Monthly Archives: January 2008

In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century

intheirtime.jpg In Their Time, written by Harvard Business School professor Anthony Mayo and Nitin Nohria, is a book about American business leaders of the last century. Professors Mayo and Nohria recognize three different types of leaders: entrepreneurs (create new businesses), managers (expert at taking advantage of every opportunity), and leaders (reinvent industries and see new opportunities in them). They discuss how these three types of business leaders exceled in their ability to seize opportunities that existed in their time. The book recognizes not only well known leaders of our time like Sam Walton and Jack Welch, but many lesser known leaders who were important in their day and age.

What I like about the book is its acknowledgement of “contextual intelligence”, the ability to make sense of the unique context in which we live and to create or discover new business opportunities based on that understanding. Professors Mayo and Nohria assert that this contextual intelligence distinguishes great business leaders from also-rans. The book is organized by decades beginning in the 1900 through the end of the century, presenting a fascinating history of the last 100 years from a business perspective.    

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Giants of Enterprise: Seven business innovators and the empires they built

giantsofent.jpg Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built, by Harvard Business School professor Richard S. Tedlow, is the story of seven great American entrepreneurs of the last century who created new industries or new business from nothing. In this 528-page book, Professor Tedlow describes the lives and works of Andrew Carnegie (the steel magnate), George Eastman (the founder of Kodak), Henry Ford (the man who brought cars to the masses), Thomas Watson Sr. (the founder of IBM), Charles Revson (the man behind the success of Revlon), Sam Walton (the founder of Walmart), and Robert Noyce (the driving force behind Silicon Valley). Professor Tedlow is impressed by the contributions of these seven great American heroes. (as are almost all of us), but that does not stop him from critically exploring their personal and professional triumphs and failures.  

The book is very informative BUT it is long! I personally don’t have an issue with reading long books, especially when they entertain and inform me about highly succesful entrepreneurs who broke old rules and created new ones, but I know of many people for whom the biggest obstacle to reading this book is its length. Frankly, I think Professor Tedlow could write a much shorter version of the same book and likely find it to be more popular for use in business schools and entrepreneurship classes.    

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The World is Flat

worldisflat3.jpg The World is Flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century is an internationally acclaimed book by New York Times columnist and popular opinion-shaper Thomas Friedman. The title, based on a statement by Nandan Nilekani the former CEO of Infosys, is a metaphor for viewing the world a level playing field for companies from countries across the world. In the book, Friedman travels around the world and analyzes recent advances in globalization. He attributes the “flattening” of the world to 10 forces: (1) The fall of the Berlin Wall, (2) introduction of Netscape, (3) workflow software, (4) open-sourcing, (5)  outsourcing, (6) off-shoring, (7) supply chaining, (8) in-sourcing, (9) increased access to information, and (10) personal digital devices such as PDAs. Friedman argues that the 10 flatteners conerged to create a new, fallter, global playing field that is changing lives of people around the world. Friedman also discusses forces, such as terrorism and AIDS, that can impede and flattening of the world. Friedman’s book and his analysis of slobalization has become a must-read for strategic managers and influences government and business leaders around the world.

A major criticism of Friedman’s thesis in The World is Flat is that it is an one-sided view of globalization, a overly optimistic view of the benefits of globalization. Many scholars believe it is dangerous to have so much faith in globalization and have urged caution in following a book, which some believe, is based on “unsupported allegations” and “interviews with friends” and ” playing golf with rich and famous corporate executives”. Ronald Aronica and Mtetwa Ramdoo have written a hard-hitting book The World Is Flat?: A Critical Analysis of New York Times Bestseller by Thomas Friedman which presents another side of globalization, focusing on many issues ignored by Friedman. They recognize that “globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution”, and discuss many of the things that have gone wrong with globalization. Of course, Aronica and Ramdoo are not only the two authors critical of Friedman’s ideas about globalization, may other scholars, academics, and executives have written about the “dark side” of globalization.

Despite its limitations and shortcomings, I believe every person who is interested in globalization-related issues should read The World is Flat, even if they disagree with the ideas presented in the book.

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Power Failure: The inside story of the collapse of Enron

powerfailure.jpg“Power Failure:…”, as the title of the book suggests, is an insider account of the rise and fall of Enron. It is co-written by Sherron Watkins, a former Enron executive and Mimi Swartz, a writer for Texas Monthly. Watkins takes us on a journey of the lives and activities of Ken Lay (‘Kenny Boy’ as President Bush called him), Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow. The book explains Enron’s rise from its humble beginnings to an international power, and then its descent to become one of the most abhorred corporations in American history.

In all my intercations with business students in the US, I have never come across even one student who told me s/he has never heard of Enron. At the same time, most young students don’t really know what happened behind-the-scenes that led to the rapid decline of Enron and the accompanying Enron scandal. Power Failure is a good book for those who are interested in learning about Enron and what really happened there.

Oh, and if you are wondering what Sherron Watkins is doing these days, she is the founder of Sherron Watkins and Company. She is on the lecture circuit where she discusses her experience at Enron and corporate ethical leadership.    

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Swoosh: The unauthorized story of Nike….

swoosh.jpg I bet that almost all readers of this blog have heard of Nike. I also bet that a large majority of our readers have not heard of Blue Ribbon Sports shoe company. The book “Swoosh: The unauthorized story of Nike and the men who played there” is an incredible story of how Phil Knight founded a small shoe company by the name of Blue Ribbon Sports and transformed it into Nike, one of the largest corporations in the world in a few decades. The book is written by J. B. Strasser (wife of Nike’s first advertising manager) with Laurie Becklund (a professional writer) describes the experience of Knight and six men who made Nike the most successful sports apparel company. The book, of course, also discusses Nike’s competition with Adidas and later Reebok, relationship with Japanese subcontractors, and with the large group of athletes and sportspersons who endorsed Nike over the years. 

 This is an interesting, but long, book to read for students of entrepreneurship, business strategy, and marketing. Strasser is not an outsider collecting information about Nike from secondary sources, but is an insider who has access to insiders in Nike and information which most others are unlikely to have. As the name of the book suggests, it is an “unauthorized story”, meaning that Phil Knight and others at the helm of Nike did not support this book. It is not difficult to see why when you read the book. Enjoy a long read!   

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Iacocca- An autobiography

iacocca.jpg This is an autobiography of Lee (Lido) Iacocca, an outstanding leader of the American automobile industry, an American legend, who many urged to run for President of the country. This well-written book is Iacocca’s account of his typically Italian upbringing in the US, his rise through the ranks of Ford to become its President, and his transformational leadership of Chrysler. Iacocca describes the automobile industry of his day, the Japanese ‘attack’, and how he managed first Ford and then Chrysler through those turbulent times.

I liked the book not only because it provided a great look inside two big corporations that almost all of us have heard about, but also because of what it tells us about the American automobile industry. Even during his time in Ford and Chrysler, Iacocca was worried about the American reliance of foreign oil, the inability or unwillingness of leading American companies to introduce smallers cars, and the increasing American foreign debt. Iacocca’s autobiography is an insightful book for not only business men and women, but even ordinary people who want to learn more about the automobile industry or how things look from the top of any corporation.   

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Den of Thieves

DoTDen of Thieves, written by Pultizer-prize winner James Stewart, is a book about the 1980’s insider trading scandal that rocked the US financial markets. Stewart introduces the reader to the lives of the four central characters of this scandal- Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Martin Siegel, and Dennis Levine. He takes us into the lives of these four players whose genius made them more wealthy and successful than most normal people can even imagine. Stewart avoids the temptation to paint a black and white picture of the actors in this Wall Street scandals, not only of people like Milken and Boesky but also prosecutors like Rudy Giuliani, but helps us understand how each of the players was motivated by their own reasons. The book is an interesting read of the rise and fall of the four major players as well as the actions of the prosecutors who brought them to justice.

I believe this is a great book for anyone interested in the financial markets, especially in topics related to the US stock market and insider trading. Unfortunately, the book assumes the reader of a good level of knowledge about financial economics. The tour of Wall Street is filled with a good bit of financial jargon and many references to investment banks. The book is certainly not written for somebody who doesn’t have basic knowledge of finance.      

(If you are curious, here’s where the major players in the drama are now:

Michael Milken: Forbes 458th richest man in the world. More information about him is available on his website at  http://www.mikemilken.com/.

Ivan Boesky: Divorced and broke, he now survives on an alimony he gets from his ex-wife.

Dennis Levine: He wrote the popular book “Inside Out: The Dennis Levine Story” and is still active in the finance world.

Martin Siegel: Couldn’t find anything about what he is doing now. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Rudy Guiliani: Well, I don’t need to say anything, do I? Former mayor of New York City and a front-runner candidate for President in the Republican Party.)

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