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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The Asian Insider (2006)

asiabook1 The Asian Insider: Unconventional wisdom for Asian business (2006) is a book related to doing business in Asia by Michael Backman. Instead of defining Asia narrowly as most books on this topic do, Michael discusses many countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, China (+Tibet), Japan, India, and Korea. The book is organized sometimes by topic (e.g. corporate governance, corruption) and at other times by country. The book is filled with interesting and spicy tidbits, anecdotes, and news from all over Asia. The book also includes a section on Islam in Asia, and takes a more positive and unbiased view of Islam than most Western journalists and media.

Despite its strengths, it needs to be acknowledged that the title of the book is misleading as it is not really a book about doing business there. Most of the book is written as an entry-level introduction to Asia for a westerner who is just beginning to learn about that part of the world. It is critical, perhaps unnecessarily, of all Asian countries, whether it is Indonesia, Japan, China, or India. For example, Indonesia is argued to have no right to existence as an independent nation, while Japan is written off as the “land of the setting sun”. China has come under criticism for its practices in Tibet and elsewhere, while India is “too democratic” to make sense as an emerging power.

I encourage people to read this book, not so much for its insights into doing business in Asia, but for learning a little more about countries that they may not know much about. Anyone who is interested in learning about other countries, whether it is Belgium and Australia or Thailand and India, needs to be ready to be confronted with a vast array of information, some of which will inevitably be confusing and conflicting. Michael’s book about “unconventional wisdom” may be a good starting point for its interesting writing style and wide range of coverage.

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Made in Japan (1988)

mijMade in Japan (1988) is the story of Sony, formerly the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, and its ascent from a small company started by young engineers in a bombed-out Tokyo building to becoming the world’s leading consumer electronics company. It is written by Akio Morita (with some help from professional writers), one of the founding members and later CEO of CEO. Morita vividly describes the dismal conditions in which Sony was born and the many challenges it faced as the young promoters tried to build a world class company from the ruins of a devastated nation. (Japan, with Germany and Italy, was one of the nations that lost the second world war, in addition to being bombed by two atomic bombs).

Akip Morita started his career when “Made in Japan” had negative connotations about product quality. It would take many years from companies from this devastated nation to create their niche in the world and be counted among leading global companies. The book presents Morita’s ideas on how companies can create a quality niche for themselves as well as the hard struggle when companies try to compete at a global level. The book is interesting not only for a Japanese and American audience, but also business students and managers from countries like India and China who are trying to lead their companies in a global market.

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The Rise of the Rogue Executivve

rre The Rise of the Rogue Executive: How Good Companies Go Bad and How to Stop the Destruction is a hard-hitting book by Professors Leonard Sayles and Cyndia Smith. The book takes a strong stand against the lack of ethics in contemporary American businesses.  It describes, in great detail, the ethical lapses committed by American businesses in the last few years. The authors’ case is that the rogue executive is not an exception at the upper, or lower, echleons of American business, and many sections of our society must accept responsibility in the prevalence of white collar crime. The authors’ critique the role of business schools, press and journalists, investors, regulators, Congress and governments, auditors and consultants, and the larger public in supporting and encouraging unethical business practices. The book concludes with a discussion of how the authors believe things can be fixed and changed.

The book was written long before many of the unethical business practices that occupy the front pages of our newspapers today occured: Bernie Madoff’s largest Ponzie scheme, the fall of Satyam founder Ramalingam Raju. Messers Sayles and Smith provide an in-depth examination of some of the things that are wrong with American businesses today, and many of the issues they discuss apply equally well to businesses in many developed and emerging economies  that are imitating (or at least trying to imitate) American capitalism. The one major shortcoming of the book is repetitiveness- Examples are repeated in different places in the book and parts of the book seem very similar to other parts. Despite such drawbacks, the book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding and improving business ethics.

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