Read like a CEO: Anne Boden, Starling Bank

The founder of one of the UK's top challenger banks says books provide a constant source of support and advice.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 25 Jul 2019
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Anne Boden never had a lot of mentors. After 35 years in finance, she says there were few people she could call for advice when she quit her job to start challenger bank Starling in 2014.

Luckily, through the medium of books, Kindle and Audible she’s been able to call on 24/7 support from some of the best entrepreneurs in the world. After all: "You can’t get these mentors just by dropping in on Shoreditch," says Boden.

When she’s not waging war on the traditional banks or managing the growing pains of a business doubling in size every quarter, Boden still finds the time to crunch through several books a week; sometimes even one a day.

Here, she talks us through the the books that shaped her career.

"The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is a classic for describing the journey of founding a company and guiding it through fast growth. Horowitz talks about the importance of needing different qualities for different times. I went back to it time and again for inspiration during the early years of Starling.

"Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh and The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky both describe what it feels like to move from one stage of a business to the next, and deal with the emotional side-effects of intensely rapid growth.

"After I quit Allied Irish Bank I went on holiday and took two copies of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries with me. (I’d packed one, but bought another at the airport as I wasn’t sure if I had.) It says you shouldn’t talk about things, you should just do stuff and learn as you go along. That was the story of how Starling started, because, before I read that, I would’ve just sat at home and read books about it.

"Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is awesome. He goes to Japan at the age of 21, makes a deal to buy shoes and founds Nike. The presence of mind to go and start a company selling shoes back then was inspiring. At the time nobody had established that the trainer would even be a trainer, but he built a brand, built an empire and created an industry.

"Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook has been invaluable to me in recent years. It’s probably the bible of how you take a business to 10,000 people and what to do when you’re growing really fast.

"I enjoyed Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin. It’s a story about somebody who didn’t make it. His business, Moz, survived but it was never the rocket ship he hoped it would be. It’s a valuable lesson that companies don’t happen overnight.

"Becoming by Michelle Obama is probably the best political biography written in the past year. Being president of the United States is an awesome position to be in – you’re running the free world. There is no bigger management job, so it’s quite an insight to have that inside, emotional description of what the day-to-day reality of it is like."

Wider reading

University lectures

I’ve watched a number coming out of Stanford University, explaining how to start a tech business. They are great lectures and they’re free.

Political biographies

Jeremy Paxman, Emily Maitlis, Shirley Williams, David Cameron, Sarah Brown, Boris Johnson, Bill Clinton and Theresa May. The thing they have in common is that they’re about people and how they’ve dealt with the power and pressures of political life.

Image credit: courtesy of Starling Bank


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