It's hard to believe the 2010s are over and we're already two months into 2020. The start of a new decade gives us all an opportunity to reflect on where we've been and, more important, plan for what's ahead. As an entrepreneur and avid reader, I've always believed books can have a powerful influence on the way we think about our goals and achievements.
I recently read a number of books offering interesting perspectives on the different ways people have succeeded and failed at running companies. Here are five that should be on every entrepreneur's list this year:
1. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger
We tend to think of entrepreneurs as people who build a company from the ground up--but I believe some of the most interesting entrepreneurship stories take place after someone joins a company later, when the business is facing a shifting market. In The Ride of a Lifetime, Bob Iger takes readers through his journey of becoming the CEO of the Walt Disney Company at a time when the organization was struggling with massive technological change.
Iger's successes at the helm of the company have been remarkable. He has embraced technology, increased Disney's value by more than five times, and led the company through acquisitions of some of the biggest media companies in the world, including Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox. In this memoir, Iger shares essential lessons for every entrepreneur on a variety of business topics--everything from mergers and acquisitions to culture to crisis management.
2. Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac
I've been following the increasingly unfortunate Uber news for years, but it wasn't until I read Super Pumped that I realized the magnitude of the problems the company has created and faced. In 2009, when Uber was founded, the company nailed product-market fit. Why? Because it faced no real competition. The landscape made the company so successful, in fact, that the leadership team didn't need to worry about much else and optimized for growth and winning. As a result, poor management and cultural practices slipped through the cracks.
Fast forward 10 years and the company now finds itself in a very different position. Thanks to increased competition and new regulations, Uber doesn't have that same product-market fit it had a decade ago. Because its leadership team valued short-term wins over everything else, the company lost sight of the vital elements of long-term business success. This is a critical lesson for any entrepreneur: Never let short-term success blind you. From day one, focus on a long-term success strategy and build a healthy working culture that will stand the test of time.
3. American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman
Although Uber is still figuring out how to succeed in the long run, setbacks don't mark the end of every company's story. If you want to read about a company that made a remarkable comeback, look no further than American Icon. In this book, Bryce G. Hoffman details how Ford Motor Company was saved from near bankruptcy and went on to become one of the most profitable car companies in the world.
In 2006, Ford brought on a new CEO, Alan Mulally, who played a key role in turning the company around. Mulally saved the company by cutting costs, improving product-market fit, and building a more sustainable business model. Although most entrepreneurs hope to never face the herculean task of saving their companies from bankruptcy, most new businesses will undergo financial difficulties at some point, and American Icon offers guidance on how to steer the course.
4. Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea: The History and Discovery of the World's Richest Shipwreck by Gary Kinder
When we think of entrepreneurs, deep-sea treasure hunters aren't typically the first people who come to mind. Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea completely changes that perception.
In 1857, the S.S. Central America, carrying 21 tons of gold mined during the California gold rush, sank in the Atlantic Ocean. For over a century, the shipwreck sat on the ocean floor, beyond the reach of existing maritime technology. Until a sharp, forward-thinking entrepreneur named Tommy Thompson set out to retrieve it.
Thompson deftly navigated his team through complex maritime regulations, demanding investors, and technological limitations to locate and recover the treasure. Thompson's adventure isn't a traditional entrepreneurial journey by any means. But his story holds invaluable insight for any business leader on selling investors on a far-fetched vision, addressing strict regulations and staying committed through unforeseen challenges.
5. Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard
If you're looking for a more traditional (albeit controversial) entrepreneurship success story, Kochland is the book for you. Author Christopher Leonard offers a highly detailed analysis of how the Koch brothers managed to achieve an annual revenue larger than that of Goldman Sachs, Facebook, and U.S. Steel combined. Their methods for attaining this success varied widely (including everything from negative advertising to secret funding), which gives the author plenty of fodder for entrepreneurial lessons--the good, the bad and the ugly.
Regardless of how you feel about the Koch brothers, some of their practices, such as turning every business owner into a mini-CEO, empowering leaders to be entrepreneurs and to make the key decisions to keep moving, are ones that every entrepreneur should integrate into their plans.