[ Excerpted from Forword by John R. Kimberly] From Predators to Icons takes us on a provocative and nuanced journey through the business practices of a number of individuals and the companies they built and shows how they navigated through this volatile mix to achieve extraordinary success in their undertakings. In an era in which we are obsessed with rankings of everything from colleges and universities to hospitals to tennis players, we tend to focus on the end result—who is number 1?—and much less on the means: how did they get there? In an era when we are fascinated by stories of leaders as heroes and by the lives of the rich and famous, we tend to let the gloss of the material trappings of success blind us to questions of their origins.
In the work they report here, Villette and Vuillermot use the lens of social science as a vehicle for unpacking the roots of extraordinary success in business, for analyzing how success was achieved. They have accumulated evidence from a variety of sources, including the myriad biographies—authorized and unauthorized—of business icons, to build their comparative analysis of the practices of thirty-two businessmen from Europe and North America, of how their wealth was built, and of the common threads that characterize the roots of success across geographies, across industries, and across time. Their approach is highly original, and the data they assemble are wide-ranging. They are well aware of both the promise and the limitations of their data and are careful to discuss both. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to judge the credibility of both the empirical foundations on which their analysis is built and the conclusions they reach, the messages they send. But theirs is an impressive undertaking and needs to be taken seriously.