It has been argued that some of today's most highly rated businesses are held in greater esteem than they deserve. The managements of these companies, it is said, are content to do no more than squeeze as much as possible out of existing operations. Consider, by contrast, those other businesses which consciously encourage risk-taking and creativity - while still keeping a tight rein on operational and financial controls. These are the ones, so the argument goes, that will always be at the head of the field. Thus a business such as Rentokil, whose success is generally attributed to tight controls and rigorous attention to margins, will never be a match for one like Reuters, say, whose success derives from its ability to harness the creative talents of its people. The biggest prizes will be reserved for those who, having set themselves visionary goals, achieve growth without removing their gaze from that further horizon.
Such comparisons are misleading because these are two very different types of company. The strength of a business like Rentokil lies essentially in the clarity of its financial objectives, which have been transmitted throughout the organisation; only a fool would endanger this culture by overlaying it with talk of visionary goals. Companies which consistently prove their ability to build on their individual strengths - whatever these may be - rarely need to justify their star status.