Robert Heller reviews the latest business books
The World According to Drucker: The Life and Work of the World's Greatest Management Thinker
by Jack Beatty
Orion Business Books £20
Peter Drucker's ascendancy rests on power of intellect, quality and range of writing, and priority: time after time, he got there first - from customer focus to management by objectives or the knowledge revolution. This fascinating tour of Drucker's life and times places management as only part of a broad-ranging philosophy that combines faith (in reason but also spiritual values) with vigorous scepticism about conventional wisdom. These positions are not wholly compatible and Jack Beatty easily finds similar large inconsistencies.
Most ironically, Drucker believes in managed organisations as prime engines of human progress, yet he likes neither large corporations nor their greedier managers. No matter: the advice to managers, of which this book contains many nuggets, will repay the cover price many times over.
Sky High: The Inside Story of BSkyB
Orion Business Books £18.99
In hindsight, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcasting triumph looks somewhat inevitable. Unregulated, his Pay TV monopoly (once the battle for Premier League football was won), licensed him to print billions. Although the gamble's spiralling costs almost destroyed Murdoch's empire, rival BSB was in even worse shape. Parlous finances drove the rivals into each other's arms, and Sam Chisholm, a tough Australian, drove BSkyB to success over potentially lethal obstacles and the bodies of many opponents.
Chisholm stars in Matthew Horsman's no-holds-barred reportage, which is so assiduous that the detail of negotiations where the battles were lost and won becomes overwhelming. Management lessons are simple, if crude: fix a clear target, go for it, keep your nerve - and take no prisoners.
by James Brian Quinn, Jordan J Baruch and Karen Anne Zien
The Free Press £25
A book on innovation should innovate. Unfortunately, this homily doesn't.
Its restatements of the familiar ('maximising innovation impact in software systems requires as open a system as possible') are wordy and sprinkled with some rather odd choices of heroic innovators - companies now deeply troubled, such as AT&T, Boeing, Club Med and Ford, whose smash-hit first Taurus programme (which is much cited here) was followed by the calamities of its second. While the authors rightly identify software (broadly defined) as the gateway to the future, the key software lies in the skull. No innovative strategy, however brilliant, can offset dumb management.
Pensions for richer or for poorer Not everyone's a winner in the pension fund stakes
Pension funds fall into that 'boring but necessary' category - they're hardly a great topic of after-dinner conversation, but most people have a vested interest in how they're doing. As can be seen from Micropal's tracking of 1,800 funds, those who chose wisely back in 1993 will have seen their nest eggs do rather nicely. Those who went for Save & Prosper's Korea fund, on the other hand, far from prospering, have seen over 80% of the value of their investment disappear over the period in question.
Rank/UK pension funds 1/1/93-26/1/98
1 Generali Property 291.2
2 Winterthur Vision European 226
3 Old Mutual European Equity 219.8
4 Professional Life Euro Equity 209.1
5 Skandia/INVESCO European Growth 208.1
6 Skandia/Gartmore Euro Select Opportunities 206.2
7 AEGON Life European 3 201.3
8 Skandia/Gartmore UK Smaller Cos 198.2
9 AEGON Life European 2 197
10 Skandia/Baring Europe Select 196.3
11 Skandia/INVESCO Europe Small Cos 191
12 Professional Life US Index 188.7
13 Skandia/Fidelity European 186.7
14 S&P Financial Securities 184.6
15 Friends Provident European 184.5
16 MI/Gartmore Smaller Cos 182.9
16 Skandia/Gartmore American Emerging Growth 177.7
18 Skandia/Morgan Grenfell Euro Growth 174.9
19 MI/Fidelity European 173.5
20 MI/Morgan Grenfell Euro Growth 172.3
Overall average of the 1,800 funds studied 61.83
Source: Standard and Poor's Micropal
Bubbly - the 'feel-goodometer'
The more we prosper, the more we pop those corks
Champagne sales are a fun, and rather good, indicator of financial health.
In 1996, the UK regained its place as the number-one export market for fizz; indeed, sales are now up 53% on recession-hit 1992. But, with bottles available for under a tenner, it's not really that expensive. So-called Prestige Cuvees provide a more authentic indicator with more than 448,000 bottles sold in the UK in 1996, compared to a mere 124,000 in '92.
Year bottles sold
1997 (estimate) 22.5
Source: Champagne Information Bureau.