Business Adventures by John Brooks – Some Lessons and Takeaways


…J. P. Morgan the Elder is supposed to have made to a naïve acquaintance who had ventured to ask the great man what the market was going to do. “It will fluctuate,” replied Morgan dryly.
Quoted by John Brooks, in his book Business Adventures

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Great stories from the world of business past, well-written, and then well-understood, provide an undergirding, a foundation, from which to tackle all sorts of contemporary challenges.

Business AdvanturesYesterday at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales From the World of Wall Street by John Brooks. First published in 1969, this is a great! read, and a book of substance. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed the experience of reading a business book as much as I enjoyed reading this book.

I earlier wrote about the Warren Buffett and Bill Gates love fest about this book. (Read this blog post: Bill Gates asked Warren Buffett What His Favorite Business Book Was; Mr. Buffett Had an Answer – Do You Have an Answer to that Question?). I can now add my enthusiastic endorsement – this is a book worth reading.

Here are some excepts from my handout from my presentation.

Why is this book worth our time?

  1. In stories of others – other people, other companies, other times – we see ourselves.
  1. These stories teach us about: work ethic; all-in, all hands on deck crisis-management; seizing moments of opportunity; altruistic actions for the common good; over-reach and dishonesty. In other words, these stories are about human aspiration, human achievement, and human failings…
  1. There is a pretty good chance that we have been there before! We really should learn lessons from our history. And the more history you know, the more lessons you can learn. These essays tell great history lessons.
  1. John Brooks is a great story-teller; a very entertaining writer. This was a fun, substantive book to read.
  1. Warren Buffett told Bill Gates this was the best business book he had ever read. Bill Gates agreed, and made sure it was reissued.

And, here is my brief description of the “problem” and or simply a comment, about each of the individual chapters. Actually, each chapter is a stand-alone essay. (It was a challenge to come up with a synopsis approach for this book).

The chapters:

1 The Fluctuation THE LITTLE CRASH IN ’62    
Problem: a sudden, inexplicable Stock Market Crash…

2 The Fate of the Edsel A CAUTIONARY TALE    
Problem: misreading the times; bad decision-making

3 The Federal Income Tax ITS HISTORY AND PECULIARITIES     
Problem: we haven’t got it right yet…

4 A Reasonable Amount of Time INSIDERS AT TEXAS GULF SULPHUR     
Problem: the unfair advantage of insider trading…

5 Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox     
Simply marvel, at innovation, rapidly embraced technology, and genuine service for the greater (and the community) good

6 Making the Customers Whole THE DEATH OF A PRESIDENT  
Problem: What if the “little people” people suffer from the big people falling for a fraud? The whole system is in jeopardy

(The story: a crooked businessman got a very big loan based on fraudulent “warehouse receipts.” And some bigger firms baled out the individual investors. Oh, and they did It on the weekend of November 23, 1963).

7 The Impacted Philosophers NON-COMMUNICATION AT GE     
Problem: price-fixing crooks at the highest levels of General Electric – and a culture of “winking” at the truth.

8 The Last Great Corner A COMPANY CALLED PIGGLY WIGGLY
Key player: Clarence Saunders
Problem: (“cornering” in the Stock Market)

9 A Second Sort of Life DAVID E. LILIENTHAL, BUSINESSMAN     
Story: A public servant becomes personally financially successful in his “second life,” , and helps bring success to different parts of the world

10 Stockholder Season ANNUAL MEETINGS AND CORPORATE POWER
Problem: The little guy (or woman) never gets heard

11 One Free Bite A MAN, HIS KNOWLEDGE, AND HIS JOB     
Problem: trade secrets, and very educated, well-paid (but not as well as they could be) indentured servants

“Usually it is not until there is evidence that the employee [who has changed jobs] has not lived up to his contract, expressed or implied, to maintain secrecy, that the former employer can take action. In the law of torts there is the maxim: Every dog has one free bite. A dog cannot be presumed to be vicious until he has proved that he is by biting someone. As with a dog, the former employer may have to wait for a former employee to commit some overt act before he can act.”

12 In Defense of Sterling THE BANKERS, THE POUND, AND THE DOLLAR   
Problem: “we all inhabit this small planet.” And we’d best work together. If the Pound fails, and the Dollar fails?…

And here are my lessons and takeaways.

1) Read stories of business mistakes, crises, challenges, opportunities. Find yourself in these stories. Think: what part would I play?
2) When there is a genuine crisis (and, there will be genuine crises!), it really is “all hands on deck” until the crisis is past. No exceptions.
3) There will always be temptations to some form of dishonesty. You will be tempted. Others in your organization will be tempted. We/you must always be on guard.
4) Ultimately, be on the lookout for, and be willing to invest in, the “little person.” Our entire society depends on concern for and commitment to the common good. Even when that common good is international.
5) Seize the moment. Seize the opportunity. It may not come again.
6) Innovate. Constantly innovate. The innovators build the future.
7) Learn to identify crises; mistakes; challenges; blind spots; opportunities. And, sometimes, you may never know the why behind a happening. Just live with it.
8) Yes, there is plenty of bad in the business world — but the good may outweigh the bad… Maybe…

If you asked me, I would recommend that you add this book to your reading stack – and move it up to the top of the stack pretty quickly. It is that good.

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15minadMy synopsis, with my full handout and the audio of my presentation, will be available soon on our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

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