Best Business Books: Robert Bruner's Picks
Robert Bruner, dean, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
A novel about an entrepreneur, John Galt, who is determined to bring his technology to the world his own way.
Why it's a must-read: "Business leaders need to find their voice again. We don't hear people talk about the personal attributes of inventors in passionate terms anymore: Now they're Web 2.0 wealth creators, sort of popular celebrities. But Ayn Rand characterizes the investor and entrepreneur very differentlyas a romantic figure, a person with a mission, who deep in [his or her] heart wants to transform society for the better. Her novels are viewed now in the shadow of objectivism and libertarianism and the like. I don't think you have to swallow all of that to be moved by this vision of the entrepreneur. It is 'must reading' for both friends and adversaries of capitalism."
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (2005)
A professor emeritus of moral philosophy at Princeton examines the perils of lying.
Why it's a must-read: "When a friend recommended it, I thought they were putting me on, that this was one of those edgy, in-your-face, humor items. In fact, it is a deadly serious look at what constitutes gray-area lying, in which someone represents him or herself as knowledgeable when in fact he or she isn't. CEOs actually know rather little about conditions inside their firms and rely on the veracity of people and systems to convey what little they do know. This little book grapples with one of the fundamental problems that all CEOs face: When is one hearing the truth?"
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't by Jim Collins (2001)
Management consultant Collins and a team of researchers examined company data from over 1,400 firms, whittling the list 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: "A massively influential primer on how firms have progressed from 'just good' to 'truly great' performers. Collins has done more to crystallize a set of high-impact insights than just about any other business writer."
Leading Change by John Kotter (1996)
A Harvard Business School professor, Kotter says successful managers can't just "manage" change; they must "lead" it.
Why it's a must-read: "After Collins, I would say Kotter's book would rank near the top in impact on leadership of corporations. It's a dense, highly accessible handbook for change leadership. What we know now from 20-plus years of leading large corporations through wrenching change is this isn't easy. Taking organizations to a higher level is a daunting challenge. A consulting industry exists to help walk executives through this, but at the end of the day how do you know what you're facing, what do you gauge an organization against in order to measure progress? Kotter would be the first stop in the major change process."
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker (1967)
The founding father of the science of management offers an early primer on how executives can do their jobs better.
Why it's a must-read: "No executive should ignore the possibility that one's well-intentioned behavior is creating more problems than it is solving. My most vivid takeaway from the book was the need to manage upward as well as downward. It's easy when you're a manager to think it's just a matter of getting some followers to go along. In fact, Drucker agues very effectively for the need to gain buy-in from people abovecoming to one's leaders with completed staffwork, with empathy for their dilemmas, and with enough flexibility to accept that they may not agree with you. When you reduce his ideas down, you think, now that you mention it, it seems kind of obvious. But it took this remarkable chronicler of wisdom to synthesize these insights into a volume."