Review: Grow or Die!

Double-Digit Growth: How Great Companies Achieve It— No Matter What

By Michael Treacy

Portfolio, September 2003

240 pages, $27.95

“Do or do not. There is no try.”
— 900-year-old Jedi master Yoda, in The Empire Strikes Back

Former MIT Professor Michael Treacy (coauthor of The Discipline of Market Leaders) doesn’t cite Yoda here, but he definitely shares the Jedi’s philosophy when it comes to a corporation’s approach to increasing revenues. You either do it, or you fail. And he cites example after example of companies—many of them in high tech—that would receive an “F” when it comes to their ability to grow. Listen:
“Which has grown faster since 1997, Intel or inflation? If you picked Intel, you lose.”

“In 2000, Gateway Computer declared in its annual report that pursuing growth would be ‘kind of silly that year.’ Could Gateway do anything sillier? Yes. The company skipped growth in 2001 and 2002 as well, so its revenues shrank for all three years.”

“IBM’s much-touted CEO, Lou Gerstner, grew the company’s business service revenues at double-digit rates. True or false? False. During his entire ten-year reign, mighty IBM’s overall growth averaged 2.9 percent a year, barely enough to stay ahead of inflation.”

Why do managers in high tech and other companies have so much trouble growing? Treacy offers a simple explanation: They have not been trained to grow. They know how to cut costs. But grow? They aren’t sure how to accomplish that. To remedy that, Treacy lays out five strategies that managers can follow to increase revenues.

  • If you want to grow, don’t shrink. Concentrate on retaining the customers you already have. Every one you lose means one you have to gain just to stay even.

  • Show up where growth is going to happen. The key here is to parse market data in every conceivable way to spot the next big trend, be it sales or demographic.

  • Invade adjacent markets. If you are selling routers, should you also provide cable? Software? Computers?

  • Come up with a new line of business ideally related to what you already do best.

  • Take business from your competitors. To his credit, Treacy acknowledges this is your most difficult option.

    The strategies are helpful. And Treacy even provides a framework for thinking about them (make growth a priority; set stretch goals; rigorously measure progress; recruit and promote people who will make growth a priority). Unfortunately, his suggestions for how to implement his growth imperative are vague. In order to retain business, for example, Treacy suggests—as just about everyone else has—that you need to exceed your customers’ expectations and “bond” with them. Swell.

    And even when he gives detailed descriptions of a company that has managed to grow successfully—as he does in devoting several pages to Dell Computer (now Dell Inc.)—readers will be left wondering how they can implement some of the approaches that have made Dell grows so quickly.

    Still, the book does successfully turn the spotlight on a key problem: the need to grow, especially during a time when the economy as a whole really hasn’t. And the relentless message of “increase revenues or else” is welcome. Yoda would be proud.

    Reviewed by Paul B. Brown, the author of 14 business books, including The Map of Innovation: How to Create Something Out of Nothing (written with Kevin O’Connor), published by Crown Business. Please send comments on this review to

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