I had the good fortune to be a guest at the coming-out party for Kip Tindell's new book Uncontainable on October 8 at the New York Stock Exchange, where he addressed the Inc. Business Owner's Council. Kip is the Founder and CEO of The Container Store, the largest company in the U.S. devoted to organizing customers and saving their space and time.
Kip is an enchantingly modest man imbued with a palpable missionary zeal for his company and the unique working principles on which it is based. I have spent the weekend reading his book. I would describe Uncontainable as one-third autobiography, one-third company love letter, and one-third business theology.
To put it briefly, Uncontainable is the best book about creating corporate culture since Danny Meyer's Setting the Table in 2006. In fact, along with Meyer, John Mackey, Tony Hsieh, Herb Kelleher, David Neeleman, and Howard Schulz, (and, as a philosophical precursor, Steve Jobs), Tindell is a member of the growing cadre of company leaders in the Conscious Capitalism movement. I highly recommend any business owner with an interest in efficacious corporate culture put Uncontainable on her reading list.
This is meant to be a short essay, so I will make no attempt to be encyclopedic in describing Tindell's book. But here are a few unsystematic things I found notable about the book and the man.
First and foremost, Uncontainable is a book utterly devoid of irony. It is the rare business book that is unapologetic and forthright in its use of the language of love to describe his corporate community--his employees, his investors, his vendors, his customers, and even his private equity firm. (Tindell calls his financial backer, Leonard Green & Partners, "the first conscious capitalist PE firm." He claims this is not an oxymoron, in Green's case, despite the rape-and-pillage reputation of PE firms.) It is almost a sensual pleasure to experience the utter delight with which Tindell describes his business creation.
There is an ebullient joy and an overflowing spiritual generosity to the man. His tall, attenuated frame practically throbs with love and passion when he talks about his company. He conveys a compelling and unfeigned delight that he is part of, as well as the leader of, the good ship Container Store. It is a joy to behold. His enthusiasm is contagious. He has an almost messianic passion for the business value of sheer agape and goodness and service as business values for his employees and his customers.
For example, Tindell describes his business philosophy about his employees as the following: "Treating your employees with affection and respect is not only the right thing to do, it also happens to be the fastest road to success. In fact, it's much more successful than any other business methodology." I couldn't agree more.
Tindell believes in maximizing the individual creativity of everyone who touches his company. He hires outside traditional retail talent pools. He welcomes artists, actors, and stay-at-home moms. He then claims to basically "love" these hires to success. He tries to hire on an applicant's ability for customer care and patient avidity to genuinely serve his customer and his fellow man. He often judges these things on how a candidate treats the waiter at lunch.
He wants his people to use their intuition, which he defines as "the sum total of one's life experience." He states, "You don't want to straitjacket employees with a manual about how to do their jobs. Instead, we unshackle our employees to follow their own individual creative genius." His expressed management style sounds almost as though he intends to stage a play, rather than run a company. (He even admits he loves the drama of his enterprise and its retail narrative. The way he describes it is almost like a communal art event.)
I find it encouraging that conscious business leaders like Tindell are increasingly being sought out to share their magic elixir at even the most hidebound business schools.
Tindell is, nonetheless, a committed capitalist. He is not a minister or a priest or a socialist. He just believes in leading with a servant's heart and that genuinely caring about everyone The Container Store comes into contact with is the surest road to profitability.
In this he is very like Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group here in NYC, who I have written about often in the past. As Danny so succinctly puts it, "Generosity is clearly in our self-interest."
Or as I like to put it to my executives and employees, "Good is greed."
I think Jim Collins sums up the argument very well in his book Built To Last. He writes: "Core purpose is the organization's fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company's work--it taps their idealistic motivations--and gets to the deeper reasons for an organization's existence beyond making money."
Amen, Brother Jim.