I was reading biographies about Henry Ford and Rockefeller in fifth grade. I always believed that the best way to learn something is to read about the people who are the best in that field. Want to be a great manager? Read about Jack Welch. Want to learn how to make money in stocks? Read about Warren Buffett. I’m not suggesting you can become them from one book. Just that if I pickup a few nuggets of wisdom than its was worth the read. Plus, I prefer a good business biography to some trashy fiction novel any day – even on the beach.
Some business leaders are so intertwined with the businesses they started that its hard to separate one from the other. So some of these books are as much about the business as they are about the business leader.
1. Buffett, The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein. There is no better teacher of how to invest and build wealth than Warren Buffet. This is a story of a down-to-earth man who became the 2nd richest man in the US by doing what we’ve all been taught about stocks – research, buy and hold. He has defied every stock fad including stock splits, Internet mania, corporate bloat, day trading, market timing, investment banking and high paid consultants.
2. SWOOSH, The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There by J.B Strasser and Laurie Beckland. These guys started selling shoes out of a trunk of a car and developed the first running shoes using a waffle iron!
3. Morgan, American Financier by Jean Strouse. JP Morgan was a true titan of industry. While he was not the richest man of his time (he would have made Fortune 20 list for sure) but one of the most powerful. His name is still synonymous with banking and finance in US and Britain 100 years later.
4. The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison* Inside Oracle Corporation. *God doesn’t think he’s Larry Ellison by Mike Wilson. A ruthless businessman who took someone else’s idea – relational database – and made a multi-billion dollar industry while either crushing or eating up his competition. This is the company that convinces corporations to fork over millions of dollars for database software when there’s similar products available for free!
5. Losing My Virginity, The Updated Story of the World’s Greatest Entrepreneur by Richard Branson. Very entertaining autobiography by a man who calls himself “Rebel Billionaire”. Mixture of how he grew his business empire with his personal stunts like setting the world record for crossing the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon. A cat would be jealous of this man. Each stunt is a story of how he avoided death.
6. Only the Paranoid Survive. How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and Career by Andrew Grove. The animals in the wild who are slow or lazy usually end up someone’s dinner that day. Business is a jungle.
7. NUTS! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevi Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg. A story about legendary CEO Herb Keller as much as it is about Southwest Airline.
8. Pour Your Hearth Into It. How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz. Another book which is part autobiography of the man behind this brand as it is of the business franchise. Starbucks sells image as much as they sell coffee and believe holding one of their coffee cups tells as much about the person as the jeans they wear or the car they drive. And all this time I just thought I craved a good cup of joe.
9. Jack, Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch. If you want to be a great manager then you have to read this book from the man who defined management style for the past 30 years.