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Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part I

Edward D. Hess

This course focuses on the common growth challenges faced by existing private businesses when they attempt to grow substantially.
Watch intro video
Next Session:
Jan 28th 2013 (5 weeks long)Go to class
Workload: 4-6 hours/week 

About the Course

Most entrepreneurship courses focus on how to start a business. Few focus on the next big entrepreneurial inflection point: how do you successfully grow an existing private business? This is the focus of this Course. It is based on the instructor's research and thirty years of real-world experience advising private growth companies. 

This Course will challenge how you think about growth; give you tools to help you plan for growth, assess the preconditions to grow, and manage the risks of growth. You will study stories of how five different private businesses faced their growth challenges. 

Growth, if not properly managed, can overwhelm a business, destroying value and in many cases even causing the business to fail. However, the research shows that every growth business faces common challenges. You can learn from others' experience—you do not have to "reinvent the wheel".

The Course format is case based. Each case tells a compelling story. You will learn from Julie Allinson, Susan Fellers, Dave Lindsey, Parik Laxinarayan and Eric Barger. In addition, each week, we will discuss a different content theme. In Weeks and 2 and 5, you will engage in Workshops where you will be asked to use and apply the Course tools and concepts to create growth strategies for two different real-life businesses. You will have the opportunity to create a Course Community of fellow-students to learn from each other as the Course progresses. 

You will learn about the: "3 Myths of Growth"; the "Truth About Growth";  why growth is like "Mother Nature"; the "Gas Pedal" approach to growth; the all important "4 Ps" of how to grow; and how to scale a business strategically.

About the Instructor(s)

Professor Edward D. Hess is a Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, and an Executive-in-Residence at Darden's Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Before joining Darden, Hess  spent more than 30 years in the business world. He began his career at Atlantic Richfield Corporation and was a senior executive at Warburg Paribas Becker, Boettcher & Company, the Robert M. Bass Group and Arthur Andersen. He is the author of ten books, over 60 practitioner articles, and over 60 Darden cases, etc. dealing with growth systems, managing growth and growth strategies. His books include Hess and Liedtka, The Physics of Business Growth: Mindsets, System and Processes (Stanford University Press, 2012); Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses (Stanford University Press, 2012); Growing an Entrepreneurial Business: Concepts & Cases (Stanford University Press, February, 2011); Smart Growth: Building Enduring Businesses by Managing the Risks of Growth (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2010); Hess and Goetz, So You Want to Start A Business (FT Press, 2008); The Road To Organic Growth (McGraw-Hill, 2007); Hess and Cameron, eds., Leading with Values: Virtue, Positivity & High Performance (Cambridge University Press, 2006); Hess and Kazanjian, eds., The Search for Organic Growth (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Smart Growth was named a Top 25 2010 business book for business owners by Inc. Magazine and was awarded the Wachovia Award for Research Excellence.

His current research focuses on the Darden Growth/Innovation Model, the challenges of managing private company growth, growth systems and behaviors. Hess has taught in Executive Education programs for Harris Corporation, Cigna, Timken, United Technologies, Genworth Financial, Pitney Bowes, Unilever Russia, Westinghouse Nuclear, Alpha Natural Resources, Alegco-Scotsman, FTI Consulting as well as IESE (Barcelona) and the Indian School of Business.

Hess's work has appeared in Fortune magazine, JiJi Press, Washington Post, the Financial Times, Investor's Business Daily, CFO Review, Money magazine and in more than 250 other media publications as well as on CNBC, BusinessWeek.com, Fox Business News, Forbes.com, Big Think, Reuters.com., Inc.com, WSJ Radio, Bloomberg Radio, Dow Jones, MSNBC Radio, Huffington Post.com, Business Insider.com and Chief Learning Officer.com.

Prior to joining the faculty at Darden, he was Adjunct Professor and the Founder and Executive Director of both the Center for Entrepreneurship and Corporate Growth and the Values-Based Leadership Institute at Goizueta Business School, Emory University.

Course Syllabus

Please see Syllabus for further detail on weekly reading and assignments.

Week 1: The "Truth About Growth":The common beliefs that all growth is good; bigger is always better; and businesses must "grow or die" are not true. Growth can be good and growth can be bad. There is no scientific basis for the axiom "grow or die". It is a fiction. You will lean from Julie Allinson, the founder of Eyebobs, who has built a successful business selling stylish “reading glasses for the irreverent and slightly jaded.” Julie approached growth realistically and understood its value creation and destructive powers. You will learn how she faced manufacturing, sales, and people challenges while building a high growth business—a cool story.

Week 2: Workshop—“Are You Ready for Growth?”:  Using the Growth Risks Assessment Tool from Week 1, you will meet and advise Susan Fellers, the founder of 3 Fellers Bakery. Susan started a business baking gluten-free products when she was diagnosed with celiac disease. Her start-up was successful, and she needs your help because she has had so many growth alternatives and she does not know which to pursue. You will be asked to create a growth plan for her. 

Week 3: The 4 Ps of Growth—Planning, Prioritization, Processes and Pace: Using the Defender Direct story, we will learn to better manage the chaos of growth; find a business's strategic focus; how to choose which daily "fires" to put out first; how to create replicable processes—“leave a fire extinguisher behind"; and how to pace growth letting "up on the growth gas pedal". Dave Lindsey is our business builder this week, and you will trace his story from starting his business in his home to today being a national, privately owned home installation company generating well in excess of $300M (USD) in revenue with healthy profit numbers. 

Week 4: The Four Ways To Grow a Business: This week you will learn about the different ways to grow—improvements, innovation, scaling, and strategic acquisitions—with a focus on growth boosters: how to get more customers and sell more products and/or services to existing customers more efficiently. Enchanting Travels, a travel company based in India, is our story this week. You will learn how they built the foundation of their business to scale their focused customer value proposition so they could grow geographically to Africa, South America, and Asia. The story presents a big decision for you: should they franchise their business?

Week 5: Workshop—“Creating a Growth Plan": This week you will read about Eric Barger's challenge: how to take a business that has had little growth selling a commodity product and turn it into a high growth business. You will be asked to create a growth plan for Eric. And after doing that you will learn what Eric did to quadruple his business in three years. 

Recommended Background

The only prerequisite for this Course is an interest in learning about how privately-owned entrepreneurial businesses grow. The following people will find this course helpful: students at all levels, private business owners, managers of private businesses, employees of private businesses, and people interested in growth, economic development, and job creation.

Suggested Readings

All of the required Course readings are listed in the Syllabus and will be provided for free by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation.
Additional reading that you might find helpful for the Course include:
1. Edward D. Hess, Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, 2012, which is the book that this Course is based on. 
2. Edward D. Hess and Charles F. Goetz, So! You Want to Start a Business? Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2008. This book was written for people who want to start a business. It focuses on the eight common reasons why start-ups fail and how to increase your probability of avoiding those mistakes.
3. Edward D. Hess, The Road to Organic Growth: How Great Companies Consistently Grow Marketshare From Within, New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. This book is based on a study of consistent high organic growth U.S. public companies and their defining characteristics—the six keys to their success. Company stories include Sysco, Stryker Corporation, Outback Steakhouse, Best Buy Co., Inc., TSYS, Tiffany & Co., and American Eagle Outfitters, Inc..

My additional list of good reads (not required):
1. Peter F. Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, New York: HarperBusiness, 1993.
2. Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
3. Neil C. Churchill and John W. Mullins, “How Fast Can Your Company Afford to Grow?” Harvard Business Review, 79, no. 5 (2001): 135-42.

Course Format

Videos and Workshops
Each week consists of 90 minutes of videos made for the Course in short segments of 10 to 15 minutes each. The videos discuss the articles and case studies to be read prior to the class. There are tests embedded within the segments to evaluate your understanding of the concepts. You may proceed at your own pace. 
There are also Workshop exercises, in which you have the opportunity to use the concepts discussed in the readings and videos to determine a course of action for a real, private business growth challenge. After completing the exercises, you will learn what action the business actually took and whether it was successful. 
There is a (non-optional) final exam of multiple choice and short answer questions.

Course Communities
You may choose to create a Course Community, which will allow you to learn from your classmates. Communities can be formed based on your country of residence or based on the type of business you own or want to learn about. The purpose of the community is to provide a forum for you to learn from each other. It’s an opportunity for you create and grow together. 
Instructor Engagement
I will hold "office hours" every Wednesday morning during the Course from 10:00am to 11:30am EST where I will be on the Course Discussion Forum to answer questions, chat and respond to other conversations. 


  • How will I learn in this Course?
    This Course is based on the principle that one learns by doing. There are required and optional readings. You will be asked to apply concepts discussed in the videos and readings in Workshop exercises, and if you choose to join a Course Community, you will learn from each other.
  • What resources will I need for this Course?
    None. The Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia is providing this Course for free because of its mission to positively impact society. Darden Business Publishing will provide all required Course reading for free.
  • Why is this Course important?
    Growing private businesses is in many parts of the world a major job creator and a key route to building a better life for oneself and one's family. In effect, this Course is about the pursuit of hopes and dreams. I think doing business is much more than just about making money. Doing business is the primary way many people achieve their hopes and dreams to provide a better life for themselves and their families. And in doing so, building a business can also create value for employees, customers, and society.
  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this Course?
    By bringing real-life business growth stories and challenges to you, this Course will teach you a different way to think about business growth and an appreciation for how managing risks and constant learning and improvement are critical to business success. You will also acquire tools, such as the 4 Ps in Week 2, that can help you manage your life.

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