The first time I encountered the name Schlumberger or Jean Riboud was in the summer of 1981, which suggests either my ignorance or Schlumberger’s low profile—or both. I stumbled across this quiet giant while hunting a company to profile for The New Yorker magazine. Back then, the travails of the American auto, steel, and smokestack industries crowded the news, and the frequently asked question was: Why is American industry failing? I set out to explore the flip side of that question: Why do companies succeed?
The first few months were spent asking people on Wall Street and elsewhere two simple questions: What’s the best company in the world? And, what’s the best company with an extraordinary chief executive?
I collected scores of ...