- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: HarperBusiness (May 8 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061197629
- ISBN-13: 978-0061197628
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,284,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
New Ideas from Dead CEOs: Lasting Lessons from the Corner Office Hardcover – May 8 2007
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In selecting great ideas from dozens of entrepreneurial CEOs, Buchholz insisted that these business pioneers had to be innovators, teachers of lessons, and interestingand gone from this earth. All nine CEOs represent household names and, some may argue, overexposed brands. Yet Buchholz, with compelling and fast-reading narratives, drills to the core of each personalityand his or her businessensuring that learnings don't get obfuscated by too much drama or sidebars. A. P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, believed in serving customers whom big business ignoredand launched the brand network now ubiquitous in financial services. Although his empire is undergoing no small turmoil today, Sam Walton literally invented self-serviceand the resulting package of discount prices and a managed supply chain, hosted in small-town stores. Mix talent and a lucky break (and at least one failure) with an obsession for turning a small idea into a revolution. Jacobs, Barbara
“Inspirational stories from the greatest business minds in history. Anyone can learn from their struggles, setbacks and, ultimately, successes.” (Entrepreneur.com)
“Fascinating...shows the power of ideas and persistence...a valuable guide to understanding what makes an economy grow.” (New York Sun)
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The ideas on which Todd Buchholz focuses in this book were obviously "new" at one time but have by now become widely-adopted core concepts for achieving and then sustaining success in business. For example, almost all of the ideas about salesmanship that Thomas J. Watson, Sr. institutionalized so effectively at IBM and his son Thomas Jr. then refined were developed years earlier at National Cash Register when CEO John Patterson noted that his brother was outselling everyone else, examined how he achieved it, and established what is reputed to be the first corporate sales training program (in 1893) based on his brother's sales strategies and tactics. It is worth noting that Watson Sr. worked for IBM for several years and later acknowledged the value of what he learned about salesmanship from its branch manager in Buffalo, John J. Range.
In (of all places) the book's concluding chapter, Buchholz offers a challenge to his reader and makes a statement that indicates his approach top each of the ten "giants":
"I dare you. Search this book for the solitary secret that will guarantee riches while protecting you from being flung against the wall by competitors. You won't find it." Buchholz then continues, "Not because I have failed to divulge the lives and lessons f great CEOs, but because I tried to reveal the simple truth about making it big: It does not take a village, a Harvard MBA, or even a rich uncle. It takes passion, and obsession with turning a great idea into a sweeping revolution."
That is certainly true of A.P. Giannini who "invented modern banking" by establishing and then building his Bank of Italy (that eventually became Bank of America) with a customer base of "the little people" (e.g. immigrants) and small businesses ignored by other banks. It is also true of Estée Lauder who "recognized that by placing herself among the `power elites,' to borrow C. Wright Mills' phrase, she could more easily market her cosmetics to the strata just below them." One of her most important insights was that she could sell more perfume by avoiding the word "perfume." She was among the earliest (if not the earliest) of those who recognized how important it is to members of the lower and middle economic classes to have a "taste of luxury" even if and especially if, that is all they can afford. Mass affluence has become and remains among the most significant phenomena in contemporary marketing.
Of special interest to me is what Buchholz reveals about David Sarnoff `s life and career, and especially his impact on the communications media in the 20th century. He was hired by Guglielmo Marconi to work for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company as Marconi's personal assistant. He enrolled in and was among the few to complete an electrical engineering course at the Pratt Institute. He was on duty the night of April 14, 1912, when he received a message from H.M.S. Titanic that it was struck an iceberg and was rapidly sinking. Of course, there was nothing he could do except share this tragic news with his associates. But he began to think about an intriguing challenge: How to deliver sound to more people? Over the next several decades, he served as CEO of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), heading an organization that delivered first sound, then pictures, and eventually colored pictures to people throughout the world. "David Sarnoff conquered radio and television because he had the brainpower and the willpower to understand both the science and the business."
Buchholz also has much of value to say about the lives and careers of Mary Kay Ash, Ray Kroc, Akio Morita, Walt Disney, and Sam Walton. With regard to Ash, in response to someone's suggestion that pink (actually mountain laurel) Cadillacs are "tacky," she inquired: "What color was the car your company gave you?" As a boy, Disney lived with his family on a small farm near Marceline, Missouri, for only a few years but later immortalized it as Main Street, USA, an especially popular area that welcomes visitors to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. "In fact, along Main Street, Walt honored his father with a fictitious second-story shop, featuring the following window sign: Elias Disney - contractor - est. 1895." Some of the anecdotes that Buchholz shares about them and the other CEOs are well-known, some less so. However, in combination with a wealth of carefully selected historical material, they help to reveal the CEOs' "passion, and obsession with turning a great idea into a sweeping revolution."
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Richard Tedlow's Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built, Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske's Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods... And How Companies Create Them (Revised and Updated), and Paul Nunes and Brian Johnson's Mass Affluence: Seven New Rules of Marketing to Today's Consumer.
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First, it is written on about an 7th-grade level. It reminds me of grade school reading comprehension assignment or a book report from a mediocre grade-school student. The words are simplistic, the sentences are short, and the writing is full of author-specific personal interjections that try, albeit unsuccessfully, to make the reading fun. In the chapter on Walt Disney, the author even goes so far as to take several paragraphs to explain why the author didn't particularly like the menu at one of the Disney restaurants on one of his visits there and why Walt would not have let that happen. Who cares?
Second, the ideas presented are very, very simplistic. There are no complex insights. If you think bromides like "follow your passion" are great pieces of advice, well, this book is for for you. Here is the summary of the findings cited in the Conclusion chapter: "It does not take a village, a Harvard MBA, or even a rich uncle. It takes passion, an obsession with turning a small idea into a sweeping revolution." That's it. There is nothing more than that in the entire book.
Third, the book is chock full of the author's asinine pop culture references that are completely unrelated to the story. Here are some of the many, many examples. This one involves Sam Walton: "Their New York-based management teams scoffed at Sam, as if they were watching comedian Jeff Foxworthy tell redneck jokes: 'You might be a redneck if you think a quarter horse is a ride out in front of Wal-Mart;' ..." GROAN. Here's another in the chapter on Ray Kroc: "Of course, it could have beaten Kroc by inventing a six-spindle job (which reminds me of the guy in There's Something About Mary who hawks a Seven Minute Abs video to trump the best-selling Eight Minute Abs tape)." DOUBLE GROAN.
Fourth, the entire book was researched via Google. There are no personal interviews. There is nothing that can not be found on the internet. In the Acknowledgement section, the author cites the founders of Google as the second most important contributor to the book (after Johannes Gutenberg for inventing the printing press).
Fifth, the author interjects his own opinions of situations as the legitimate thoughts or motivations that were going through a subject's mind. These interjections are placed as if they are facts but are nothing more than the author trying to make his poorly researched version of the story compelling. Here are some examples. From the Mary Kay Ash chapter: "The plan looked bold. Mary Kay felt fearless." She did? How do you know? From the Ray Kroc chapter: "Disney did not respond in 1954. He was not interested in sharing his brand of success with an upstart." Really? When did Walt tell you this was the reason? The entire book is full of this crap.
Sixth, the book isn't really about lessons from CEOs. It is about the passion that makes someone an entrepreneur. Each of the CEOs started the business. None was hired into the position. (Well, maybe Sarnoff was hired, but you could even argue against that, too.) I suppose that the title "New Ideas from Dead Entrepreneurs" did not sound like it would sell as many copies. So, it's no wonder that the sole trite lesson purported was to follow your passion. If the author had considered some CEOs that were not entrepreneurs, perhaps we could learn something else - like how to turn around a failing company or what to do when faced with an ethical dilemma. It would even have been more insightful to study some CEO failures. You won't find anything that interesting in this book.
If you want to know more about these CEOs, just read Wikipedia or a 7th grader's book report. It's about as insightful and accurate.
The author is witty and his style keeps the reader interested from beginning to end. Anyone buying this book is in for a treat.