Best Business Books: Deborah C. Wright's Picks
Deborah C. Wright, chairman, president, and CEO, Carver Bancorp
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: "This is a hugely common-sensical framework that allows any team to assess how effective you're being, and which members for what reasons are not stepping up to the plate, either because of a skills mismatch or an attitude mismatch or a host of reasons. When you're a little company and you're trying to figure out what type of talent you need against your business plan, this allows you to think smartly about it. Virtually all levels of junior managers can process it: Once you get the lingo, you can get everybody on the bus. Everybody can relate to that. If you don't have the right people on the bus, we're going to have a tough year making our numbers. It's one of those books that you read and say, 'Hmm, why didn't I think of that?' "
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Michael Porter (1980)
A seminal primer on how organizations can respond to competition
Why it's a must-read: "I read it 20 years ago because I was a student at Harvard Business School, and it was required reading, but I've read it two or three times since. It changed everybody's thinking around strategy to focus as candidly as you could on not just your industry but your place in it. It forces you to be brutally honest with yourself and your team about the essence of what's different about you that you can sell to your customers. When I got here to Carver in 1999, I pulled it off the shelf and said OK, I need to go back to basics here. This company is in a consolidating industry, and we're using all of Porter's ideas about figuring out how to compete in a world where you're a small player among giants, trying not just to stay alive but do well."
I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother by Allison Pearson (2002)
A novel about a hedge-fund-managing mother of two who struggles to juggle work and family life
Why it's a must-read: "I adopted a little girl three years ago, and I read this book just before doing it. I was struggling with the balancing act between the life I lead, which is pretty hectic, and throwing a very large monkey wrench into it. This book was the most hilarious depiction of modern motherhood that I've ever read. I still keep it when I want to give myself a reminder of the high expectations you have for yourself and everybody you work with, but the reality of having an 8 o'clock breakfast when your daughter has a cold.
My management style and perspective on the stresses of the people who work with me have changed dramatically. I've been a single, stereotypically driven individual and have never been able to relate to the real-life stresses and the complete lack of predictability that comes into your life with a child. It's taken a lot of pressure off my team because people can be honest now. I can come in and say my daughter had a bad night, so I had a bad night."
Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman (1953)
The civil rights-era minister who cofounded the first interracially copastored church in the United States reflects on prayer, community, and the rituals of life.
Why it's a must-read: "We have four generations of ministers in my family, which probably explains a lot about why I'm at Carver. This theologian was one of my dad's favorites, and he often quoted Howard Thurman from the pulpit. At our Thanksgiving dinners, we all read a part of this particular book. There's a section in there called 'A Litany of Thanksgiving.' It's this beautiful prayer about the ups and downs of the course of a person's life, and the many opportunities to be thankful for the gift of being young and the gift of being old.
He writes in very short chapters, two pages, that are really about something short and sweet. When you're exhausted after a long day, and don't have time to read a 400-page novel, you can read that, two pages of something, and it just helps."
The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours by Marian Wright Edelman (1992)
The founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, who was the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, describes her 25 lessons for life.
Why it's a must-read: "First of all, Marian is my aunt. I view this book as one of those anchor books that remind you always where you came from and what is most important. She talks about some of the choices we have in terms of how we're spending our time on Earth, getting back to some basics around children at the forefront and what you're going to leave behind as your contribution.
Whenever I feel a little tossed and torn in a given month or week, it's comforting to go back to that book because it reminds me to keep somewhere in the frontal lobe why you're doing all this. The quarterly earnings and the analyst meetings and the shareholder demands, the SECwhen you get through with all of the various points of demand and pressures, sometimes you just need to get recentered."