Best Business Books: Jackie Fouse's Picks
Jackie Fouse, CFO, Alcon
Blindness by José Saramago (1995)
The Portuguese novelist tells the story of a civilization struck by an epidemic of blindness. One by one, people lose their sight and struggle to maintain their humanity in a chaotic world.
Why it's a must-read: "From a business standpoint, sometimes we have a tendency toward blindness: We get accustomed to the things that are going on around us. We don't remember to sit back and say, what are we really trying to do here and why are we doing it this way and are we really fooling ourselves when we get up every morning and think everything is fine? We need to open our eyes, to try to see things as they really are around us. By the end of the book, people do get their sight back, but everything is such a mess, it leaves you with this uncertainty as to whether they will ever recover."
The Quest for Value by G. Bennett Stewart III(1991)
Stewart, a senior partner at a financial advisory firm, tackles some of the biggest questions in financial management.
Why it's a must-read: "This is one of the best books I've seen that explains economic and financial concepts in a very practical way, in a way which gets to the heart of how to measure and evaluate value creation. I think anybody from any functional activity or any discipline, including outside finance, should be able to appreciate what it means to run the right kind of business model and make money off it. It's the kind of book we should probably make the head of every business unit read."
Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story by Kurt Eichenwald (2005)
A reporter for the New York Times chronicles the demise of Enron.
Why it's a must-read: "It's a fabulous book for telling you just about everything not to do when you're running a business. You can just go chapter by chapter and pull out what not to do in terms of financial structure, from a legal standpoint, in your communications. Even a nonfinancial person can read it and understand the kinds of things they should be looking for in their company, to make sure they're not happening."
The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization by Thomas Friedman (1999)
In his first effort at explaining the globalizing world, Friedman uses the metaphor of a Lexus and an olive tree to describe the tension between the innovative, developed world and more traditionbound economies.
Why it's a must-read: "For any of us who are selling our products globally, this is the kind of thing we just don't think about enough. Sometimes as managers and leaders, we need to spend some time thinking about macroeconomic issues and how those may impact our business. Friedman looks at why the world struggles with the concept of globalization. He goes through the seeming conflict between these things [the Lexus and the olive tree] and tries to explain that none of it is necessarily good or bad. We just have to understand people's motivations and where they're coming from."
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (1994)
Lamott, a novelist and essayist, advises would-be writers to start small. As her father once advised her brother when he was struggling with a book report on birds as a child: "Just take it bird by bird."
Why it's a must-read: "I'm a little bit of an amateur writer, which not very many people know. If you take it as an instructional manual for writing, this book helps authors or aspiring authors think about how to sit down and start writing. Rather than thinking, I want to write a novel, and it seems like such a daunting task. She says take it one step at a time. You can apply the same idea to business: If you think a task is too big or daunting, it will make you inert; you'll be paralyzed. But if you take it bit by bit, you'll finish it."