Note: This was among the first books I reviewed for Amazon (in 2000) and I recently re-read it while doing some research on several of the 20 companies it features. Don’t let the publication date deter you. These stories are even more entertaining and informative now than they were then because these are perspectives on them 25 years before many of them and their leaders became almost deities in the vineyards of free enterprise.
Each chapter offers a profile of a major contributor to the evolution of American business history, beginning with one of my ancestors, Robert Morris (America’s “first real businessman”), and concluding with Bill Gates (“Microsoft’s co-founder and guiding spirit”). In between, Gross and his associates also examine other great leaders such as McCormick, Rockefeller, Morgan, Ford, Merrill, Sarnoff, Disney, Johnson, Ogilvy, Kroc, Wilson, Ash, Walton, and McGowan as well as major corporations such as American Express, Intel, Harley-Davidson, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. The reader is told, “This book is about heroes” and it really is.
Using the most effective strategies and devices of a storyteller, the authors examine biographical information within an historical context, sustaining interest with anecdotes while providing insights as to the causes and effects of each subject’s accomplishments. For Morris, essentially the economic survival of thirteen colonies during their struggle for independence. For McCormick, the industrialization of agriculture. For Rockefeller, the creation and development of the modern corporation. For Morgan, saving a nation’s financial system. For Ford, mass-producing affordable personal transportation. For Merrill, broadening the base of stock ownership to include those, among others, for whom the Ford Motor Company manufactured automobiles. Each of the other “heroes” discussed made equally important contributions.
A brief review such as this can only suggest (albeit inadequately) the wealth of information to be found in this book. The prose has snap, crackle, and pop. The focus is crystal clear. The lessons to be learned from the careers examined are of incalculable value. Although this book will be of interest to almost anyone, it will have special importance for school, college, and university students who may sometimes wonder if there are any “secrets to success.” The answer is yes. The specifics are to be found in the lives of those who are discussed in Greatest Business Stories of All Time.
If I had one hope for the new year in business books, it would be that the genre of fables, followed by related concepts and principles, would fade away. Speaking for me, this approach has worn out its welcome. The first splash, and obviously, big hit in this format was “The One Minute Manager” in 1981. In fact, that book is still on some best-seller lists. You are likely aware that many of the Ken Blanchard co-authored creations followed in this format, including “The Leadership Pill,” “The Secret,” and others. Other authors have found success with this format. One of the best examples is Patrick Lencioni’s hit, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” and several others that followed from his pen which we have featured at the First Friday Book Synopsis. Don’t forget about Spencer Johnson’s work, “Who Moved My Cheese?” It’s not that there is anything necessarily wrong with the books that use this format. Indeed, some would argue that if publishing a readable fable is the way to get people to read business books and learn business principles, then the format has served its purpose. The problem is that like anything else, how many times can we go to the well? The approach is no longer fresh and certainly not unique. I think that this format has reached a saturation point of where it is actually counter-productive, with readers flipping through the fable, moving to the back of the book for the key points and principles, and leaving dissatisfied. I can only speak for myself, but I am ready to move forward and embrace some different approaches. What do you think?
Karl J. Krayer, Ph.D. – President – Creative Communication Network