Three Business Books for Summer Reading

I rarely write book reviews in my blog. However, three recent books by thought leaders are worthwhile reading for anyone interested in business and leadership.

As some of you know, I have spent Covid time doing extensive research on the new organizational and leadership concept of Stakeholder Leadership. 

The concept’s public history began with a presentation and pronouncement at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2018, but it has since moved with lightning speed through the corporate and public worlds. The U.S. Business Roundtable, made up of 181 major corporate CEOs, has brought it front and center in the United States.

Stakeholder Leadership refers to organizations that acknowledge and support not just shareholders but all stakeholders including employees, the community and the environment.

This sounds straightforward, but the change in direction has profound implications for leaders and organizations.

In my research, I have read many books, articles and probably every report ever written by the Deloitte Center for the Edge. The three books reviewed below stood out as highly readable, helpful, and groundbreaking in terms of looking at the future of organizations and leadership.

A sneak peek at the future of organizations and leadership

The three books I would highly recommend are Hit Refresh (2019), Satya Nadella’s book on his time at Microsoft; Seeing Around Corners (2019) by Rita McGrath (2019); and Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire (2020) by Rebecca M. Henderson. Both McGrath and Henderson are well-known scholars and have been researching their subjects for over 20 years. Satya Nadella is the Microsoft CEO who has completely changed the culture of the company since 2014.

Hit Refresh

Nadella begins his book Hit Refresh by talking about his personal and professional growth, from his passion for cricket as a child in India to caring for his special needs son as an adult and his deep understanding of current and coming technology. Nadella’s beginnings colored and shaped his understanding of how Microsoft needed to grow, and renew or refresh itself with a different mindset, management and culture.

This kind of change integrates technology and humanity in a way that benefits employees, customers and community. Nadella has said many times that for Microsoft to be successful, the world around it needs to be successful too. In the book, he explains how Microsoft managed the culture change and also how he envisions the integration of future technologies to benefit humanity.

Seeing Around Corners

Rita McGrath’s book Seeing Around Corners explains inflection points, those moments in time when everything changes. Covid might be seen as an inflection point for business. We suddenly found ourselves unable to get necessary supplies. At a recent BlackRock conference (BlackRock being the largest asset management company in the world), the focus was on how our experience with Covid will change the way industry structures supply chains going forward, how it will diversify its sources to no longer depend on suppliers in any one country.

McGrath’s idea is that inflection points are slow in coming and then hit with a flash. We tend to ignore what we see coming until it is too late, as Kodak and Blockbuster know too well.

Her suggestion is to have critical communication with people who may disagree or have differing vantage points, rather than only talking to like-minded people. The final piece of advice she gives is to not only pay attention to what is coming, but also to act. Seeing Around Corners is a serious look at what we can do to anticipate and work with the changes that lie ahead.

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

Rebecca Henderson’s book Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire accomplishes something that few books on changing business do: it discusses finance and profit. Henderson believes in profit and the fact that capitalism has helped lift humanity to the level it is at today. However, she says capitalism changed in the 1950s with a new form of economics, and that has created a lack of equity in society. Her conclusion is that we now need a more responsible form of capitalism.

The book has examples of companies that have changed their business model and reliance on short-term profit to be more environmentally responsible and human-centered. Not only have these new capitalist models succeeded, they have produced greater profits than ever.

I don’t want to simplify the content in this important book because it is so deep and thoughtful, well-researched and timely. The ideas are sound and the presentation engaging. Well worth reading, as are the two others.

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