Brief Reviews of Recommended Books on Business History and Biographies

“Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.”

'Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.' by Ron Chernow (ISBN 1400077303) A biography of John D. Rockefeller traces his life the archetype of the American Dream. John D. Rockefeller began his life as threadbare country boy with nothing, remained an evangelical Baptist, and ended with the success and riches of royalty. As the Standard Oil magnate he controlled 90 percent of the oil market and went on to become the world’s richest man at the height of his active career. After the break-up of Standard Oil, Rockefeller became a legendary philanthropist and donated millions to medical research and education.

Buy ‘Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’ by Ron Chernow

Walter Isaacson’s Biography of Steve Jobs

'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson (ISBN 1451648537) Drawn from three years of exclusive interviews with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, established biographer Walter Isaacson offers a comprehensive portrait of the most prominent genius of our times. This thoroughly researched biography provides a fantastic insight into the process that made the Apple co-founder such a giant in computers. Jobs had an extraordinary obsession for creating “insanely great products” and had a vision of integrated architecture for Apple’s products and Apple’s processes for how engineers, designers, and marketers implemented a brilliant innovator’s ideas.

Buy ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

“The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary”

'The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary' by Joseph Michelli (ISBN 0071477845) Joseph Michelli outlines that a huge share of the success of a trendy Seattle-based coffee shop that has turned into a lucrative international franchise comes from its creation of experience for customer and business culture. Michelli recognizes five fundamental values (‘make it your own,’ ‘everything matters,’ ‘surprise and delight,’ ‘embrace resistance,’ and ‘leave your mark’) that forms the success formula for the Starbucks culture and provides a number of anecdotes based on how the company and its employees have reinforced their connection with customers.

Buy ‘The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary’ by Joseph Michelli

“When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management”

'When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management' by Roger Lowenstein (ISBN 0375758259) Since the ’90s, practically every major investment house employed highly paid statisticians and mathematicians in their trading divisions. These “rocket scientists” developed and deployed complex, computer-aided trading strategies trying to beat the market. With two Nobel Prize winners among its partners, Long-Term Capital Management, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund, relied on computers to find historical relationships between related securities. If one security would trade out of line in comparison to historical patterns, the firm would place bets that prices would get back into the pattern predicted by their mathematical analysis. The combination of absolute-return trading strategies and high financial leverage employed by the hedge fund, ineffective regulations on hedge funds, imprudent banking, hubris led to a $4 billion- loss in investors’ capital and triggered the near collapse of the world’s financial system.

Buy ‘When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management’ by Roger Lowenstein

“The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance”

'The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance' by Ron Chernow (ISBN 0802144659) A 150-year multi-generation history of one of the greatest regal dynasties of American commerce and the banking empire that the Morgans built. Ron Chernow effectively captures the personalities and eccentricities of many of these key figures, Junius Spencer Morgan (who started merchant banking firm J.S. Morgan & Co.,) J. Pierpont Morgan (who lead a banking coalition that stopped the 1907 financial crisis and thus dominated the nation’s high finance) and John Pierpont ‘Jack’ Morgan, Jr. (who financed the Allies during World War I, the 1929 Crash of Wall Street.) An overarching theme is the long-term effects of regulation on the banking industry. In the second half of the 20th century, federal regulation made it progressively difficult for banks to make profits and financial institutions engaged in ever-increasing risk-taking in order to maintain revenue streams and profitability.

Buy ‘The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance’ by Ron Chernow

“Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street”

'Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street' by Michael Lewis (ISBN 0393027503) Liar’s Poker is the very funny autobiographical account of Michael Lewis’s three-year, dog-eat-dog climb at Salomon Brothers. Salomon Brothers single-handedly invented a market for mortgage bonds that made the firm wealth. At Solomon, Liar’s Poker was a figure of speech for the Salomon culture of intense risk-taking with immediate payoffs. Lewis rose in the firm from a training program newbie to the highest paid salesman in his trading class. When Lewis made massive loss for clients by selling them bad investment; yet Lewis’s co-workers gave him kudos for his impressive sales maneuvers that profited Solomon, as was the nature of the culture of Salomon Brothers. The firm’s greedy and innovative bond-selling practices resulted in a Treasury bond scandal in the early ’90s.

Buy ‘Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street’ by Michael Lewis

“Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big”

'Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big' by Bo Burlingham (ISBN 1591841496) Bo Burlingham profiles companies that resisted the temptation to grow for the sake of growing. The book contends that being small businesses may in fact be turned into a competitive advantage if we learn how to take advantage of nimbleness. The central thesis is that small businesses able to follow the leader’s intuition, gather information more quickly, act on ideas swiftly with less need for justification. Being small can also allow extraordinarily personal relationships amongst employees, and with customers and suppliers.

Buy ‘Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big’ by Bo Burlingham

“The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine”

'The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine' by Michael Lewis (ISBN 0393338827) A succinct, clear, and compressed explanation of the build-up of the subprime mortgage crisis and credit bubble during the 2000s and the resulting banking crisis of 2008. In a quest for profits, lenders, no longer concerned about whether borrowers could pay them back, used deceitful tactics to convince Americans to give up the equity in their homes and take on mortgages they could not afford. The credit default swap market bet against the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) bubble. The credit-rating agencies gave top ratings to risky assets, which opened the door to a huge market of CDO buyers. Many of key players bet against the CDO bubble and thus ended up profiting from the financial crisis. Michael Lewis highlights the unconventional nature of the type of traders who think against the grain and bet against the market.

Buy ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’ by Michael Lewis

“Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco”

'Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco' by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar (ISBN 0061655546) An excellent account of backgrounds of the key players, the bidding sequences, and the events that led up to the leveraged buy-out (LBO) of RJR Nabisco by Kohlberg Kravis Robert (KKR.) In the late ’80s, executive Ross Johnson who, through a series of cunning moves, became the head of RJR Nabisco. Discontented with the low valuations by Wall Street, Johnson launched management-led leveraged buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco. This led to a bidding war involving Johnson (aided by Salomon Brothers and Shearson Lehman Hutton), Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), and Forstmann Little & Co.

Buy ‘Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco’ by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

“Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron”

'Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron' by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (ISBN 1591840538) Kenneth Lay, the former chief executive officer of Houston Natural Gas founded Enron as an interstate pipeline company in 1985 by combining Houston Natural Gas with Omaha-based InterNorth. By 1999, 90 per cent of Enron’s income came from trades over Enron Online, the company’s website for trading energy-related commodities. Enron quickly rose to become America’s seventh largest corporation and constituted what was principally a Ponzi scheme that manipulated and gambled its energy-trading business. “The Smartest Guys in the Room” contends that Enron was a con game almost from the start and shows how the company used cunning accounting techniques to keep the momentum of earnings growth.

Buy ‘Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron’ by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

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