Monday, 16 January 2012

Holiday Reading

Several times over recent years we headed off for some sun over the holiday period. This year we headed off to the Canary Islands and were lucky enough to have fantastic weather for 7 days. It as a great opportunity to truly unwind, reflect on the previous year and look forward to the year head. By having a few days off for Christmas before in the UK I found myself totally unwound with a very clear mind. It is something that I can strongly recommend.

As with most of my holidays for those who have followed my blogs in the past I usually spend the time reading what most people would consider very boring books on entrepreneurship and business. I am fascinated by the stories of people who have made a change. I often intersperse this with the more traditional business management books as well as recently getting into economics.

This holiday was no exception and I had quite an interesting mix. I previously read Steve Jobs biography but decided to re-read it on this trip. I also read Richard Branson’s latest book as well as the latest offering from Allan Leighton. To finish things off I read the book about Bernard Madoff and his £65 billion fraud.

What I should also say is that all of these books were read on my iPad which saved the usual fear of excess baggage fines at the airport.

Richard Branson’s book is an interesting read and explains his evolving view of how a business and capitalism should change for the new millennium. ‘Screw Business As Usual’ sets out his thoughts on how business should consider the environment and look to give as much back to communities and people.

This is the overarching theme of the book and once you have sussed this generally the book states lots of case studies of companies which have done good over recent years. I am a great supporter of this approach but I did find the book slightly repetitive. There is also the nagging issue at the back of my mind that Richard Branson was writing this book whilst sitting on his Necker Island with his private jet standing by. I guess he sits in a far more comfortable position than many of us who are working hard to sustain our own businesses and the livelihoods of those who work with us.

The focus of Alan Leightons book was how business leaders make decisions. I found this a very quick read and really interesting. He has snippets from leaders such as Terry Leahy of Tesco’s and Adam Crozier ex of the FA.

There is also some excellent personal insights from his time at the Royal Mail which are very interesting.

The Madoff story is an incredible one. I could not help think how did he manage to sleep at night. It was clear that Bernard Madoff was considered an upstanding member of the community whilst he was stealing millions from his friends and colleagues. The scale of the fraud is spectacular and it is hard to imagine how he managed to achieve it without assistance of others.

Over the years I must have read hundreds of books on management and business but I do think that the Steve Jobs story is the ultimate business book and nothing comes close. Not only is the book fantastically well written it tells the most amazing story of Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs has several stories but his most impressive is the fact that in 1997 he returned to Apple which was very close to bankruptcy and by 2010, 13years later had turned Apple into the most valuable publically owned company in the world.

As a sideline he had also built Pixar and ended up owning 7.5% of Walt Disney.

He is clearly a very odd personality and having read many books on the best way to build businesses and manage people Steve Jobs defies every single rule. He was obnoxious and insulting with little empathy for others.

However his incredible focus on detail and quality encouraged people to achieve things they never thought they could.

In relation to business stories I think it will be a long time before there is a one that can match that of Steve Jobs and Apple.