14 books for burgeoning entrepreneurs and fledgling CEOs

4 Dec 2015

For most, Christmas is an opportunity to spend a few days with family, live in pyjamas, binge on everything from turkey to cake to Netflix and, about a week later, begin to regret all of your spending decisions.

For others – the more ambitious among us – it’s a ripe time to bone up on everything they need to know to achieve world domination. Business world domination, that is.

But how does one shop for the CEO in training of the family? Do you get them a voucher for bespoke suits from Louis Copeland? Or maybe you invest in one of those miniature zen gardens, so future them can rake away their stresses.

Or, maybe you buy them a book that’s been recommended by an industry leader. Surely, if the CEO of Tech Company Inc is reading it, it must offer some stellar tips for those hoping to follow in the footsteps of giants.

Here are some of the best books for aspiring business leaders, as suggested by participants in our Leaders’ Insights column this year:

Poor Economics ­– Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo

Best books for business: Poor Economics

Poor Economics examines some of the myths and paradoxes of what it’s like to live with very little, from ineffective incentives to borrowing money in order to save money. It offers a glimpse that few people understand, or even see.

The book is well-written, well-researched and well-founded. Authors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo aren’t simply making assumptions from a perch of privilege – Banerjee is an esteemed professor of economics and Duflo is professor of poverty alleviation and development economics, both at MIT.

While many economics and academia based tomes can be insufferably, densely written, Poor Economics doesn’t fall into that camp. The storytelling style makes it incredibly accessible and a must-read for anyone who doesn’t want to lose perspective when in a position of power and wealth.

What the Leaders say: “[Poor Economics] gives an incredible, insightful view of the economics of lives of people who live with an income of less than $1 a day. It is fascinating, as it completely contradicts many common opinions and comprehensively examines policies that have been applied to poor regions and the unintended consequences that result.” – Caelen King, CEO of Whatclinic.com

The Maintenance of Headway­ – Magnus Mills

Best books for business: The Maintenance of Headway

Magnus Mills’ The Maintenance of Headway is a strange little novel, offering an absurdist glimpse into the world of bus driving.

Satirising the British bus system, The Maintenance of Headway paints a world in which routes change at a moment’s notice, passengers’ needs are mostly ignored, and where the only sin worse than being late is being early.

The Maintenance of Headway takes place from a bus driver’s point of view, and takes us through the conversations and thoughts that a driver experiences in his daily work. It’s written in a way that trips lightly across the mind, making it a pure joy to read.

What the Leaders say: Charles Yardley, MD International at Forbes Media, recommended this novel. Clearly thinking it spoke for itself, he had nothing to say about it. But a cursory look certainly indicates he knows what he’s talking about.

Good to Great – Jim Collins

Best books for business: Good to Great

Falling somewhere on the business advice spectrum, Jim Collins’ Good to Great is the result of five years of research into what enables some companies to transition from good to great, where others fail to improve.

You would think that a book about management wouldn’t have much to offer the discerning reader – the corporate speak must be flowing off the pages, you might think – but Good to Great dodges that particular bullet.

Written in a style that reads almost like a novel, Good to Great becomes as much a story as a handbook.

What the Leaders say: Joanna Murphy, CEO of ConnectIreland, recommended Good to Great as a good and great book for business.

The Lean Startup ­– Eric Ries

Best books for business: The Lean Startup

Another advisory book for business, The Lean Startup, from Eric Ries, aims to change the way companies are built and new products are launched.

It offers a new approach for entrepreneurs, putting an emphasis on what customers want, and encouraging adaptation and adjustment.

Part biography and part examination of case studies, Ries uses personal experience to explain why a new approach to new ideas is needed, and to explain how to fall on the right side of the thin line between success and burning out.

What the Leaders say: “It’s almost a cliché now, but Lean Startup by Eric Ries was instrumental for us in our initial phase. I don’t like to follow any of these things too dogmatically, but again there are principles and aspects that really resonate for us.” – Jules Coleman, co-founder and chief product officer, Hassle.com

Flash Boys – Michael Lewis

Best books for business: Flash Boys

Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys reads like fiction, but it’s anything but. The bestseller tells the stranger-than-fiction story of the multi-millionaires and IT geniuses who used technology to front run deals and scam Wall Street.

Flash Boys is an in-depth look at the power Wall Street has over financial markets, and how the advent of electronic trading changed the game forever.

At times terrifying and funny, this is a stellar read for anyone who wants an insider look at how it works at the top of the financial heap.

What the Leaders say: “I’ve read everything Michael Lewis has ever written. He’s an investigative journalist, a financier, an academic, a novelist and a storyteller, all rolled into one. I read Flash Boys in a day – I couldn’t put it down.” – Gary Conroy, managing director of Realex Payments

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – Jim Collins, Jerry I Porras

Best books for business: Built to Last

Where so many books and articles and movies (hi, Jobs and, also, Steve Jobs) choose to focus on the single, visionary leader standing at the helm of a major company, Built to Last looks at the companies themselves.

Collins and Porras undertook a six-year research project at Stanford, following 18 exceptional companies through every stage from start-up to global corporation, comparing them to direct competitors to discover how they got their edge.

A bit denser and more academic than the other Jim Collins book on this list, Built to Last is nonetheless essential reading for those who want to figure out how to achieve the longevity and acclaim of Apple, Ford or GE.

What the Leaders say: “Some memorable concepts that have stuck with me in my business life are: reject the ‘Tyranny of the Or’ and embrace the ‘Genius of the And’ – which means that sometimes you have to live with and find a way to reconcile two contradictory ideas at the same time… Further concepts are ‘Preserve the core and stimulate progress’ and ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’, which we are working on in Creme Global at the moment.” – Cronan McNamara, CEO, Creme Global

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Ed Catmull

Best books for business: Creativity Inc

In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull offers a glimpse into the storied halls of Pixar Animation Studios, revealing the ideals and techniques that have helped Pixar to become so beloved, and so profitable.

Creativity, Inc. is a handbook of sorts, showing managers how to get the most from their employees, and how to embrace originality and innovation. A behind-the-scenes look at perhaps the most successful animation house of all time, it’s a sterling example of a how-to guide to creating a nurturing and creative culture.

Written simply, Creativity, Inc. is eminently accessible, using anecdotes gleaned from decades in the upper echelons of Pixar to paint a picture of best practice for major corporations.

What the Leaders say: “I am really learning a lot from Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar Animation (and Disney Animation). It looks at what creates, encourages and drives a creative culture within an organisation.” – Philip Brady, country manager for Canon in Ireland.

An Unsung Hero – Michael Smith

Best books for business: An Unsung Hero

An Unsung Hero tells the story of renowned Kerry man, Tom Crean, the Antarctic explorer who served with – and outlived – Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

He spent more time in the Antarctic than either of these lauded men, and lived an exceptional life before settling down in his hometown of Anascaul, Co Kerry, with his wife for the remainder of his years.

A faithful and at times thrilling history of Crean’s life, An Unsung Hero nimbly avoids the trap of becoming a dense tome, portraying his forays into the Antarctic in a way that evokes the sense of adventure and risk that went hand-in-hand with journeying into an unknown and unknowable land.

What the Leaders say: “I love reading books about the polar explorers. One in particular is An Unsung Hero, written by Michael Smith … There is something in these books that captivates the imagination. Why would anyone want to go on a a crazy journey with little chance of success or any type of monetary reward? For me, it is all about a vision to conquer new worlds – and to claim the knowledge that you were the first to get there – not public recognition. It’s more a private journey and personal reward that only the explorer can really understand … The modern world of a technology entrepreneur is today’s version of Antarctic explorers.” – Brendan Dowling, serial tech entrepreneur and CEO of Digital Trading.

Predictable Revenue­ – Aaron Ross, Marylou Tyler

Best books for business: Predictable Revenue

Predictable Revenue is a handbook that details the outbound sales process that doubled Salesforce.com’s enterprise growth in just a few years, adding $100m in recurring revenue to the coffers.

Purporting to offer something new – avoiding instructions on how to cold call or close deals – Predictable Revenue claims to be the new sales bible, offering guidance on how to transform your sales team into a sales machine.

A quick glance through the pages of Predictable Revenue throws me back to academic papers I had to read in college. But the mind-numbing aesthetics of the page design aside, the book offers some useful tips. Not for the faint of heart, though, as it’s riddled with corporate speak.

What the Leaders say: Predictable Revenue was mentioned by Barry Dowling, CEO and co-founder of TransferMate. Dowling was instrumental in taking TransferMate from a Kilkenny-based start-up to a global company with offices in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson

Best books for business: Losing My Virginity

The bestselling autobiography of successful serial entrepreneur Richard Branson, Losing My Virginity takes the reader through the milestones of Branson’s impressive life and career.

Touching on personal achievements, business ventures and his many adventures, Losing My Virginity looks at Branson’s philanthropy, business savvy and innovation.

In these pages, Branson offers an unflinching look at the iconic moments that have defined his storied career, offering up anecdotes simply and without fanfare, and offering a glimpse into the mind that has made him billions.

What the Leaders say: “I only just finished it and had been meaning to read it for years, Richard Branson’s autobiography. It is very enjoyable and a must-read.” – Stephen Quinn, CEO and co-founder of Jobbio.

The Little Engine That Could – Watty Piper

Best books for business: The Little Engine That Could

Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could is the quintessential classic kids book that remains relevant throughout adult life.

With the refrain, “I think I can. I think I can,” the little engine strives harder and harder to achieve what she set out to do, overcoming obstacles – most notably self-doubt – and beating out bigger, stronger (lazier) competitors to buoy herself and her passengers over a mountain to their destination.

The simple book is a triumph for the little guy, and is perhaps the greatest motivator ever written.

Not bad for a book aimed at the under-sixes.

What the Leaders say: “You will probably never find this book listed on anyone else’s top 10 best books, but this book brings to life in a most simplistic way the single most important lesson to be learned by anyone that wants or needs to be successful. It inspires kids with the notion of ‘I think I can do it,’ a wisdom that can carry us all a long way in business and in life.” – Tony O’Malley, Fujitsu Ireland CEO

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers

Best books for business: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is the perfect book to help you shake of your anxiety and be your best self.

Pitched at people who, for example, are afraid of public speaking, asserting themselves or making decisions, Feel the Fear offers a how-to guide for conquering your weaker moments.

A perfect book for those who want to lead with confidence, Feel the Fear promises to imbue the reader with power, energy, enthusiasm and action.

Jeffer’s guide avoids the potential for wishy-washy ‘just believe in yourself’ sentiment, giving valuable insights into fear management, gleaned from a number of, at times surprising, sources.

What the Leaders say: Feel the Fear is just one of the books recommended by Michael Bradley, CEO of Solar 21, who is involved in a number of lucrative investment-based companies.

Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg

Best books for business: Lean In

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you will be aware of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and the concept of leaning in.

With her 2013 book, Lean In, Sandberg sought to empower women, offering an insider glimpse of what life is like for women at the top, and illustrating what women can do to help themselves and other women to greatness.

Not without controversy – Sandberg famously received criticism for her rich white woman view of the working world, for instance – Lean In is, nonetheless, a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to achieve in business, or in life.

What the Leaders say: Lean In was recommended by Louise Phelan, VP of global operations at PayPal EMEA, who is instrumental in the continuing growth the online giant is enjoying in Ireland.

How to Lead – Jo Owen

Best books for business: How to Lead

Along the lines of Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc., albeit without the cachet of Pixar looming behind it, How to Lead offers an instruction manual of sorts on how to motivate, inspire and deliver results.

Author Jo Owen pulled the book together based on original research into some of the world’s leading organisations, and offers guidance on leadership style, crafting ideas and dealing with crises.

A touch academic, How to Lead nevertheless offers valuable insights on how to get the most from your employees, and from yourself.

What the Leaders say: “Three books I often come back to are Time to Think by Nancy Klein, How to Lead by Jo Owen and, although a little dated, The Empty Raincoat by Charles Handy.” – Adam Grennan, country manager for CISCO in Ireland

Main image via Shutterstock

Kirsty Tobin was careers editor at Silicon Republic