The Customer Confidential Podcast

Adopting the “Insurgent Mission”—Lessons from Great Founder-led Firms

James Allen, head of Bain's Strategy practice, discusses how companies can preserve what he calls the Founder’s Mentality while they grow into some of the largest firms in the world.


Adopting the “Insurgent Mission”—Lessons from Great Founder-led Firms

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Founder-led companies show up disproportionately in the ranks of loyalty leaders around the world. It’s an anomaly that has fascinated me for over a decade. Amazon, Apple, Google, Enterprise, Charles Schwab and Starbucks have all become loyalty leaders under the stewardship of their founder. Some of them have done it twice, bringing back the founder when a later generation of management led the company away from its customer-centric roots.

Why are so many of the global loyalty leaders run by their founders or their founders’ family members? What do they do that increases their ability to achieve and sustain customer loyalty? What’s the secret?

James Allen, head of Bain & Company’s Strategy practice, has studied successful founder-led companies in great detail. He’s the coauthor of several seminal books on corporate strategy, including Profit From the Core: A Return to Growth in Turbulent Times and Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change. His latest work has been focused on discerning how companies can preserve what he calls the Founder’s Mentality while they grow into some of the largest firms in the world.

The Founder’s Mentality starts with what Jimmy calls an “insurgent mission,” a commitment to upend the status quo. “When a great company starts, it is at war against the industry in which it competes on behalf of either underserved customers or new customers that nobody is serving correctly,” he says. Founders who are passionate about customers typically lead these insurgencies and focus their companies’ resources on creating memorable and differentiated experiences for them.

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According to Jimmy, companies with a Founder’s Mentality are obsessed not only with the customer experience but also with the frontline employee experience. Founders constantly translate the strategic and organizational discussions they have in the boardroom into action items for the front line—cashiers, call center reps, branch managers and so on. They empathize deeply with those employees, and they spend real time with them, learning about their experiences and about how customers are responding to the company’s offerings.

Leadership teams at founder-led companies also have a relentless curiosity about the customer experience and go beyond the typical “average customer” analysis. Instead, they move as close as possible to single customers, gathering up anecdotes like prizes. For example, a number of CEOs with whom Jimmy works use digital tools to listen to and record call center conversations with customers. Those recordings, which capture the customers’ thoughts and reactions in their own words, then become the starting points for meetings. Rather than PowerPoint slides full of averages and percentages, these teams bring customers to life with real stories and examples. Sure, they back up the stories with analysis, but they develop a deep and visceral feel for how customers experience the company.

Is your leadership team obsessed with the customer experience? Are you obsessed with the customer experience?

To hear more about Jimmy’s work and how the Founder’s Mentality pervades successful companies—even very large public companies—you can listen to the latest NPS® podcast on iTunes or through the player above. To browse more NPS podcasts, click here.

 Net Promoter®, Net Promoter System®, Net Promoter Score® and NPS® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.


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