Uncontainable: A book review by Bob Morris

UncontainableUncontainable: How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives
Kip Tindell with Paul Keegan and Casey Shilling
Grand Central Publishing (2014)

How and why the success of a human community with a foundation of conscious capitalism cannot be contained

In this book, written with Paul Keegan and Casey Shilling, Kip Tindell shares the most valuable lessons he has learned from several separate but (to some extent) interdependent journeys. His own, of course, as co-founder, chairman, and CEO of The Container Store, a process during which he has achieved personal growth and professional development. However, there are also the journey of the company from its founding in 1978 until its debut as a public company last year (November 1, 2013) as well as the shared adventures with co-founder Garrett Boone, Tindell’s family (especially wife Sharon), associates (especially Melissa Reiff, president and COO), and allies such as John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market.

Throughout his lively and eloquent narrative, Tindell cites several reasons for the company’s exceptional success (e.g. on average, 20% growth each year it has been in business). They include “passion, commitment, and conscious capitalism” to which the book’s subtitle refers but there are two others of at least equal performance: hiring policies and employee-centrism that have established and sustain a truly unique culture.

How was that achieved? Here’s Tindell’s response: “This first Foundation Principle [i.e. 1 Great Person = 3 Good People] is our hiring and payroll philosophy: One great person is equal to three good people. We really believe that. . We’re trying to get the very best people we can, in the stores, in the office, and in our distribution center. No one is overqualified…We absolutely want our people to be the best. We love and are compassionate to everybody, but we want excellence. I think life is too short not to try to do anything and everything with excellence.”

When I came upon that passage, I was reminded of Ben Bradlee’s comment that, when he became executive editor of The Washington Post in 1968, he decided that its motto would be inspired by the standard one of his grade school teachers set for each of her students: “Our best today; better tomorrow.” The Post’s motto? “Put out the best, most honest newspaper you can today and put out a better one tomorrow.” During Bradlee’s tenure, members of his staff were awarded 17 Pulitzer Prizes.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, listed also to suggest the scope of Tindell’s coverage:

o The Seven Foundation Principles (Pages 18-27)
o Product selection and customer experience (Pages 50-52)
o Container Store concept development (59-69 and 239-240)
o Garrett Boone (64-73)
o Hiring policies and procedures (73-84)
o Sharon Tindell (92-98)
o Competition (108-110)
o Rapid growth and hiring standards (125-130)
o Foundation Principles and Conscious Capitalism (135-137)
o Communication IS leadership (138-146)
o Purchase of elfa systems (151-158)
o Pricing policies and standards (161-166)
o Importance of mutual trust (185-187)
o Majority share sale (191-210)
o Rob Holmes (203-208)
o Staff meetings and the air of excitement (220-223)
o Whole Foods Market (228-229)

A liquid assumes the shape of its container. At the risk of injecting a metaphor with steroids, I suggest that members of a workforce assume the shape of the given enterprise, for better or worse, in terms of its vision, its core values, its foundation principles, its traditions, and its people-centrism.

It is no coincidence that The Container Store and a few other companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value. If not a coincidence, what? With Paul Keegan and Casey Shilling, Kip Tindell provides a brilliant explanation in this book. Bravo!

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