Keeping a Butterfly and an Elephant in a House of Cards: The Elements of Exceptional Success

William Starbuck

Stern School of Business
New York University

Abstract

(Starbuck, William H. 1993. Keeping a Butterfly and an Elephant in a House of Cards: The Elements of Exceptional Success. 30, no. 6: 885-921.)

Observations about Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, an exceptionally successful law firm in New York City, are reported. Far from claiming that Wachtell is a representative law firm, it is argued that Wachtell's extraordinary success derives from its individuality. Not only does Wachtell differ in important ways from all organizations, it differs in important ways from the mass of law firms and it even differs in important ways from other highly successful law firms. Wachtell is quite distinctive, and other law firms have not imitated its distinctive properties. Factors that have led to Wachtell's success include: 1. Wachtell was and is a major factor in takeover work. 2. Wachtell has limited lines of business. 3. Wachtell has the best work ethic of any firm in the country. Wachtell's story says a great deal about what it takes to attain exceptional success, but it also says exceptional success is very difficult to attain and something most people would be unwilling or unable to attain.

To appear in "Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge" edited by Nick Bontis & Chun Wei Choo (Oxford University Press).