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What do you think?
What is the best business book of all time? The Financial Times asked business leaders, academics and experts around the world for their favourites.
Those responding included:
• Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters
• Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO, General Electric
• Gerard Kleisterlee, president and CEO, Philips
• Andrew Liveris, president, chairman and CEO, Dow Chemical
• Lakshmi Mittal, president and CEO, ArcelorMittal
• Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman, Infosys
• Sam Palmisano, chairman and CEO, IBM
• Howard Stringer, chairman and CEO, Sony
Suman Bery, director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research, India
• The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker
“Your question... is a tough one, in part because I am not a voracious reader of business books. But [this is] one that I do keep going back to. I find it remarkably insightful, way ahead of Stephen Covey’s work, and almost biblical in its lapidary prose.”
Chris Bones, principal, Henley Management College, UK
• Innovation and Entrepreneurship, by Peter Drucker
“Intended from the outset to change the way practitioners, business academics and economists thought about the role of management as a creator of wealth it is now a seminal work. In it he proposed the development of the ’entrepreneurial society’ driving radical changes in the way that social welfare can be delivered. This society would be sustained by the application of ’systematic innovation’ as the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. In the face of the challenges posed by climate change the time has come to re-visit this compelling book.”
Chris Brady, dean and professor of management studies, The Business School, Bournemouth University, UK
In order of preference:
• Moneyball, by Michael Lewis
• Game Plans, by Robert Keidel
• Liar’s Poker, by Michael Lewis
Rahul Dhir, chief executive officer, Cairn India
”While I am an avid reader, I usually try and stay away from ’business books’!”
David Eldon, chairman, Dubai International Financial Centre Authority, and former chairman, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp and Hang Seng Bank
“I am not the person to ask. Rather than have you waiting for a response, let me just say that I prefer to hear people tell me about the successes in business than to plough through page after page of a book. Give me a good newspaper like the FT and it’s all in there somewhere.”
Tom Glocer, chief executive officer, Reuters
• The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clay Christensen.
“It had the most profound effect on my thinking around innovation when I read it some eight years ago.”
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder, Easyjet
• Freakonomics, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner
“I enjoyed it because it provided a very different view of what makes people behave in a particular way.... more economics than management but here it is.”
Jeff Immelt, chairman and chief executive, General Electric
• Barbarians at the Gate, by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar.
And best business book read recently: Mobilizing Minds: Creating Wealth From Talent in the 21st Century Organization, by Lowell L L Bryan and Claudia L I Joyce
Fred Kindle, president and chief executive officer, ABB
• Good to Great, by Jim Collins
“It achieves the rare feat of being a very useful and wise guide to business strategy, as well as a compelling book I can relate to. It helps of course that I share quite a few of Collins’ findings. His counterintuitive assumption that ‘good is the worst enemy of great’ is true for many organisations and people. Collins provides a very perceptive analysis of what it takes to make the leap to greatness. He convincingly argues that a great company makes the right conscious choices, combining a culture of discipline and entrepreneurship that excels both in risk taking and in the execution of daily business. His take on leadership qualities, technology and business ethics as critical success factors is essential reading for anyone bearing corporate responsibility.
Having said that, I read The Halo Effect recently in which Philip Rosenzweig takes a critical view of analyses such as the one cited above. Perhaps the greatest value of these works lies in the competition that they encourage between ideas and courses of action, which is what makes life interesting. If there was only one valid truth, the book about it would have been written years ago and we all would have read it.”
Gerard Kleisterlee, president and chief executive officer, Philips
• Good to Great, by Jim Collins
“[It] draws upon a distilled set of preconditions that should allow any company to make the leap to greatness. Instead of relying on anecdote or observation, Jim Collins uses solid research by a big team to pick just 11 winners from across American industry. What excites me about this book is the way it shows that for a business with the right people, the right culture and the right execution, then the sky truly is the limit.”
Andrew Liveris, president, chief executive officer and chairman, Dow Chemical
• Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
“I first read Execution shortly after it was published in 2002, but it remains as relevant to me today as it was to me back then. It is a book that addresses a fundamental but frequently overlooked truth in business: strategy counts for nothing unless efficiently and intelligently implemented. Bossidy and Charan provide the template for successful implementation, down to earth, practical advice on the discipline of execution ... on effectively managing that critical interface between strategy, operations and people. A mix of first hand experience, anecdotes and sound business knowledge, this book should be mandatory reading for anyone moving in to a leadership position.”
Anand Mahindra, vice chairman and managing director, Mahindra Group
• Competitive Strategy, by Michael Porter.
“I didn’t have to think too hard to answer this question. In my opinion, Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School is the best business book of all time by a wide margin. It was required reading for me when I acquired my MBA and I have found that the book is as contemporary and relevant today, 26 years on. The wider economic environment is constantly changing, and so are our tactical challenges, yet I find Porter’s principles remain as relevant and valuable as they were when he first penned the book. That is probably because Porter’s analysis and advice is based on sound common sense and deep rooted principles of competition and competitive behaviour. I have read few such books that withstand the ultimate test of time.”
Lakshmi Mittal, president and chief executive officer, ArcelorMittal
• Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras.
Scott Moeller, director of executive education, Cass Business School, UK
• Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
• The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
• The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson
• The Firm, by John Grisham
• Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond
“In terms of influential books, I’d have to vote for Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead – although I haven’t read either in many years. Of the more recent business books, I found The Long Tail to be one that I couldn’t put down. It confirmed a number of ideas that had been floating around. It’s one of those books that you read because someone has articulated an idea that makes total sense... It is also one of those books you think afterwards you could have written yourself, because the ideas it presents are so obvious - but it takes a very insightful writer to have been the first to have done so. John Grisham’s The Firm is just a joy to read, although there ought to be a health warning on the jacket that you won’t be able to put the book down until you’ve completed it. Collapse is very thought provoking, and it makes one wonder how permanent our western society will really be, given some of the choices we’re making.”
Minoru Mori, president and chief executive officer, Mori Building
• The Age of Discontinuity, by Peter Drucker
“I admire Drucker’s insightfulness, particularly in predicting the coming of the knowledge society.”
Alasdair Morrison, former chairman, Morgan Stanley Asia, and former group managing director, Jardine Matheson
• Managing for Results, by Peter Drucker.
• My Years With General Motors, by Alfred Sloan
“To be honest I have not read a business book for some time as I have found many are quite faddish and do not stand the test of time. I have looked through my bookshelves and would pick out two books which made a strong impression on me early in my career, which is probably when business books are most helpful:
“Managing for Results .... is a concise and practical summary of how to analyse a business and translate the analysis into actionable decisions. Many of the books I have read subsequently say the same things in a trendier and cuter way but with no more clarity or insight than this one.
“I would equate [My Years With General Motors] to the ancient Greek philosophers gazing at the stars and trying to come up with a sense of how the world works from first principles. Alfred Sloan showed the same disciplined and systematic thought process, allied with leaps of intuition, to produce one of the earliest and most comprehensive sets of strategic concepts and organizational and management policies. Above all these two books demonstrate that two of the most important attributes in business are common sense and judgement. These are sadly lacking in many of the products of business schools that I have met.”
Peter Mukerjea, former chief executive, Star Group India
• Ancient Futures, by Helena Norberg-Hodge
“It’s a case study of people without being academic. Ancient Futures has business ethics at its heart. The effect of globalisation is illustrated in a different way and cuts into the subject from a wonderfully different angle. Ironically, the book is more relevant today than when it was written and yet it’s all to do with the future. It encourages me to step forward and do something.”
Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman, Infosys
• The Mind of the Strategist, by Kenichi Ohmae
“I read it early in my business career and it gave me an excellent mental toolbox for evaluating strategy, on which I was able to build. Many years later Kenichi Ohmae visited Infosys and I gave him my dog-eared copy of the book for his autograph. He was pleasantly surprised that he had a student in then-unknown Bangalore!”
Mark Otty, chairman, Ernst & Young UK and managing partner for Northern Europe, Middle East, India and Africa , Ernst & Young
• Good to Great, by Jim Collins
“It’s a simple and meaningful theory that I’ve seen work in practice. What appeals to me is the emphasis on leadership as a driver for change.”
Sam Palmisano, chairman and chief executive officer, IBM
• A Business and Its Beliefs, by Thomas Watson Jr.
“To be honest, I do not read a lot of business books. I’ve always been a student of history, and I find the different waves of society and how they affect culture to be very interesting. And, as you can imagine, I find that I don’t have as much time to read as I used to. One business book that has always had an effect on me has been A Business and Its Beliefs by Thomas Watson Jr, one of the greatest CEOs of the 20th century and a predecessor of mine at IBM. Mr Watson was a quiet leader who let his actions speak for themselves, and he believed in taking bold bets and moving into new markets, something that remains part of IBM’s legacy today. I have always been impressed by his investment in people and his attention to client satisfaction, and how he tried (and succeeded, I think) in running an international business that was based on core values. It’s a good example to follow, regardless of what industry you’re in.”
S. Ramadorai, chief executive officer and managing director, Tata Consultancy Services
• The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, by Stephen R Covey
“Stephen Covey is able to bring out the importance of building habits that can take an organisation to greatness in a global world of business. The examples used by the author are very readable. [They] helped me focus and also reinforced many beliefs that help move us along the path to building a great organisation. [The book] is a tonic for today’s corporate leaders and helps empower teams and build leaders.”
Guler Sabanci, chairperson and managing director, Sabanci Group
• The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
• The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
• Dealing with Darwin, by Geoffrey Moore
“This has been a hard pick for me since there have been quite a few excellent business books published in the last decade as well as throughout the history that could be regarded as [laying down] guidelines for an executive.
“First of all, I want to mention The Art of War...., which is a true classic. Second, The Tipping Point, which concentrates on how little things can make a big difference. Last but not least, Dealing with Darwin, which discusses how great companies innovate at every stage of their evolution.”
Jonathan Schwartz, president and chief executive officer, Sun Microsystems
• Empires of Light, by Jill Jonnes
“The computing industry is entering a phase where the greatest challenges to reaching new opportunities are not technical but cultural. In many ways, this mirrors the transitions other industries such as electricity and telecommunications have undergone. Empires of Light, on the history of the electrical industry, elucidates the battles of the nascent electricity market and infuses them with the real personalities of the people involved. A book not to be missed if you want to understand how maturing industries move from worlds of complete customisation to standardisation to utilisation, and spawn profound new opportunities - indeed sometimes whole new industries and innovations.” (First printed in an earlier FT story on best business books, December 24, 2004)
Suhel Seth, managing partner, Counselage, India
• Adventures of a Bystander, by Peter Drucker.
“The book is a perfect blend of thought and experience intertwined, to give the reader an insight into the world of management and the challenges ahead. Peter Drucker has been at the forefront of management thinking and this is one unusual book, which is not about self-help but about community-building through management intervention.”
Sir Howard Stringer, chairman and chief executive officer, Sony
• Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change, by Louis V Gerstner
Henry Tang, chief secretary for administration and former financial secretary, Hong Kong government
• The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith
• On the Wealth of Nations, by P J O’Rourke
The three main concepts enshrined in The Wealth of Nations – pursuit of self-interest, division of labour, and freedom of trade – lay down the foundation of free market economics and stand the test of time. It is a most visible hand in guiding economic progress of the mankind. For those who look for more enjoyable reading, O’Rourke provides a painfully funny and captivatingly brief introduction to the wisdom of Adam Smith.”
Meg Whitman, president and chief executive officer, eBay
• Good to Great, by Jim Collins