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Verne Harnish

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For more than 25 years, Verne Harnish has been helping entrepreneurs develop themselves and their businesses. Harnish entered Wichita State University in 1977, leaving ten years later with both a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA. After graduation, he founded the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, now known simply as the Entrepreneur’s Organization. He’s been a member of the international entrepreneurship organization’s DC branch since founding it in 1987. For the past fifteen years, he’s chaired the organization’s “Birthing of Giants” CEO education program, as well as their “Advanced Business” program for entrepreneurs over 40, both held at MIT. He is also a founder of a second international entrepreneurship organization for college students, the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs.

In 1996, Harnish founded Gazelle’s Inc., a global executive education and coaching company. As CEO, Harnish provides companies with strategic tools, with a focus on “gazelles,” small entrepreneurial firms that transition into rapid growth companies. Gazelle’s Inc. now helps companies scale-up across six continents through an international network of over 150 coaching partners. Harnish himself is an investor in several scale-ups. In addition, he spreads his expertise through involvement in strategic planning events around the world, serving as current or former chair for events including Malaysia’s “Taipan: Making of Asian Giants” executive program, the Growth Summit in Australia, and Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Program. He also chairs Fortune Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits, and serves as chairman of the board of The Riordan Clinic and Geoversity.

A prolific writer, Harnish is the author of several books. His first book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm, is widely considered a must-read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship. Based on the leadership and management styles of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, the 2002 book offers fast-growing companies rules to guide their rapid development. In 2014, he revisited the Rockefeller Habits in Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… and Why the Rest Don’t. He is also the co-author of 2012’s The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time, for which he collaborated with the editors of Fortune.

In addition to his books, Harnish writes the syndicated “Growth Guy” column, and is a regular columnist for Fortune Magazine. He is a frequent speaker, sharing his entrepreneurial wisdom and strategic planning know-how at conferences and events around the world. He currently resides in Barcelona, Spain, with his wife and four children. A card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, he enjoys magic, piano and tennis.

Companies and Investments

Gazelles, Inc. (Founder, CEO), Entrepreneurs’ Organization (Founder), Entrepreneurs’’ Organization DC (Member), Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ (Founder), The Riordan Clinic (Chairman), Geoversity (Chairman), International Brotherhood of Magicians (Member)

Lessons Learned

Inspired by Mark Zuckerberg, the young entrepreneurs I meet often think the best way to succeed is to drop out of college and launch their startups immediately. They've got no time to waste.

But if you really want to build a company that changes the world, I recommend a contrarian approach: Get a job at a well-known company for a year or two, like another famous college dropout, Steve Jobs. Before Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976, he worked for Atari, the video game maker that invented Pong. The two years he spent there influenced everything from the components he later used in Apple's computers to the culture at Apple, where work was about having fun.

This advice might sound like blasphemy from the founder of the Young Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO today). However, among the entrepreneurs we advise at my firm Gazelles and that I've studied for my recent book Scaling Up, companies scale-up further, faster if they are launched with intact teams, spun-out from larger companies. This is because one of the biggest obstacles to growth is not knowing how to establish the scalable infrastructure for building a substantial-sized company. The best way to learn how to scale is to spend some time working for a behemoth organization. Giant firms may have large bloated bureaucracies, but those in the FORTUNE 500 still generate 2.5 times the revenue per employee than many small to midsize firms. (Harnish on gaining experience and learning from a larger company before jumping into launching a startup, in an article for The Huffington Post)

If you want the company to grow by a factor of 10, you need 10 times the leadership skills among your key people. They’ll need to excel at predicting where the market is heading, communicating the company’s values, goals, and priorities—and delegating successfully to their teams. Give them time away from the fray to attend the conferences, classes, and seminars they need to make a bigger contribution—so you don’t have to pay for their on-the-job mistakes. (Harnish on fostering your employees’ development to support your company’s growth, in an article in Fortune)

In the end, what matters most in life are the depth of your relationships with friends and family; and the sheer number of people you’ve helped along the way. These represent true measures of wealth. Financial wealth, then, is seen as a resource for fostering your relationships. (Harnish on priorities, and financial wealth as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, in Scaling Up)

Inspiring Quotes

Verne Harnish's Quotes

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “I’m always amazed how overnight successes take a helluva long time.

Verne Harnish

We have the answers, all the answers; it’s the question we do not know.

Verne Harnish

If more than one person is accountable, then no one is accountable.

Verne Harnish

Goals without routines are wishes; routines without goals are aimless. The most successful business leaders have a clear vision and the disciplines (routines) to make it a reality.

Verne Harnish

There are no straight lines in nature or business.

Verne Harnish

Influential Books

Dan Harris - 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story

John Mullins - The Customer-Funded Business: Start, Finance, or Grow Your Company with Your Customers' Cash

Liz Wiseman - Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work

Steve J. Martin - The small BIG: small changes that spark big influence

Eliyahu M. Goldratt - The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement


John D. Rockefeller