Jim Collins biography, quotes and books

Jim Collins Biography - Toolshero

Jim Collins (James C. Collins; January 25, 1958) is a well-known business consultant, inspirational management speaker, and lecturer. Jim Collins particularly lecturers on company sustainability and growth. Collins authored, and co-authored various long-lasting international bestsellers such as ‘Built to Last’, a book that examines the reasons of the extraordinary success of the today’s largest companies, and ‘Good to Great’, a book that outlines a model for turning a good average or mediocre company into a great one.

Jim Collins biography

Jim Collins is named after his grandfather, who unfortunately died in an airplane crash. Both his father and grandfather were rock-climbers, and Jim followed their footstep by becoming a well-skilled rock-climber before his 20s.

According to Jim Collins, he believed that he was not the best but would he be qualified for the American trials if he participated.

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On his own website, Collins is desribed as ‘a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors’.

Youth and academic life of Jim Collins

Jim Collins spent his childhood in San Francisco, and he was one of the few white students in his elementary school. He stated that he had to adapt to other people’s culture for approximately ten years. He later moved to Boulder with his mother when his parents divorced, which was the time he wanted to become independent.

In 1976, he decided to study Mathematical Sciences at Stanford University. During his study, he was still actively rock-climbing and stated: “My real education was at Yosemite”. Jim Collins could not imagine spending his life with the people who he was surrounded by in the computer center at school.

This idea was the major reason why he also started an MBA course at Stanford University under the direction of Professor Porras. According to Professor Porras, Jim Collins’ rock-climbing background is unique, and it demonstrates how he dares to take risks and tough decisions. Jim is furthermore known to be a talkative and energetic person. He has always been a curious person, which keeps him driven.

Jim Collins married Joanne Ernst, a triathlete who won the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon in 1985. She is also known for her participation in a Nike advertisement campaign which caused a boost in Nike’s female consumer base in that time. They are married for more than twenty years, and the couple shares 50-50 ownership.

Honorary doctoral degrees

Jim received honorary doctoral degrees from The University of Colorado and the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.

After his graduation, Jim Collins started to work as a consultant at McKinsey & Company and continued his career by working as a product manager for Hewlett-Packard. Unfortunately, the business life did not suit him, and consequently, he left the company to support his wife in her triathlon career.

In 1989, he began his research and teaching career on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Jim Collins taught a course on entrepreneurship where he identified himself as being a remarkable teacher. He was remarkable for his innovative classes, and he was able to carefully listen to people and made sure not to waste the students’ or his own time.

Due to his engagement and contributions, he was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award, an award intended to recognize individual faculty for a sustained performance of excellence in teaching, in 1992.

Jim Collins soon continued his passion by founding a management laboratory in Colorado in 1995. He started conducting research and engaged in Socratic dialogue, an open discussion that is used to identify the value and truth of individuals’ opinion by question driven instructions, with CEO’s and senior leadership teams.

Books Good to Great and Built to Last, and it’s effect

In this period, he had a team of 21 assistants to deliver the work that eventually led to the introduction of ‘Built to Last’, and ‘Good to Great’. He refused to get a Ph.D because he taught it would change his thinking. Instead, Collins followed Professor Porras’ advice to start a consulting career.

Moreover, the book ‘Good to Great’ describes the Hedgehog Concept, the Culture of Discipline and Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) ‘s. Both theories have become hugely popular around practical management literature.

Another famous theory of him, which he co-developed with Morten T. Hansen, is the SMaC Recipe.

He worked, next to his research, with multiple corporations such as CNN International, and organizations like Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Girl Scouts of the USA, the Leadership Network of Churches, and the United States Marine Corps.

On the other hand, he knew that working in the consulting industry would substantially limit the ability to keep the open mind necessary to ask and answer genuine questions. As a result, he continued his research initiatives and he currently provides lectures in social sectors such as education, healthcare, governments, and non-profit organizations.

In his spare time, Collins still enjoys rock climbing which he does at this moment for more than forty years. He already climbed the north face of the Half Dome and the south face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.

Jim Collins’ work has been featured in Fortune, The Economist, Business Week, USA Today, Industry Week, Inc., Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company. He still conducts research projects, consults, and teaches with executives from private, public, and social industries to identify insights to add to his lectures, books, and articles.

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Famous quotes

  1. “Companies that change best over time know first and foremost what should not change.”
  2. “Just because a company falls doesn’t invalidate what we can learn by studying that company when it was at its historical best.”
  3. “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”
  4. “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
  5. “Creativity dies in an undisciplined environment.”
  6. “By definition, it is not possible to everyone to be above the average.”
  7. “A culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness.”
  8. “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.”
  9. “while you can buy your way to growth, you absolutely cannot buy your way to greatness.”
  10. “Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one.”
  11. “The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline.”
  12. “A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.”
  13. “Bad decisions made with good intentions, are still bad decisions.”

Publications and books by Jim Collins et al.

  • 2017. Beyond entrepreneurship. Random House.
  • 2013. Uncommon Cultures: Popular culture and post-modernism. Routledge.
  • 2013. The use values of narrativity in digital cultures. New Literary History, 44(4), 639-660.
  • 2013. Reading, in a digital archive of one’s own. PMLA, 128(1), 207-212.
  • 2012. S. Patent No. 8,165,945. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • 2012. Film theory goes to the movies: Cultural analysis of contemporary film. Routledge.
  • 2011. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck-Why some thrive despite them all. Random House.
  • 2010. Leadership lessons from west point(Vol. 105). John Wiley and Sons.
  • 2010. Bring on the Books for Everybody. How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture.
  • 2009. How the mighty fall: And why some companies never give in. Random House.
  • 2009. Core values: Align your actions with them. Leadership excellence, 5.
  • 2007. Level 5 leadership. he Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership, 2, 27-50.
  • 2006. Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Managing Innovation and Change, 234.
  • 2006. Aligning with Visions and Values: Bring values to life with reinforcement. Leadership Excellence, 23(4), 6.
  • 2005. Why business thinking is not the answer: good to great and the social sector: A monograph to accompany good to great. Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. Collins, Boulder [12 (13)].
  • 2005. Jim Collins on tough calls.
  • 2005. Good to great and the social sector: Why business thinking is not the answer [Monograph to accompany Good to Great]. Boulder, CO: Jim Collins.
  • 2005. Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. Random House.
  • 2004. Spotlight: The characteristics of level 5 leadership. Management Decision, 42(5/6), 709-716.
  • 2003. The 10 greatest CEOs of all time. July, 21, 55-68.
  • 2002. High-pop: an introduction. High-Pop: Making culture into popular entertainment, 1-31.
  • 2001. Good to great: Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t. Random House.
  • 2001. The misguided mix-up of celebrity and leadership. In Conference Board.
  • 2000. Television and postmodernism. Media Studies: A Reader, 380-384.
  • 2000. Built to flip. Fast Company, 32(32), 1-5.
  • 2000. Aligning action and values. In The Forum, June.
  • 1999. Turning goals into results: The power of catalytic mechanisms. Harvard business review, 77, 70-84.
  • 1998. No (Popular) Place Like Home? High-Pop: Making Culture into Popular Entertainment.
  • 1996. Laboratory diagnosis of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus infection. Journal of Swine Health and Production, 4(1), 33-35.
  • 1996. Aligning action and values. Leader to leader, 1996(1), 19-24.
  • 1995. Architectures of excess: Cultural life in the information age. Psychology Press.
  • 1993. Genericity in the nineties: Eclectic irony and the new sincerity. Film theory goes to the movies, 242-63.
  • 1989. Watching ourselves watch television, or who’s your agent?. Cultural Studies, 3(3), 261-281.
  • 1981. Toward defining a matrix of the musical comedy: The place of the spectator within the textual mechanisms. Genre: The Musical, 134-146.

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Original publication date: 04/12/2018 | Last update: 12/13/2023

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Alexander Zeeman
Article by:

Alexander Zeeman

Alexander Zeeman is Content Manager at ToolsHero where he focuses on Content production, Content management and marketing. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business school. Currently, in his study, working on the development of various management competencies and improving operational business processes.


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