In this week's reviews of great business books: A tech-focused guide to leadership mines a trio of inspiring entrepreneurial sagas for actionable gold. And a brand master explains that the customer isn't just always right-the customer is everything.
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Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs
David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano
Not every CEO runs a game-changing technology business. But every CEO can learn from those who have. In Strategy Rules, the authors David B. Yoffie and Michael Cusumano (from Harvard and MIT's management schools, respectively) share valuable lessons from those who "paved an extraordinary path as the first generation of high tech superstar." The authors are especially insightful on the related subjects of seconds-in-command and succession, drawing an important distinction between "complements" and "substitutes." Steve Ballmer, Craig Barrett, and Tim Cook, they point out, "were absolutely essential to the success that Gates, Grove, and Jobs enjoyed." Yet those three talented executives struggled to replace their bosses, who "could have looked for new leaders more attuned to the next generation of technology, customers, and competitors, or encouraged a more competitive process." (An instructive contrast is the approach used by GE's Reginald Jones when selecting Jack Welch to succeed him.) Yoffie and Cusumano argue that the choice of successor should not be rooted in the past: in loyalty to the team or based on ingrained customs. Rather, "it should be about grooming or choosing successors who demonstrate the ability to learn new things, break with the past when necessary, and champion the products, services, and platforms we have yet to imagine."
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The Brand Flip: Why Customers Now Run Companies and How to Profit from It
New Riders (2015)
There has never been a time when customers were better informed, less patient, and more demanding. The balance of power has shifted from seller to buyer and, as management giant Peter Drucker predicted long ago, branding is making selling "superfluous." Marty Neumeier, director of branding for the firm Liquid Agency, was onto this in his first book, The Brand Gap, where he presciently wrote, "A brand isn't what you say it is. It's what they say it is." The Brand Gap came out the year before Facebook was founded. Neumeier's new book, The Brand Flip, was written an era of social media later, and now the author wants companies to be conveyors not of marketing but of meaning. "The best customers," he writes, "are no longer consumers or market segments or tiny blips in big data. They're individuals with hopes, dreams, needs, and emotions." Especially interesting is Neumeier's advice to move away from storytelling -- marketers' favorite buzzword -- and to instead practice "storyframing," which lets customers build their own narratives.
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And From the Backlist
Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street
Open Road Integrated Media (1969)
Writing in The Wall Street Journal last year, Bill Gates recalled asking Warren Buffett in 1991 to recommend his favorite business book. "He didn't miss a beat: 'It's Business Adventures, by John Brooks,' he said. 'I'll send you my copy.'"
Some of the material in the reissue of Business Adventures feels dated. How could it not after 45 years? However, like Einstein's questions on his physics exams (the same every year, but requiring different answers) the issues that Brooks raises are both familiar and, if anything, more relevant than they were 45 years ago. Wall Street's volatility. The Edsel's un-market-ability. Xerox's innovation and corporate culture. It's worth noting that the average length of this book's seven essays is 37 pages. Gates and Buffett savored every word, and you should too.