The 4th Option Junto
#54—James Heskett: Building a Culture for Competitive Advantage

#54—James Heskett: Building a Culture for Competitive Advantage

James L. Heskett is UPS Foundation Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and author of his latest book, Win From Within: Build Organizational Culture for Competitive Advantage. He completed his Ph.D. at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, and has been a member of the faculty of The Ohio State University as well as President of Logistics Systems, Inc. Since 2000, he has authored a blog on the school's Working Knowledge web site. He has served as a consultant to companies in North America, Latin America, and Europe.

James was the 1974 recipient of the John Drury Sheahan Award of the Council of Logistics Management, the 1992 Marketing Educator of the Year Award of Sales and Marketing Executives International, and the 2010 Distinguished Career Contribution Award in Services Management of American Marketing Association.

Among his publications are books The Culture Cycle (FT Press, 2011), co-authorship of The Ownership Quotient (Harvard Business Press, 2008), The Value Profit Chain (The Free Press, 2003); The Service Profit Chain (The Free Press, 1997); Corporate Culture and Performance, among many others, and numerous articles in such publications as the Harvard Business Review, Journal of Marketing, Sloan Management Review, and California Management Review.

A member of the faculty of the Harvard Business School since 1965, he has at different times taught courses in marketing, business logistics, the management of service operations, business policy, and service management, general management, and the entrepreneurial manager as well as served as Senior Associate Dean in charge of academic programs.

In this podcast, he shares:

  • Why companies with strong cultures often DON’T outperform and what kind of culture you actually need to win

  • Lessons from successful culture design efforts from companies like Microsoft, Uber, Southwest Airlines, and Ritz Carlton

  • Some of the most important things you must do as a leader to transform the culture of your organization

  • Why the idea that culture takes a long time is false, and how you can actually set the change in motion is six months

  • Six steps you can take, in a particular order, to do so


"With culture, you're dealing with changes in values, but I think even more important: changes in behaviors, how we do things around here."

-James Heskett


  • Episode Timeline:

    00:00—Introducing James + The topic of today’s episode

    2:33—If you really know me, you know that...

    3:14—What is your definition of strategy?

    4:05—Could you talk about the relationship between strategy and culture?

    7:03—You've talked about how sometimes strategy can be working while culture is eroding. Can you talk about that?

    9:25—There's a belief that culture takes a long time to change; do you think that's true?

    12:43—What are some of the tools leaders should turn to first to create this cultural change?

    13:50—Is culture defined by value or behaviors?

    16:22—You talk about the phases of an effective culture transformation—could you talk about those?

    21:15—Where can people follow you and your work?


Additional Resources:

Harvard Business School Page:

Recent book:


The 4th Option Junto
The Outthinkers podcast is a growth strategy podcast hosted by Kaihan Krippendorff. Each week, Kaihan talks with forward-looking strategists and innovators that are challenging the status quo, leading the future of business, and shaping our world.