I'm not sure where I heard that this was a business classic, but I heard it somewhere, so obviously, I was going to read it when I saw it. The edition I read was published in 2001, so it's a little outdated (For example, Fannie Mae, one of the "great" companies, has been taken over by the US federal government in 2008 due to the subprime mortgage crisis), but I think the principles hold true.
In essence, the book says that "great" companies has, as far as I can see, two key traits:
One, a level 5 leader. A level 5 leader is one who is humble and unassuming, but has a will of iron.
Two, the company is disciplined enough to carry out the "hedgehog concept", which is basically to identify the thing you can be best in, and that you're passionate about and can make you money, and then pursue it with a single-minded focus.
And that's it. Surprisingly, things like CEO pay methods (stock options vs a standard pay, etc) don't really matter. What matters is that you have the right CEO who can put the right people in place, and who doesn't care about leaving a great legacy (i.e. the next guy crashes, and people go "oh, only that guy can run the company"), leading to a company that can be great.
The last chapter of the book looks at his previous book "Built to Last", which I actually want to read now, and after that are the FAQs, Appendices, and Notes for each chapter. So the book was actually much shorter and much simpler to read than I expected.
I can definitely see why this book was heavily recommended by a person or book I no longer recall. It's very accessible, and the findings make sense. I'll probably be sharing this with Amberbrook, the charity that my friends set up.