Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Plot to Get Bill Gates (1999)

TPTGBGThe Plot to Get Bill Gates: An Irreverent Investigation of the World’s Richest Man … and the People Who Hate Him (1999) is a book by Gary Rivlin. The book is not only about Bill Gates and how he created the world’s largest fortune, it is also about the “other sovereigns” (computer industry entrepreneurs) who wanted to and tried to “get” Bill Gates. In Rivlin’s own words, his book is  “a fun, warts and all look at the World’s Richest Man and the corporate titans who, despite their age and all the’ve accomplished, become teen-boy-like obsessed with proving themselves bigger, better, or smarter than Gates.”

So, who are these corporate titans who desperately tried, but ultimately failed, to unseat Bill Gates. Rivlin discusses Jim Manzi of Lotus and Phillipe Kahn of Borland in the 1980s, Ray Noorda of Novell, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Scott McNealy of Sun in the 1990s. By the turn of the century, Gates was so successful, so dominant, and so rich that he was outside the reach of most (if not all!) business tycoons. And, then of course, there was the US Government and the EU who went after Microsoft and Bill Gates, but ultimately had to back down. Rivlin himself seems to be no Gates fan either, as is description on Gates suggests:

Gates “voice is a high-pitched whistle that teteers on the edge of whininess, giving his talks a pleading, almost desperate sound. He speaks with a forced enthusiasm, tinny and false, and exudes no warmth, humor, or personality, despite hours of sessions with a speach coach. His one asset on stage, other than his fame, is his ample memory. He never fails to touch each of his talking points.”

This book is certainly an interesting read. At 342 pages it may be considered somewhat long, but what makes it particularly engaging is the description of “behind-the-scenes’ strategies and tactics that were employed by companies as they competed to dominate the computer industry. So many of the entrepreneurs, chief executives, and business tycoons who thought they could out-maneuvere Bill Gates have been relegated to the footnotes of history. For people who like to understand how things came to be the way they did, this is a great book!

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Bill Gates (2000)

BGBill Gates : Genius of the software revolution and master of the information age (2000) is a short book about Microsoft Chairman and World’s Richest Person William Henry Gates III (or Bill Gates) by Robert Heller. This book is part of the Business Masterminds series of books. Unlike most other books on Bill Gates, the purpose of this book is to present a simple story about the world’s richest person, a self-made multi-billionaire. The book is dividing into 5, nay 6, sections. The book starts with ashort summary chapter on Bill Gates, which is followed by 5 chapters: (1) IT changes absolutely everything, (2) Building a knowledge economy, (3) Developing software that sells, (4) Dividing, delegating, and leading, (5) Turning vision into value. It acknowledges Bill Gates, and by extension Microsoft’s, strengths- “Creating the industry standard”, and its weaknesses- inability to predict “the all encompassing future of the internet”.

According to Heller, Gates is “an engaging, bespectacled, highly intelligent and articulate man, physically restless and with great mental agility…He reads voluminously, even in odd moments, specializes in multi-tasking (doing many things at once”, and somehow contrives to give the running of Microsoft his full attention, while also spending much time on public relations.” Heller also notes that Gates “appears to have no outside interests other than his family, his Porches and his magnificent, technology-crammed lakeside mansion in Medini, Washington”. Heller acknowledges that Gates’ “predictive powers, however, have often failed him, most notably…the omission of the Internet from the first edition of the The Road Ahead.”   

Bill Gates is certainly a popular subject for writers and makes for an interesting book story. So, the question is what makes Robert Heller’s book worth reading? Why should someone take the time to read this book about Bill Gates? I think this book is most appropriate for an audience who has never read any book or in-depth article about Bill Gates. People who have read other, more comprehensive books about Bill Gates are unlikely to find much (perhaps any!) new information or story in this book. But those who have never read anything about Bill Gates outside of what is printed in newspapers or appears on TV are likely to find this book useful to get a better understanding of the man “whose actions have spoken louder than words in making him both prime mover and chief figurehead of the Age of Information.”

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Blue Ocean Strategy (2005)

BOS Blue Ocean Strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant (2005) is a book about business strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD, France. The book describes the idea of Blue Ocean Strategy or BOS, which allows companies to create long-term competitive advantage by exploiting a new market space. The fundamental theses of the book is that (1) managers should strive to play ina competitive space where there is no competition, and (2) it is better to make competitors irrelevant and not have to engage in direct competition. It provides examples from such unconventional companies as Cirque de Soleil, Casella Wines, Southwest Airlines, NetJets and Curves.

The book is a best-seller, so it needs to be on the reading list of any business student. It provides a different way of thinking than what is typically taught about business strategy (e.g. Porter’s 5 Forces model), and so helps think of competition and competitive advantage differently. Also, because so many people have read it, it has become one of those must-read books for anyone who wants to learn more about strategic business thinking.

I recommend the book for the serious reader. I also note that the book is not engaging in parts, and seems to drift. For those of you who can ignore its limitations, the book will certainly help you think about business in a somewhat different way.

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Insanely Great (2000)

InGr Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything (2000), by Steven Levy, is a book about the birth of the Apple Macintosh computer. In Steven’s own words, its a book “about how technology, serendipity, passion, and magic combined to create what [many] believe is the most important consumer product in the last half of the twentieth century: the Macintosh computer.” The book traces the story of the Macintosh computer from 1945 when Vannevar Bush, a former VP of MIT and the then Director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development wrote an essay arguing that “the major scientific and engineering effort in postwar America should be the transformation of the way we process, retain, and retrieve information.”

The book was written well! Steven writes about the history of the Macintosh, interviews the main characters involved in this journey, visited with the minor players, and delved into philosophy and linguistics when the situation deanded it. The result is a book that is fun to read and keeps the reader hooked till the end.

And, by the way, the name of the book “Insanely Great” doesn’t refer to Steven Paul Jobs (popularly known as Steve Jobs), but to how Jobs referred to “this new computer”- The Apple Macintosh- that was going to “put a dent in the universe”.

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Blunders in International Business (1999)

BIB Blunders in International Business (1999), by Professor David Ricks of University of Missouri-St. Louis, is a book about mistakes that companies make when they go international. The book is divided into 9 chapters, that focus on specific topics such as Production (location, layout etc.), Names (company and product names), Marketing (promotion, pricing), and Management (labor relations and cultural differences). Two of my favorite examples from the book are:

1. One of Nike’s recent television advertisements “included people from various countries reportedly stating Nike’s slogan- “just do it” -in their native languages. However, one man, a Samburu tribesman, was really saying, “I don’t want these, give me big shoes.”

2. The New York Helmsley Palace Hotel approved a promotion campaign that compared the hotel with the Taj Mahal with the line- “In India, Its the Taj Mahal. In New York It’s the Helmsley Palace.” Now, most people probably know that the Taj Mahal is probably a mausoleum for Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal, not a hotel! So, imagine when the Helmsley Hotel compared itself to the Taj Mahal and proclaimed, “Service and appointments fit for royalty- you- our guests.”

Blunders in International Business is full of such entertaining nuggets about doing business internationally! (Of course, there are some trivial, minor examples too that don’t illustrate the point as much). All in all, its a good book, an easy read, that can be casually read in a short plane ride.

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Founders at Work (2007)

Founders at Work: Stories of StartUps Early Days (2007), by Jessica Livingston, is a book about 32 entrepreneurs who started their own business and became quite succesful in a reasonably short time. It includes such well-known entrepreneurs as Steve Wozniak (of Apple), Craig Newmark (of Craig’s List) and Sabeer Bhatia (of Hotmail). It also includes entrepreneurs who may not house-hold names, but who founded well-known companies, such as Max Levchin of PayPal, Charles Geschke of Adobe Systems, and Blake Ross of FireFox. Lastly, it includes many others who succesfully founded businesses that were big for a while (e.g. Bob Davis of Lycos) or may become the success stories of the future (e.g. Caterina Fake of Flickr or Steve Perlman of WebTV). Somewhat surprisngly, the book also includes some stories about individuals who were not entrepreneurs in the traditional sense of the word, but played an instrumental role in starting a new venture in an existing company (e.g. Paul Buchheit of Google who was the “creator and lead developer of Gmail”).

 The book is in a simple easy-to-read format and it uses actual interviews with entrepreneurs for content. It lets the entrepreneurs do the talking for themselves, and the author simply presents them with questions to help guide the interview. The strength of the book is that the reader gets to hear the story straight “from the horse’s mouth”, without any editorializing or sugar-coating by the author. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about i-entrepreneurs (entrepreneurs of the internet age) as all the entrepreneurs discussed in this book have something to do with the internet. I will certainly consider this book seriously next time I teach an entrepreneurship course, particularly if it relates to technology-based businesses.

Jessica Livingston, the author of this book, has her own blog where she provides updates and news about the entrepreneurs she interviewed. Interesting!

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