Over the past few weeks, iconic businessmen Lee Iacocca and H. Ross Perot passed away. Both were visionaries who changed their industries. But they were also skillful in branding themselves, whether through media interviews or books. Iacocca and Perot showed that business was exciting and fun.
An insightful business book can also be an excellent way to elevate your acumen in management, strategy, innovation and leadership. Here are the best business books to have been published over the past couple years:
Entrepreneurial Leader by William H. Donaldson
Unlike Iacocca and Perot, William H. Donaldson is not a household name. But he has a stellar career: His investment bank—he is the D in Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette— innovated the industry. He was the founding dean of the Yale School of Management; he put together the turnaround of Aetna; and he led the New York Stock Exchange and Securities and Exchange Commission, where he had to deal with the Enron implosion. So yes, in his book he offers many real-world lessons on leadership and how to make tough strategic decisions. But for Donaldson, one of the most important principles is to be entrepreneurial—by learning fast, taking calculated risks and finding unique ways to create value.
Connecting the Dots by John Chambers
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the dot-com boom was Cisco. But when John Chambers joined the company in 1991, the prospects were far from promising. Cisco was mostly a niche player in the router market. But Chambers saw the huge potential and made bold acquisitions to rapidly speed up the growth (an average 65% per year through the 1990s, and the market cap hit $550 billion by 2000). In his book, he provides a playbook for spotting tech trends, the importance of scale and the need for building a strong culture. He also writes about his personal struggles, such as with dyslexia.
Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman
What explains the mega-success of companies like Amazon.com, Facebook, Pinterest and Airbnb? Well, according to Reid Hoffman, it’s about blitzscaling. And he should know. Hoffman is the cofounder of LinkedIn and a top-notch VC investor. Blitzscaling is focused on aggressively raising huge amounts of capital and putting a premium on speed—regardless of the loss of efficiency. The goal is to quickly dominate a market so that rivals are essentially marginalized. The fact that it contains a foreword by Bill Gates speaks volumes about the value this book could provide.
Alpha Girls by Julian Guthrie
The venture capital industry has been around since the 1970s. But unfortunately, VC culture has changed very little. The business is still mostly white and male. In Julian Guthrie’s Alpha Girls, she looks back on the history of venture capital by telling the stories of top women in VC like Magdalena Yesil, Mary Jane Elmore, Theresia Gouw and Sonja Hoel (here’s a review I wrote about the book for Forbes.com). They helped launch breakout companies like Salesforce.com, Facebook, Trulia, F5 Networks and McAfee. While the book is inspiring—the author covers personal struggles with cancer and divorce—it is also frustrating. Because despite all the success of these women, they still have continued to face challenges in changing the culture.
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
John Carreyrou was one of the Wall Street Journal reporters who uncovered the duplicity of medical startup Theranos in 2015. This would ultimately lead to the liquidation of the company as well as federal charges against cofounder Elizabeth Holmes. Carreyrou has since come out with a bestselling book on the subject. It’s an engaging read, which seems more like a modern-day version of Game Of Thrones (minus the dragons). The book has also been optioned by Hollywood, with Jennifer Lawrence signed on to play Holmes.
As an early employee at Salesforce.com, Tien Tzuo built the company’s subscription infrastructure. It was a tough process, but he quickly saw how this type of business model would revolutionize industries. So he would eventually go on to cofound Zuora, which is a cloud-based provider of subscription services. In his book Subscribed, he writes about his journey. He illustrates how companies like HBO, Adobe, Delta Air Lines, Ford Motor Company and Caterpillar have transformed themselves by adopting subscriptions. He also thinks the trend is still in the early stages and will play out for decades to come.
Who Is Michael Ovitz?
Michael Ovitz’s meteoric rise in Hollywood during the 1980s was breathtaking, almost unbelievable. As the most powerful agent at CAA, he turned the industry upside down by innovating “packaging” of actors, directors and literary clients, which gave his firm incredible power. But Ovitz wanted even more. He would eventually leverage his dominance into becoming an investment banker, having brokered deals with Matsushita’s purchase of MCA. Unfortunately, he eventually hit a wall, leaving his firm to go to Disney where he was swiftly let go by Michael Eisner in 1997. In his book, he does not hold back about his story—including his own critical mistakes. Ovitz also provides great lessons about providing top-notch client service, doing extensive research, understanding emerging trends and, yes, projecting the right image.