Intelligent Fanatics Project" is a good start to start learning about these businesses with high-functioning cultures. I've ordered three of the books that "Intelligent Fanatics Project" used as sources for their case studies for further reading: 1) Sol Price Retail Revolutionary & Social Innovator by Price, Robert E (son of Sol Price); 2) From Lucky to Smart: Leadership Lessons from QuikTrip by Chester Cadieux; and 3) Les Schwab Pride in Performance: Keep It Going. These books are either written by the founders themselves or son of founder.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Initially I was REALLY skeptical and my brain was screaming "Survivor bias! Survivor bias!" The tone of the authors just seemed to be too worshipful or these supposed "intelligent fanatics", attributing to them almost magical powers of motivating employees, growing revenues and generating profits. But what made the book somewhat interesting was the detailed history of each of the "fanatics", most of whom I really didn't know that much about before. A common theme that run through the stories is Initially I was REALLY skeptical and my brain was screaming "Survivor bias! Survivor bias!" The tone of the authors just seemed to be too worshipful or these supposed "intelligent fanatics", attributing to them almost magical powers of motivating employees, growing revenues and generating profits. But what made the book somewhat interesting was the detailed history of each of the "fanatics", most of whom I really didn't know that much about before. A common theme that run through the stories is that most of them put a particular focus on designing incentive systems and creating a sense of ownership among employees. Of course my original skepticism is still justified: it's hard to know how seriously to take these observations and how to interpret them. (1) Survivor bias is still an issue. There is a great danger that the authors just looked at the data and cherry picked the companies that fit their theory. How many people who looked like intelligent fanatics after one year eventually went bankrupt? We don't know (2) Many of these fanatics were able to get in on the beginning of a new product or business model (e.g. National Cash Register with business computing, Marks and Spencer with department stores, Kwik Trip with 24 hr convenience stores, South West with budget airlines etc). This probably fueled their rapid growth just as much as any brilliant feats of management. Still, I suppose the hope is that having seen all these successful examples, one will be better able to recognize the next great investing thing before everyone else. I think the odds remain against it, but probably having these templates in mind might slightly improve your chances.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sy. C

    Nice quick read. Particularly enjoyed the coverage of John Patterson, since it's hard to find a biography of NCR anymore. Retailing, airlines, and steel (!) are notoriously difficult industries, and Sol Price, Herb Kelleher and Ken Iverson were great examples. It should give pause that while almost all these leaders were notorious cost fanatics, they were never "pound foolish" on innovation, customer service, product quality, or paying above-market for talent (mostly through bonuses/profit shari Nice quick read. Particularly enjoyed the coverage of John Patterson, since it's hard to find a biography of NCR anymore. Retailing, airlines, and steel (!) are notoriously difficult industries, and Sol Price, Herb Kelleher and Ken Iverson were great examples. It should give pause that while almost all these leaders were notorious cost fanatics, they were never "pound foolish" on innovation, customer service, product quality, or paying above-market for talent (mostly through bonuses/profit sharing with below-market base salaries). How could one identify such companies today? - Employees are heavily invested in the company mission. There is a distinctive culture with fun, love, humor, and creativity; but also competitiveness, desire for market leadership, and productive paranoia. Employees enjoy significant autonomy, openly share ideas and criticism (culture of teaching / learning), and have a sense of shared fate with the long-term financial success of the company (e.g. through ownership). The culture encourages constant testing of ideas to stay ahead of the curve - The organization is the opposite of "bureaucracy" and is lean, efficient, and fast-moving - Competitors and customers recognize the company's best-in-class service and products and adaptability to their evolving needs - Management (1) does not subscribe to industry dogma and is willing to experiment and challenge established ways of doing or thinking about things (2) is closely in touch with the marketplace, employee feedback and ideas, customers, and competitors (3) is productively paranoid, constantly preparing for financial or competitive disruptions - Long-term focus, as shown by investments that may require a few years to fruition and have a short-term negative impact on performance - Simplicity, focus and fanatical self-improvement within that focus - Ability to attract high-quality talent through culture, sense of purpose, and incentives - Leaders have demonstrated ability to overcome difficult challenges, rapidly recover and learn from mistakes, and fight protracted battles (e.g. legal or with competitors)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Atman

    This book is a collection of case studies studying some of the most successful businessmen of different eras across industries. The case studies illustrate how these intelligent fanatics built and took their businesses to unimaginable heights in their lifetimes. Each case study teaches you something different. For example, John Patterson of National Cash Register indulged in questionable business practices to knock out his competitors (the competitors were also using similar tactics though). But This book is a collection of case studies studying some of the most successful businessmen of different eras across industries. The case studies illustrate how these intelligent fanatics built and took their businesses to unimaginable heights in their lifetimes. Each case study teaches you something different. For example, John Patterson of National Cash Register indulged in questionable business practices to knock out his competitors (the competitors were also using similar tactics though). But the larger aim of his tactics was to send a message to his competitors that he will not back down no matter what the situation, thus acting as a deterrent to other competitors. The writing is crisp and the case studies follow a consistent writing format. This is great for maintaining consistency for the reader, but tends to make the book boring if you're reading all the case studies at one stretch. The book is divided in 2 parts - The case studies, and the common traits of Intelligent Fanatics. You can space out the case studies and read them at different times, while the second part can be read through in one sitting. Overall, this is the kind of book that I love to gobble up. It gives real examples of people from normal or adverse backgrounds who struggled and fought their way up to build successful businesses. It also lists down some important principles that these founders followed that helped them get this far. If you are interested in ever running your own business, then this book is for you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Romet Aidla

    Nice easy short read. Book gives overview of 8 Intelligent Fanatics, business leaders that most people probably haven't heard of like Herb Kelleher & Southwest Airlines; F. Kenneth Iverson & Nucor (steel); Sol Price & Price Club. There is no world famous names and companies like Sam Walton (Walmart) or Phil Knight (Nike), which is good thing as the content is more unique. Intelligent Fanatics run their companies as decentralised and flat organisations. Employees are given autonomy and incentives Nice easy short read. Book gives overview of 8 Intelligent Fanatics, business leaders that most people probably haven't heard of like Herb Kelleher & Southwest Airlines; F. Kenneth Iverson & Nucor (steel); Sol Price & Price Club. There is no world famous names and companies like Sam Walton (Walmart) or Phil Knight (Nike), which is good thing as the content is more unique. Intelligent Fanatics run their companies as decentralised and flat organisations. Employees are given autonomy and incentives so they would be self-motivated. Experimenting and failing is okey. A lot of effort is spent creating meritocratic transparent culture, similarly as described in Ray Dalio "Principles". Focus is on long term goals, small market is dominated before attacking big market. These lean principles are usually associated with startup culture, so it is interesting that already older companies were using these techniques as the book starts from 19th century with John H. Patterson and National Cash Register. What is missing from the book is how to find companies leaded by Intelligent Fanatics, so this makes information in the book less valuable. Only easy way seems to be to join authors MicroCapClub.com, which is paid service (there is free option, but only small percentage are given this). It is usable when looking into some company to invest in and evaluating management and company culture.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Löplip

    Mycket välskriven bok av de två författarna. Man märker hur boken har fått inspiration av The Outsiders, där båda lagt upp hela boken på att studera duktiga företagsledare, analysera vad som varit de gemensamma faktorerna och sedan dragit slutsatser utifrån detta. Den väsentliga skillnaden är var de la fokus i analysen. I The Outsiders var fokuset mer övergripande på företaget och företagsledaren i helhet. Hur VD:arna tänkte kring återköp, utdelningar och främst kapitalallokering i största allmän Mycket välskriven bok av de två författarna. Man märker hur boken har fått inspiration av The Outsiders, där båda lagt upp hela boken på att studera duktiga företagsledare, analysera vad som varit de gemensamma faktorerna och sedan dragit slutsatser utifrån detta. Den väsentliga skillnaden är var de la fokus i analysen. I The Outsiders var fokuset mer övergripande på företaget och företagsledaren i helhet. Hur VD:arna tänkte kring återköp, utdelningar och främst kapitalallokering i största allmänhet. I Intelligent Fanatics låg vikten snarare på hur VD:arna ledde företagen på ett personligt och "inside the business"-plan. Författarna var otroligt duktiga på att förklara hur viktigt det rätta incitamentet för de anställde är för att företaget ska utvecklas. Citatet "Show me the incentive and I will show you the outcome" och "I think I’ve been in the top 5% of my age cohort all my life in understanding the power of incentives, and all my life I’ve underestimated it. And never a year passes but I get some surprise that pushes my limit a little farther.", beskriver exakt vad hela boken handlar om. Som utomstående investerare kan det vara väldigt svårt att få grepp om VD:ns trovärdighet och företagskulturen, men leta efter incitament och vilka långsiktiga beslut som ledningen har tagit bakåt i tiden. Konkurrenter kan kopiera affärsmodellen, men inte kulturen. Det är därför företag kan blomstra i svåra industrier (Southwest Airlines praktexempel).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jon Angell

    This was a very readable book that told many useful stories. I would suggest this book primarily to small business owners and individual investors. The book is both motivating and instructional on key elements that business powerhouses seem to have in common. Even though several of the business stories mentioned in the book to illustrate many of the authors findings are likely well known to business school graduates I hadn't ever been exposed to them before. I particularly enjoyed the story of J This was a very readable book that told many useful stories. I would suggest this book primarily to small business owners and individual investors. The book is both motivating and instructional on key elements that business powerhouses seem to have in common. Even though several of the business stories mentioned in the book to illustrate many of the authors findings are likely well known to business school graduates I hadn't ever been exposed to them before. I particularly enjoyed the story of John H Patterson and National Cash Register, the story of Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines and the story of convenience stores (Quik Trip as well as others) as seen through the vision of Chester Cadieux. I'm very happy to hold this book in my personal library and hope that Mr. Iddings and Mr. Cassel of the MicroCapClub follow up with similar offerings....

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ss

    Book gives a brief overiew of Intelligent fanatics. A little bland and would give a 3.5. 1. John Patterson- National Cash Register 2. Simon Marks- Marks & Spencers 3.Sol Price- Pricemart which merged with Costco 4. Les Schwab -Schwab Tyres 5. Herb Keller- SW Airlines 6. Chester Cadieux - Quick Trip Convenience Stores 7. Kenneth Iverson- Nucor 8. Jorje Paulo Lemman, Carlos Alberto Sicupira, Marcel Hermann Telles - 3G capital

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Kuznetsov

    This is a fascinating exploration of mission-driven people. Loved the chapter on Les Schwab. Still have my doubts about some of the conclusions and on how easy it is to know in advance how to distinguish "intelligent fanatics" from a crowd of random dart-throwing apes. I would have loved to have more examples about the capital allocation skills as opposed to sheer thriftiness and operational excellence... This is a fascinating exploration of mission-driven people. Loved the chapter on Les Schwab. Still have my doubts about some of the conclusions and on how easy it is to know in advance how to distinguish "intelligent fanatics" from a crowd of random dart-throwing apes. I would have loved to have more examples about the capital allocation skills as opposed to sheer thriftiness and operational excellence...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Saravan Prabu

    It was an amazing compilation by IF community. Easy to read as it was written in a simple language. I have always read competitive advantage can't be copied. This book highlighted how those competitive advantage, culture were built. The most important point was it stressed a lot on the background, failures, painful moments IF had undergone to build century old organisation. It was an amazing compilation by IF community. Easy to read as it was written in a simple language. I have always read competitive advantage can't be copied. This book highlighted how those competitive advantage, culture were built. The most important point was it stressed a lot on the background, failures, painful moments IF had undergone to build century old organisation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sebastien Charland

    A good book about intelligent fanatics, going deeper in the term coined by Charlie Munger. The writing is easy to read and not convoluted despite the numerous industries and eras through which the displayed characters evolved. I especially enjoyed the part about 3G partners and the recap at the end of the book. Looking forward to reading their second edition.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yashesh Ajmera

    Amazing account of some of the best leaders of the past century Author really has done his research and takes into account some of the best business and its leaders and analyzes what ticked for them and how can we learn from all of it

  13. 4 out of 5

    Heikki Keskiväli

    A lot of potential but many of the stories lacked proper ”hooks” to attract attention, either narratives fell shirt or it was the way they were written. Absolutely the best chapter was about Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Tollesson

    Great book with examples of how important the CEO is for a company and how to spot these when investing.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Turgut

    People and incentives.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

    Truly useful information in the form of 12 short prolixes of the lost brilliant minds in biz

  17. 5 out of 5

    VJ

    Good summary book about business leaders who invested in themselves, their employees and grew their company.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Harshit

    Brilliant Analysis. Interesting Case Studies.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Senthil

    Assessing the quality of management in a company while investing in the company's stock is a very tough task as there are no well defined metrics. With case studies of some great companies the authors have done a great job by giving a good perspective on what to look for in a company's management. Assessing the quality of management in a company while investing in the company's stock is a very tough task as there are no well defined metrics. With case studies of some great companies the authors have done a great job by giving a good perspective on what to look for in a company's management.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amir

    I have received the “Intelligent Fanatics” book from Sean Iddings (Author of the book) few weeks ago. Most investment books I read focus on the important aspects of understanding a business, its industry and the financials behind it. All of these are very important aspects in understanding companies but is that enough in order to evaluate a business? Aren’t we missing something? I think we are missing the people behind the business. I find it intriguing and quite brilliant that in this book, the I have received the “Intelligent Fanatics” book from Sean Iddings (Author of the book) few weeks ago. Most investment books I read focus on the important aspects of understanding a business, its industry and the financials behind it. All of these are very important aspects in understanding companies but is that enough in order to evaluate a business? Aren’t we missing something? I think we are missing the people behind the business. I find it intriguing and quite brilliant that in this book, the focus is on the leaders of a business. The leaders of the business aka the “Intelligent Fanatics” are highlighted as a competitive advantage of a company. Even more so, the book research and explains a common thread of people behavior shared by all leasers. From the ones whom century ago built the cash register business all the way to the few people who from their humble beginnings became the rules of the beer market. I like that the book is telling the story of several companies in unrelated industries, some are known, some are less known, but the leaders traits and actions surprisingly similar. The idea of taking care of the people who then take care of the business is not a new one. However, it also seems to be the one that is so hard for most companies to follow. Identifying the intelligent fanatics who not only understand the business but also understand how people drive success is a rare find. I found some of these leaders while reading this book. If you are interested about discovering how the leaders are the ones who make the difference and how understanding all of it may make you a better investor, you should check out the “Intelligent Fanatics” book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gaurav Singh Kopite

    An absolute delight of a book

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jitendra Chawla

    The book tells us the stories of some of the "Intelligent Fanatics" who built everlasting businesses. The authors tell us about their leadership styles and what they do differently. The book is replete with lessons from and anecdotes about legends like Sol Price (founder of FedMart, Price Club which ultimately merged into Costco and PriceSmart), John H Patterson (NCR) and Herb Kelleher (Sothwest Airlines) who built great businesses. The book is a must read for entrepreneurs as they can learn wha The book tells us the stories of some of the "Intelligent Fanatics" who built everlasting businesses. The authors tell us about their leadership styles and what they do differently. The book is replete with lessons from and anecdotes about legends like Sol Price (founder of FedMart, Price Club which ultimately merged into Costco and PriceSmart), John H Patterson (NCR) and Herb Kelleher (Sothwest Airlines) who built great businesses. The book is a must read for entrepreneurs as they can learn what it takes to build great businesses and also for investors as it will help them in identifying great businesses early by identifying leaders who have the traits and makings of Intelligent Fanatics.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anandh Sundar

    This was a really fantastic book by Ian Cassel, and explaining how management innovation is possible in boring businesses like steel, brewing, retail, tyres retail and investment banking. He outlines the power of incentives, integrity, focus, vision and above all-execution, while devising a framework for someone to spot the next intelligent fanatic. The book is good as it provides investment returns and alternate history, but it would have done better in showcasing those people who fit the crite This was a really fantastic book by Ian Cassel, and explaining how management innovation is possible in boring businesses like steel, brewing, retail, tyres retail and investment banking. He outlines the power of incentives, integrity, focus, vision and above all-execution, while devising a framework for someone to spot the next intelligent fanatic. The book is good as it provides investment returns and alternate history, but it would have done better in showcasing those people who fit the criteria but crashed and collapsed. After all, these false positives also hit investment returns

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason Orthman

    Easy to read with some very useful concepts. Highlights the importance of identifying an 'intelligent fanatic' in assessing management teams and stocks. Some useful case studies, particularly on John Patterson from the National Cash Register. Some useful references to Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway, and his thinking on the topic. Easy to read with some very useful concepts. Highlights the importance of identifying an 'intelligent fanatic' in assessing management teams and stocks. Some useful case studies, particularly on John Patterson from the National Cash Register. Some useful references to Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway, and his thinking on the topic.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael Lee

    Great analyses of great leaders This book does a great job of distilling some of the core attributes that define great leaders. I enjoyed each case study greatly. Highly recommended business and investment reading.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Good read The book contains a good summary of how the leaders in business achieved superior economic returns through instilling a culture of success and aligned incentives throughout the organisations they created.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joel Mitchall

    Some good stories, though a little too anecdotal for my taste.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Swati Sharma

  29. 4 out of 5

    Piyush Goyal

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anirudh Mahanot

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