James Bond: A Lesson in Change Management

The James Bond franchise can teach us a lot about sustainable change management

A year into the Covid downturn the debate about corporate sustainability and longevity is back on the table. A recent report revealed that the latest retail survival strategies include ‘in-store experiences’, pop-ups and sustainability. The UK has lost 50 shops a day through lockdowns.


A recent study by McKinsey found that the average life-span of companies listed in Standard & Poor's 500 was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that, in 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared.

Perhaps we need better lessons in long term, sustainable change management. Given the rate of global change, accelerated by tech innovation and the regular impact of black swan events, we might need to consider some new, highly adaptable role models. The James Bond franchise seems an unlikely candidate - until you look a little closer.

The Bond movie franchise is the 4th most valuable in the world - and probably the longest running. Since 1963, there have been 24 films featuring the famed secret agent. These films have collected more than $6.89 billion globally.

Like Batman and Spider-Man, James Bond is an icon in the film industry. Seven actors have taken on the role 007 — Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

Roger Moore played 007 the highest number of times, for a total number of 4,348 days in the role. This will be surpassed soon by Daniel Craig, who will have spent 4,729 days in the role after starring in the 25th Bond film.

Overall the Bond franchise has grossed $16,315,134,284 when adjusted for inflation, with Skyfall scoring the highest gross ($1,218,849,723) and profit ($910,526,981). A new film is released every few years.

A total of 405 villains have been killed, with Pierce Brosnan the deadliest Bond by far at 135 killed over 4 appearances (second highest being Roger Moore's 90 killed).  The least deadly Bond was George Lazenby's singular appearance as Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (5 kills) followed by Timothy Dalton's 2 appearances, sharing a total of 23 kills. Roger Moore's The Man With The Golden Gun was the most peaceful Bond outing, with only one kill.

There have been 58 romantic liaisons over the film series, with Roger Moore having 17 romantic encounters over 7 films. (Technically, George Lazenby has the highest average trysts with three encounters in his singular appearance).

After the release of No Time to Die, the next James Bond film due out in October, there will be a hunt for an eighth lead actor. Guessing the next James Bond is one of the UK’s favourite activities. Indeed, some argue that the Bond franchise is the last truly British institution remaining. It is certainly the most widely appealing.

007 was the creation of British novelist Ian Fleming, who introduced the character in his 1953 thriller Casino Royal. Fleming featured Bond in another 12 novels and additional short story collections over the next 10 years. In 1963 the 007 novel Dr. No (1958) was adapted for film. Produced by Albert (“Cubby”) Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, it initiated one of the most successful movie franchises in history. After Fleming’s death, other writers continued producing new novels and original film stories in the series.

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli own the UK based production company that makes the James Bond films. They succeeded Albert R 'Cubby' Broccoli. MGM is the main co-owner and movie studio behind the franchise. There are rumours that MGM is up for sale with Netflix and Apple tipped as possible acquirers. Nearly all the movies have been filmed at Pinewood studios in the UK and on location.

It is extraordinary to think that an idea that was worked on by Fleming just after the end of World War II is still with us - and stronger than ever - 70 years later. Longer than the average life-span of companies listed in Standard & Poor's 500 in 1958. One production studio, one founding author and just seven lead actors have built a multi-billion juggernaut that will soon outlast the current Queen of England.

So what's the secret?

We would argue strategy, branding, talent and an inherent ability to move with the times.

Right from the start Ian Fleming had the vision to imagine a series of books built around an iconic character that represented the post war mood of the time. And more than that, James Bond, the man and the brand, was created from the very essence of what it meant to be British: independent, strong, stylish, smart, charming and witty. These values are retained and help inform future productions, scripts and talent selection.

The writer and the original film maker saw Bond as a franchise which meant that they thought long term. Each movie was conceived of and marketed as a product - the franchise run as an organisation. They managed the franchise for longevity while making sure that each movie product was perfectly designed for the time in which it was released. And they kept moving. When mistakes were made, such as the selection of weaker lead actors, changes were swiftly effected and the franchise learned and moved on - better for it.

Sustainability and longevity was baked in thanks to quality talent selection and smooth transitions. Ian Fleming and Albert R Broccoli laid the foundation, but today a series of successful writers, actors, producers, directors and supporting talent have continued the process and the successful formula through 7 decades.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the franchise has been the teams inherent ability to move with the times. It is as if each actor, story, theme and plot has been carefully selected to reflect the issues, allies and protagonists of the day. The latest Bond, M, Q and Moneypenny continue the essence of the brand but are more du jour. The macro-environment and changes in society are reflected in the latest characters and storylines. Researching the most recent global trends is a key success criteria.

The franchise keeps up with the newest designs, marketing techniques, tunes and technology. Even the cars mirror our latest moods. Locations reflect hotspots or rising powers. Bond effortlessly pivoted to the East as the Western world moved its concerns away from a narrow Russian protagonist.

The movies were always designed for the big screen but already they are thinking about moving with streaming times for the next series of movies and the new lead. And, of course, we can expect a transition that includes the latest themes - diversity, female power, AI and climate change. But the style of a Bond movie remains - connecting the first to the last in a subtle aura of authenticity.

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When we think about corporate sustainability and longevity we could do better than think of Bond. For organisation think franchise. For product think movie. For talent think producers, writers, directors, actors, crew and cast. For brand think James Bond: the name, the logo, the music, the style, the wit, the person.

Few of the things we use or own feel like they will stand the test of time. James Bond is a refreshing break. It is not hard to imagine what the franchise will look in another 70 years. If only we could say the same of our own organisation. Staying up with the times might become our most vital 21st Century tool.


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