What should business executives be reading this summer?
If the opinions of billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett carry any weight, then the book to grab is “Business Adventures” by John Brooks.
Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a book review published on his blog GatesNotes on Saturday and in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, explains that Buffett recommended—and sent him—the old, hard-to-find book in 1991 (now available as a e-book according to Gates).
On a video embedded in the WSJ article online, Buffett and Gates reference chapters from the book about price-fixing at General Electric and the fate of the Edsel, seemingly dated stories.
Why does this “out-of-print collection of New Yorker articles” speak to executives leading businesses today?
Gates draws lessons from a chapter on Xerox first published in the New Yorker in 1967 (which he also makes available for free download), where executives ignored unconventional ideas about graphical user interface. But beyond that, the timeliness appeal lies in the fact that the book is “as much about the strengths and weaknesses of leaders in challenging circumstances as it is about the particulars of one business or another,” he writes.
The “rules for running a strong business and creating value haven’t changed,” Gates says, noting that there’s “an essential human factor in every business endeavor.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have a perfect product, production plan, and marketing pitch; you’ll still need the right people to lead and implement those plans,” he writes.
What Books Inspire P/C Carrier Executives?
Another executive expresses the same idea differently. “Having the right people on the bus is mission critical,” Scottsdale Insurance President Michael Miller says in an article he wrote for Carrier Management earlier this month.
Miller’s article chronicles how leaders of Scottsdale (Miller and his predecessor, Max Williamson) applied the concepts of a different business classic: “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins to build a specialty property/casualty insurance company.
Scottdale’s president and chief operating officer recounts Scottsdale’s decision to shift from a product to a regional structure for underwriting and claims at a time when business was good. “We had to overcome the belief that we were good enough,” Miller writes, reinforcing the first sentence of Collins’ book, which says that “good is the enemy of great.”
A slightly more recent book, the 2005 title, “Blue Ocean Strategy.” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, gives Robert Schimek, President and CEO of AIG Property Casualty’s Americas Region, some of the insight he uses to inspire continued innovation in the commercial insurance operations.
Speaking at a conference earlier this year, Schimek read a passage from the book aloud about overcrowded industries that continue to compete over the same old products, creating “nothing but a bloody pool [or] red ocean of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool.”
Schimek said: “Our industry seems to have a really uncanny ability to find its way into the red ocean… by competing head-to-head… When we compete on the basis of being unique, that’s where we really have the opportunity to get to the blue ocean territory.”
Has your property/casualty insurance company applied the principles of “Good to Great” or “Blue Ocean Strategy?” Or have you been moved to apply the principles of another business book to guide your leadership? Let us know by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.