May 7, 2015

My thoughts on "Business Adventures"

I finished reading the book "Business Adventures" by John Brooks over the weekend. I found out about this book because it was on Bill Gates' list of his favorite books and incidentally he found out about the book from Warren Buffett which added points in my mind.

Being a big fan of Warren Buffett, I was intrigued immediately and looked for the book in Manila. Unable to find it in local bookstores, I took the opportunity of a family trip to Singapore as a chance to acquire the book there. I was lucky enough to find it but parked it on my reading list until I had more time.

I must admit, this was not the first book I read post-MBA, when I suddenly found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. That honor belongs to two other books: The Rosie Project (another Bill Gates favorite) and The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window. Those two books were the first two I read post MBA. I guess I needed a little bit of variety before reading through another business book after spending the last 15 months mainly reading business textbooks, articles and case studies.

My expectations were sky high for this book, and I must say that it completely delivers. The book is a compilation of twelve works from business writer John Brooks. I enjoyed every one of the twelve stories. All chapters were well written and easy to follow even for casual readers.

Some of my key takeaways are:
  • I like how the stories are all dated. In an era when we tend to gravitate to the new and shiny, the twelve stories teach us not to forget the past. The articles all talk about a past era in American and global business. 
  • One particular story (Chapter 6) I really liked was how the NY Stock Exchange decided to "make the customers whole" when a particular member firm became insolvent. They negotiated with creditors, put up their own money and gave customers their money back before creditors could be paid. How times have changed! Ask any man on the street today about this and most will likely dismiss this story as pure baloney, especially after so many people lost their life savings at the hands of these Wall St firms during the sub-prime crisis. Maybe these big bankers need to re-read this story to bring them back to what matters the most, not money or greed or profits but rather their customers. 
  • Chapter 2 which talks about the Ford Edsel is a great case study on a product having great marketing. It is the perfect blueprint on how to launch a product. One just better make sure that the product doesn't suck! This is a classic case of over promising and under delivering, a skill that all new marketers must learn to avoid from the beginning. And this all happened in an era before social media, pretty amazing.
  • Another story I liked was Chapter 11 which was a great lesson in business etiquette. In an era before it was standard practice to have non-disclosure and non-compete clauses in employment contracts, there was a time when people were held to their word that they would not use any information or knowledge they gained from their past jobs to benefit their new companies. How times have changed. Now people sign their non-competes and still find ways to get out of it.

There are so many other great lessons to be learned from the book. I can understand why it is held in such high regard by two of the greatest modern day businessmen (and the two richest men) in the world today. The stories all go back to an era when business was not just about making a quick buck or trying to gain something over another. Yes, this greedy behavior was prevalent even during that time (Chapter 8 talking about the "last great corner" and Chapter 12 on "defending the Sterling" tackles issues such as speculators out to make a quick buck at the expense of the general public and overall health of the economy) but businessmen then held themselves up to a much higher standard, one that probably both Gates and Buffett feel many of today's business leaders need to remember again.

I really enjoyed this book and will no doubt re-read it again in the future. Has anyone else read this book? Did you also enjoy reading it?