An attention-grabbing audit by two Harvard Business School professors of the role that culture (broadly defined as the shared attitudes, behavioral patterns, and values that cohesive human groups pass on from one generation to the next) can play in the capacity of major corporations to succeed or fail in the marketplace. The accessible study compiled by Kotter and Heskett is noteworthy on several counts. For one thing, it is based on empirical rather than anecdotal evidence, gathered from a canvass of more than 200 blue-chip enterprises in 22 industries, covering an 11-year span through 1990. For another, the authors measure performance against such valid bench marks as annual growth in net income, average returns on invested capital, and appreciation in stock prices. Last but not least, they refuse to advance a one- size-fits-all theory. While willing to state that corporate culture can have a significant impact on a company's reported results over the longer term, Kotter and Heskett caution that there's as much art as science in evaluating its contribution. Indeed, they assert that cultures adequate for one economic context may prove disastrous in another--as can those identifiable as arrogant, bureaucratic, and/or insular. The authors point out, for example, that K mart's lack of a customer-service ethos cost it dearly in competition with Wal-Mart. What's really needed, they argue, is an adaptive culture that automatically aligns an organization's interests with those of employees, investors, patrons, and other key constituencies. Drawing on case studies from their four-year research program, Kotter and Heskett outline practical ways in which top-down direction can motivate corporate personnel to pursue this objective. Down-to-earth analyses and advisories from authors who grasp the substantive differences between leadership and management. The reader-friendly text has a wealth of helpful tabular material throughout.