Collapse: Alan Wurtzel helped make Circuit City a great company. And then he set out to learn why it failed.
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Circuit City enjoyed a run as a good company before becoming a great
company, one worthy of a Jim Collins profile in his 2001 bestseller Good to
Great. And then, after fifty years in business, everything went to hell. The
reason wasn’t a hostile takeover, an accounting scandal, a class-action lawsuit,
or an act of God—it was, simply, that the consumer landscape shifted
and Circuit City failed to keep pace, leaving room for Best Buy to become
the default place for people to buy TVs and audio cables and DVD players
Alan L. Wurtzel was a protagonist in the Circuit City saga from the beginning,
as the son of company founder Sam Wurtzel, before being named inhouse
counsel, CEO for a dozen years, and finally chairman for another fifteen.
He retired in 2001, at a turbulent time for the company, for consumer technology,
and for the global economy. Less than eight years later, a bankruptcy judge ordered
Circuit City to close its 567 stores and liquidate its assets.
Now 79, Wurtzel wanted to find out where it all went wrong as well as why it all went
right for so long, and the result is Good to Great to Gone: The 60 Year Rise and Fall of Circuit City, a sometimes brutally candid look at top personnel moves, strategic plans and execution, and how decisions were made about everything from store locations to sales incentives to stock-repurchase plans.