As a long-time executive, I always seem to have a book in my hand – and when I don’t, I’m looking for the next one to add to my list.
Reading is one of my favourite ways to stay current and lean on insights from business leaders across industries to gain new perspectives I can incorporate into the management of my own organization.
As organizational leaders, my personal philosophy is that we should never stop learning and challenging the status quo. That’s how great companies grow, and how innovation is born. It’s especially important for myself coming from an Information Technology background, where change never stops.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably also looking for new reads to keep you guessing and growing. I complied this list of my top five reads that have helped shaped my view of business, introduced me to new ideas, or made me see things in a new light. My hope is that there is something on this list for everyone that will do the same for you.
My criteria for the selections were simple: I asked myself, “would I read this book again?”. As you’ll see, I love biographies. For me, the best business lessons are learned from real life experiences, which include other people’s stories that are contained in books like these.
So, in no particular order, here are my top five business-related books that I would recommend to anyone (plus some bonus picks at the end, because choosing five is just too dang hard).
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight
Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight is a classic rags-to-riches story. With just 50 bucks in his pocket borrowed from his dad and the sheer will and tenacity that can only be found in headstrong young people with a big idea, Phil Knight began selling Japanese running shoes out of the trunk of his car in 1963.
Little did he know that he would one day own one of the most iconic companies with perhaps the most recognizable brand in the world years later. Shoe Dog walks though Knight’s journey from start to finish, painting a picture of how he climbed his way to the top.
When I think about this book, I think of perseverance. It’s truly amazing that Knight grew this company and largely kept it going for many years by taking on tons of personal debt: using credit cards to pay off other credit cards, to free up more credit cards to buy inventory and keep the company going (those of us who work in finance and banking are cringing at the thought, I know).
Before he went public (which he didn’t want to do) he was essentially broke! Then one morning he looked in the mirror and realized: yesterday he was broke, and today he was worth ~$250M after going public. One anecdote I love from the book is when he runs into Bill Gates and Warren Buffet at a movie theatre and thinks, “I am the poorest guy here!”.
It’s an entertaining read that will keep you flipping pages, and is a great book to crack open as we get into summer.
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, by Walter Isaacson is a compilation of over 40 interviews with the man himself, and from folks who knew him well. As the co-founder of Apple, Jobs was known as an intense man who demanded perfection.
Although most would not consider him an easy persona to deal with, he was a genius and a visionary in his own right. He helped create many of the technologies we love today and pushed an entire industry in new directions, time and time again.
It amazes me that even until his untimely end, he came up with almost every detail in the products Apple created. One of my favorite parts of this story is when he convinces several big music companies to publish their music on iTunes, leading to a David vs. Goliath moment of epic proportions.
I first read this rather large (for me) book on a flight to and from Toronto, and I couldn’t put it down! I hope you’ll find that you can’t, either.
The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, by Robert Iger
The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, by Robert Iger is about one of the most successful executives of our time. It covers Iger’s journey at Disney, and how he managed to more than quadruple the value of the company.
Iger discusses leadership principles he lives by and distills his vision down to three main tenets: a belief that quality matters, that technology is a thing to embrace rather than fear, and that we should think bigger.
The Ride of a Lifetime is a great story about someone who sticks with one company throughout major changes and acquisitions for his whole career, only to end up as an outsider at Disney, eventually ending up as CEO. The stories of him leading the acquisitions of Pixar, Lucas Films and others are so entertaining, and his dealings with Steve Jobs are a highlight.
I absolutely love this book, and reading it always gets me thinking about acquisitions, mergers and the future.
Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, by Satya Nadella
Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, by Satya Nadella is a powerful story of how one of the largest global enterprises in technology (Microsoft) transformed their culture and revitalized their company.
Nadella walks us through his childhood as a young boy in India, and his personal journey to becoming the CEO of this renowned organization. After reading this book, Satya became my business idol. The way he was able to take a multi-billion dollar company with 200,000+ employees around the world and totally change the culture and focus of the company is so inspiring. This book illustrates a true lesson that anything is possible.
He is, in my mind, one of the greatest business leaders right now. This book is a must-read!
Jack: Straight from the Gut, by Jack Welch
Jack: Straight from the Gut, by Jack Welch is an oldie but a goodie. Welch served as CEO & Chairman of the Board at General Electric for many years. Although this book was published nearly 20 years ago, it made a lasting impact on me and had a positive effect on my career, giving me the motivation to want to run a company.
There are key things I still remember to this day and live by, including being willing to take risks and focusing on people. A classic business book read, if you haven’t had a chance already.
Top 10 Bonus Favourites
Along with these biographies and many others, I wanted to give some reading options for people who may not be biography buffs like me. These are some of my favorite non-biography business books I would recommend you check out, again in no particular order:
- Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service, By Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles
(We recently sent this book out to every employee at Celero because our leadership team loves it so much. In fact, we are shifting our approach to Customer Experience based on the foundations laid out in Raving Fans).
- Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, by Kim Scott
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni
- The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life, by Robin Sharma
- The New IT: How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age, by Jill Dyché
- Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra
- The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, by Michael D. Watkins
- Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, by Liz Wiseman
- Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell
- Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins
As I said, I’m always looking for new book recommendations. Connect with me on LinkedIn to let me know which of these you enjoy and help me find my new favorites.
Keep reading, folks!