Books to bank on

Written by David Silverberg

To paraphrase Francis Bacon, some management books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested. Busy schedules may allow only a nibble here and there, but voracious readers assert that advice, insight and inspiration pepper the business bookshelves.

Indeed, the leaders of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies say they learned invaluable management tips from business books. PROFIT asked them to reveal their favorite titles-and what they learned that changed their businesses for the better.

From boardroom to battlefield

Align every department with a common goal. Reduce bottlenecks. These are just a couple of tips Themis Papadopoulos came away with after reading The Goal: A process of ongoing improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. “As an operations management book, it greatly impacted me,” says Papadopoulos, CEO of Montreal brokerage firm Triglobal Inc., No. 138 on the 2004 PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.

Framed as a novel and set in a factory, The Goal stresses loosened constraints and department alignment — ideas that resonated with Papadopoulos. “Like in the book, we also wanted to expand and contract with fluidity while all the time being ultra effective and efficient,” he says. He has loaned the book to 60 colleagues so far.

Another one of his business favorites, perhaps surprisingly, is Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Known better as a military manual, Art of War works as a business book because it speaks on outperforming competition and fortifying a stronghold, Papadopoulos notes. “One of the key principles in the book is not to attack a well-fortified city,” he says. “That tells me to build utilities and become well-fortified, even though we’re a small firm in a pond of giants. We have to fight a type of warfare in order to survive.”

Reach for the top

Try to find books that offer a fresh look on what you’re doing, says Lauren Cuddy, CEO of Burlington, Ont.-based Innovus Research, which offers research services for pharmaceutical firms. One of her all-time favorites is the popular Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap … and some don’t by Jim Collins. Filled with lessons applicable to any business, the book discusses common traits within successful companies and offers tips to achieve similar goals. “There are easy lessons to take away,” says Cuddy, whose firm ranked 185th among Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies in 2004. “The book talks about having the right people on the bus, and having the right seats on the bus. Managers are always wondering if they have the right people on the bus.” She so enjoyed the analogies she presented several tenets at a senior managers’ meeting.

Coach’s corner

There are so many management books out there that that Carmine De Santo didn’t quite know where to start. So the CEO of Loop Enterprise, a Concord, Ont.-based system integrator that ranked No. 60 on the PROFIT 100, asked his leadership coach to offer reading suggestions. A page-turner that De Santo now recommends is Spin Selling by Neil Rackham, which guides readers through large-sale tactics. “It taught me about customer retention,” says De Santo. “I also learned that you must make the customer feel comfortable by showing him, in layman’s terms, how the product works.”

Executive coaches are often familiar with the management book landscape, so they know which are worth your time. Reg Ellis, a 15-year coaching veteran (who is not De Santo’s coach) and senior partner of Toronto-based Ellis Associates, recommends The First 90 Days: Critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels by Michael Watkins. Obviously, he recommends the book to CEOs taking on leadership duties for the first time or in a brand new, unfamiliar environment. Says Ellis: “This book is a guide during that first crucial period where important relationships are established.”

Think outside the book

Forward-thinking managers opt for unconventional routes to success. Triglobal’s Papadopoulos started a company-wide book club. Through the company’s internal website, employees can check which books are available to borrow. E-mails notify colleagues about the best books and even if staff didn’t have time to actually read long chapters of text, Triglobal presents a nifty solution: “Audio books give you the opportunity to listen to great business advice while in the car or even at night before you go to bed,” says Papdopoulos. “And if you’re lucky, an audio book will have an exceptional narrator.”

© 2004 David Silverberg

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com