Collins and Hansen (2011)

Collins, James and Morten Hansen.  Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All.  HarperBusiness, 2011.

From my review of the book in the journal Quantitative Finance: 

Viewed from a quantitative perspective, the management literature must either be of considerable importance, or else preposterous.  If well founded, it represents an inventory of difficult-to-quantify but value-relevant characteristics of firms.  But if it is just a collection of anecdotes, as some believe, the question of its popularity may be safely left to psychiatrists.  

A few adventurous analysts have explored the connections between the two fields.  Clayman (1987, 1994) finds little reason to invest in companies featured in the bestseller In Search of Excellence (1982), which demonstrates that “un-excellent” companies had better stock market returns. Edmans (2011), however, finds useful intangible information for investors in the annual ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list published in Fortune magazine, and argues that the equity market has been slow to recognize and incorporate it...  

Niendorf and Beck (2008) and Resnick and Smunt (2008) both accuse Collins and his team of data mining in the Good to Great project.  With a nearly identical study design, Great by Choice is open to the same charge.  Collins’ rejoinder is that he is not engaged in conventional statistical inference – he has rounded up all of the examples of the species he wishes to study – however rare they may be - and generalizes from there.  

Whether this is a sin depends to a large degree on first assumptions about the sources of differential stock market performance.  If one adopts the view that the S&P 500 of 1972 - the starting point of the Great by Choice dataset - is best viewed as a Pachinko game, and that the winners achieved their success mainly by good fortune, then Great by Choice is wrong from the first sentence.  The authors of Great by Choice reject this premise out of hand, however... [saying] "the whole point is to become exceptional." (p. 171)

Neither side is likely to concede defeat in the near future..  


Link to book:

Link to review: