Stall Points

Most Companies Stop Growing — Yours Doesn’t Have To

Matthew S. Olson, Derek van Bever

Yale University Press, April 2008

Very few large companies manage to avoid stalls in revenue growth. These stalls are not attributable to the natural business cycle. Rather, careful analysis reveals that the vast majority of such stalls are the direct result of strategic choices made by corporate leaders. In short, stoppages in growth are almost always avoidable. This extensively researched book analyzes the growth experiences of more than six hundred Fortune 100 companies over the past fifty years to identify why growth stalls and to discover how to rectify a stall in progress or, even better, avoid one.

Board members and executives in companies of all sizes will find this book a practical and essential resource. Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever investigate the incidence and consequences of growth stalls in major corporations, then probe the root causes. Examining hundreds of stall points, the authors conclude that the greatest threat to a company’s growth is posed by obsolete strategic assumptions that undermine market position, and by breakdowns in innovation and talent management. The study includes a selection of practices for articulating and monitoring strategic assumptions and concludes with a self-test built around fifty “Red Flag” warning signs of an impending growth stall.

Top Four Reasons a Firm May Stall:

  • Premium position captivity
  • Innovation management breakdown
  • Premature core abandonment
  • Talent shortfall

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About the Author

Matthew S. Olson is an Executive Director of the Corporate Executive Board. He has been with the firm and its founding parent, the Advisory Board Company, since 1982.

The Corporate Executive Board maintains over 50 executive membership programs that conduct best practices research and build decision and implementation support tools that improve the performance of over 4,500 major corporations on a global basis, including 80% of the Fortune 500 and 70% of the FTSE 100 companies. The Corporate Executive Board has been named repeatedly to Forbes’ list of Best Small Companies, to Business Week’s list of Hot Growth Companies and to Washingtonian’s Best Places to Work.

Across his 26 years with the firm, Olson has served as Research Director for the company’s strategy & management, innovation, human resources and financial services practice areas.

Olson’s own research interests center on the capabilities required by very large firms to create new businesses and new growth platforms to perpetuate their growth runs, as well as best practice in corporate strategy functions.

He holds an undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, as well as a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Study. He and his wife, Sally, have two children.

Derek van Bever is the Chief Research Officer of the Corporate Executive Board.  He has also been a member of the firm’s Executive Committee since its founding.

Prior to assuming the role of CRO, van Bever served as Publisher of the Advisory Board Company, the Corporate Executive Board’s former parent. Prior to that, he served in a variety of research and management positions within the Advisory Board Company, including executive director of the financial services practice.

In his role as CRO, van Bever is responsible for training and quality control for over 1,000 researchers based in the U.S., London and Gurgaon (India), and for authorship of signature content for the firm. van Bever’s own research interests center on the barriers to growth in large companies as well as on the economics of customer loyalty in service businesses. He has been invited to lecture on these and other topics at the Harvard Business School and at Georgetown University’s graduate business school, and he advances the presentation and teaching crafts at the Corporate Executive Board through his leadership of the firm’s research and executive education communities.  

He holds an undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Delaware and received his MBA from Harvard University. He and his wife, Ellen, have three children.