The best business books will stand the test of time, offering insights and lessons to help entrepreneurs and managers at different stages of their careers. Here are five you should consider to put on your reading list.
1. The Global Business Leader, INSEAD Business Press, by J Frank Brown, reviewed by Robert Gogel, CEO, Liberata
Frank Brown spent 26 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) before becoming head of its global advisory services unit.
He instigated a leadership development programme called Genesis Park to develop the next generation of PwC leaders, drive cultural change and promote a global perspective within the organisation.
This book is a distillation of his business experience, gained throughout 37 countries. It’s aimed at smart young people aspiring to leadership in business as well as those who run to lead complex organisations outside the business world. It might even help those who already hold leadership positions and are seeking a better understanding of trans-cultural leadership issues.
The skills of networking, public speaking and team building are covered in some detail. Emphasis is given to the importance of social responsibility and workforce diversity. Brown’s guide provides us with a valuable leadership toolkit, equipping the reader with the confidence to master the new rules of the game.
The leitmotif that runs through the book is that the old style of “business as usual” is no longer appropriate. In today’s fast-paced world, leaders must be sensitive to national and cultural differences – adapt and adopt – or the competition will have you for lunch.
2. Turn Your Sales Force into Profit Heroes, by Peter Brook, reviewed by Mark Biscoe, Head of Retail Sales, Camelot
Although I suspect management consultant Peter Brook started writing this book prior to the economic downturn, its release is in fact extremely relevant and thought provoking.
In it, Brook shows how to utilise the inner strength of the sales leadership community, using actions and skills to develop teams with passion. I couldn’t agree more with the book’s central hypothesis that companies could do much more to unlock the profit opportunity in sales.
Brook argues that to achieve outstanding customer connection and to hunt down that profit opportunity, your sales teams need to be prized and developed. He emphasises that the traditional sales model of relentlessly focusing on financial targets will not be enough to release the full potential of the individual, and therefore will not create the performance transformation required if we are to fully leverage sales as a profit driver.
From CEO to company secretary, the book engagingly unlocks the key to growth opportunities in sales, revealing how to inspire individuals to create those amazing relationships with customers via continuous skills development and great leadership.
I think this book is one of the few that could really inspire and motivate sales leaders out there and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to give their business an edge. With a tough year ahead, finding your competitive edge will be the key to survival.
3. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams, reviewed by Andy Jacques, SVP Northern EMEA, salesforce.com
Anybody who relies upon Wikipedia as their default font of all knowledge already knows the value of mass collaboration. If, as we’re told, two heads are better than one, then distilling the knowledge of thousands offers almost limitless potential.
Wikinomics argues that the arrival of the “new Web” means the dawning of a new age for businesses. In place of small, talented groups of professionals, we have products and services being created and updated by online users numbering in their thousands, if not millions.
The book encourages all companies to harness the potential of mass collaboration. While critics argue this simply produces “mass mediocrity”, Wikinomics argues that open systems produce faster and more powerful results.
Will companies be willing to abandon tried-and-tested business practice and adopt a radical new method as the recession hits them? My opinion is that companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon have very clearly harnessed the power of mass collaboration and achieved huge success, while others still struggle in their own silos. New ideas lead to innovation and growth – and collaboration is the way forward.
4. The Rules of Entrepreneurship, by Rob Yeung (published by Cyan Communications), reviewed by David Thompson, VP of people and organisational development, ABN Amro
‘If you could start your own business, what would it be?’ It’s one of the greatest Friday night pub questions, but for most of us it remains a dream that will never be realised. However, if you’re tired of being, as Dr Rob affectionately calls it, a ‘wage slave’, then The Rules of Entrepreneurship could be your first step to freedom.
This engaging little book delivers exactly what it promises: practical, straightforward and realistic advice. Its most refreshing revelation is that you don’t have to fit the ‘wacky maverick’ mould so beloved by the media to be a successful entrepreneur. All you need is a well thought-out plan, a product or service that’s been ‘researched to within an inch of its life’, and the realisation that people are the key: understanding them, networking with them, and selling to them.
It won’t be easy, Yeung warns, but it will be challenging and fun. From creating to planning, from selling to expanding, this book has got it covered. All you need now is the back of a beermat to get cracking on your business plan.
5. Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business by Jon Steel (published by Adweek Books), reviewed by Roger Marriot, managing director of Dynamo Marketing Communications
Jon Steel’s Perfect Pitch is an antidote to the poison of PowerPoint that dominates the majority of business meetings these days. Throughout the book, Steel uses the term ‘presentation crimes’, and with every chapter I was calling out ‘Guilty as charged!’ I also recall many a dull meeting presided over by PC-happy presenters with a lack of imagination.
The book asserts (through many example scenarios) that our job is a very simple one: to communicate ideas and information so the recipient doesn’t need an acronym dictionary or a PhD to understand our agency strategy. My favourite illustration is that of Steve Jobs (then just appointed CEO of Apple) briefing an agency on Apple’s advertising requirements and subsequent business strategy. It sets the tone of the book – in your face, unapologetic, inspirational and a clear representation of the man.
Steel knows his stuff. His observations are founded in a deep understanding of how humans operate and receive information. Steel’s teams have won more than 90 per cent of their pitches, and I’m not surprised; the read was liberating.
See also: What I’m Reading Now: The Lazy Winner