Robert Heller reviews the latest business books.
Strategy in Crisis:
Why Business Urgently Needs a Completely New Approach
by Michael de Kare-Silver
The critical importance of strategy is a truism of modern management.
The truism, though, has caused much practical difficulty - witness several schools of thought about strategy formation. The author, a partner in the Kalchas consultancy, rightly gives most theories short shrift as passing fads. That's the prelude to his Market Commitment Model. His heroes (such as Microsoft) have long-term commitment to the marketplace, use pricing as a strategic tool, exploit the brand's emotional content as a marketing weapon, stress performance (or functionality), and employ service hustle to exceed customer expectations. Basically, another welcome call for sustained, organic, customer-focused expansion and a powerful critique of time-serving, growth-less managements. Full of facts, quotes and cases: a first-class guide to the future - and present.
Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration
by Warren Bennis & Patricia Ward Biederman
Nicholas Brealey £18
Warren Bennis is renowned for his work on leadership. So his death-knell for the 'Great Man' carries much weight. He argues that 'Great Groups' have taken over, citing cases such as Disney's renaissance in animated films, the birth of the PC, and the first Clinton campaign. The argument is much more convincing than the surprisingly scrappy case histories.
Nor is the Great Groups recipe altogether startling: thus, they need 'superb people' who 'can work together', while 'the right person has the right job'. Other lessons are more penetrating: 'Great Groups always have an enemy'. And, of course, they always have 'a strong leader'. A Great Man, perhaps?
F.I.A.S.C.O: Blood in the Water on Wall Street
by Frank Partnoy
Profile Books £16.99
This account of Morgan Stanley and the morally bankrupt world of traders in derivatives is a painless way of learning about the latter. But why learn about products which are merely for selling, for generating obscene incomes for investment banks and their dishonest employees? A chilling episode recounts how a 'stodgy insurance company' bought $85 million of typical government agency bonds, unaware that these derivatives were tied to foreign exchange risks. The salesmen was thrilled at the subsequent disaster: 'I ripped his face off'. Shame on all concerned - including governments.