Best Business Books: Jack Brennan's Picks
Jack Brennan, CEO, the Vanguard Group
Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company by Andrew S. Grove (1996)
The legendary CEO of Intel explains how managers must deal with massive change. Grove's own big test, he writes, came in the mid-1980s, when he decided to move his company out of memory chips and into microprocessors.
Why it's a must-read: "I prefer to think of paranoia in a more constructive wayconfidence without complacency. Sometimes it's hardest for successful organizations to do that. If you're at an inflection point and it's a crisis, well, that's not easy, but it's easier to garner support. If it's around a corner or over a hill, it can be harder. In our business, the index fund didn't supplant the actively managed funds overnight. The defined-contribution business didn't supplant the [defined-benefit] business overnight. When this came out, I bought a lot of copies and handed them out. I don't want to wake up one day and find out it's a different chip."
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't by Jim Collins (2001)
Management consultant Collins examined company data from over 1,400 firms, whittling the list down to 11including Fannie Mae, Gillette, and Wells Fargothat have substantially improved their performance, growing from just "good" to "great."
Why it's a must-read: "It's kind of the Ted Williams of business books. After I read about 'Level 5 leadership' [Collins's term for natural leaders who channel their ambition into their institutions], I fired off an E-mail to Jim and said, 'I'm a little embarrassed to send you a piece of fan mail, but here it is.' I thought it was such a great depiction of what we value: We're really sharply focused on a tightly defined mission, but many people regard it as narrow. You read a book like this, and it's reaffirming. It's not about the big idea; it's about a lot of little ideas and getting better."
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Michael Porter (1980)
A Harvard Business School professor's seminal primer on how organizations can respond to competition
Why it's a must-read: "It's an older book, but I personally have never seen a better one about how to go about conceptualizing the strategic challenges that any organization will face. You need a template for how you think about business, whether you're a small manufacturing company or a global entity. There are way too many books written on this subject and way too many people pitching their wares. I don't think Porter has been superceded."
Economics by Paul Samuelson (1948)
A textbook that remains an authority on the principles of economics
Why it's a must-read: "I still have the 1972 version on my shelf, and I pull it out every now and then. If you're going to be a heart surgeon, it's probably not that important. If you're going to be in business, it's pretty hard not to understand the relationship between what's going on in China and what happens to the yen and what happens to the American treasury bond market."
Leadership Is an Art by Max DePree (1989)
The longtime CEO of Herman Miller Inc., a manufacturer of office furniture, offers a passionate appeal for humanitarian leadership.
Why it's a must-read: "This book always reminds me that the way you select leaders is important: That frontline supervisor is far more important to most of our crew members than I am. They can affect their daily life. If I do my job reasonably well, I can help. But if there are 10 people working on a phone unit, their most important person is that supervisor, and if she shares our values and treats people with respect, then our company will be successful."