Reading Business Books
I’m going to Manila today for my quarterly review of our Philippines office. I had a friend that used to travel between China and South Africa sometimes twice a month on business trips, and I used to think “wow that must be so cool to be able to travel between two countries all the time.” When I opened our Philippines office in 2010 and was traveling between Shenzhen and Manila sometimes twice a month, and at the least once a month, I quit thinking traveling between countries for business was cool. It’s a novelty in the beginning, but eventually it becomes very disruptive to your life. You never feel like you have a permanent place to live, and you become very disconnected with your friends and relationships suffer. Plus its not like we are a large company, so I didn’t even have the luxury of being able to stay in 5 star hotels.
Anyway, its only once a quarter now, which actually is not bad and I’m looking forward to meeting new staff. The last book that I traveled with was the biography of Steve Jobs, and because of the bulk of the book, I promised myself that I would never travel with a book again. For this trip I downloaded on my iPad, How To Win At The Sport Of Business by the billionaire Mark Cuban and American Icon which is about the corporate turnaround of the Ford Motor Company. In fact after this experience I will never buy another book again. Wow, I’m getting old. I’ve made the transition from cassettes to CDs, 5.25 inch floppies to 3.5 inch floppies and then to CDs and then to USBs, and now no more real books. It’s another great experience delivered via Apple, and I think it will really encourage me to read more.
I started Mark Cuban’s book and I definitely recommend it for any entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur. I actually don’t believe in reading very dense management, marketing or strategy books. In fact I don’t read fiction, or history books, etc… I only read biographies, autobiographies of businesspeople or great leaders and books that profile interesting companies. I find dense intellectual discussions of business to be boring and unhelpful. I was happy when I took my last exam in university and I guess I’m just too lazy to read a dense book about business strategy. Furthermore, I find them to be immensely unhelpful. They are almost always written by people that are not true entrepreneurs, so I find their experience to be more applicable to working in a large corporation.
Personally I think the best way to learn about business is to just do it, talk to people about your experiences and learn from your experiences. In fact I have never heard of great entrepreneurs learning how to be entrepreneurs from books. However, business is hard and as an entrepreneur you are basically fighting against the world. 99% of people work for a company and you are part of the 1% that doesn’t care about everyone else and you are forging ahead with your vision of the world. There is nothing wrong with the 99% of people that choose to work for a company, and in fact most people go down this path because they don’t feel like the stress and internal turmoil of being a career entrepreneur.
Autobiographies and biographies of successful entrepreneurs are my spiritual Red Bull to inspire me and keep me pressing on with my vision to make an amazing company. Books about successful entrepreneurs are really amazing, because not only are they inspirational, but they will give you ideas about how men and women just like you started from nothing and created successful enterprises. But a word of caution here.
I once read a book titled How To Get Rich by Dennis Felix who is the entrepreneur who owns the mens magazine Maxim along with dozens of other businesses. He said that for years he struggled with growing his business until he found managers that he could delegate the work to. He painted a picture of relaxing on a boat while his managers worked hard and earned him millions of dollars. I still wanted to work hard, so the boat didn’t really appeal to me, but simply being able to earn millions by hiring managers seemed very appealing to me.
So I set out to higher managers that would make me “millions”. At this time I was doing the accounting, the marketing, sales management, production management, and basically any other managerial task. I was working 14 hours a day 7 days a week, and the company was just barely profitable. The first two hires that I made was a marketing manager and an accountant. These first hires were actually pretty good. The marketing manager set our company up for our first truly profitable year, and the accountant took a lot of mundane work away from me. Bolstered by the success of these two hires, and the fact that Dennis Felix suggested it, and was almost a billionaire I thought this advice was infallible.
I assumed if I hired more managers I would make even more money. However, at this time I was 27 and I really had no idea how to interview and hire people. I got lucky with my first two hires. Furthermore, the pool of capable foreigner managers in China was basically non-existent. I hired 3 additional foreigners as managers and they all ended up being huge mistakes. They cost me money, they were difficult to work with, they were incompetent, and they infuriated my existing staff that got passed up for promotions by outsiders.
My point is that you can’t apply everything you read in a book. Everyone has different circumstances, different innate abilities, different resources, etc… Its good to read about the experiences of other entrepreneurs and to apply some of what you read, but be careful about what you do apply. Steve Jobs was not very nice but he was a genious and it worked wonders for him. However, if I acted like Steve Jobs, I guarantee it would absolutely not work for me and my company. You have to be able to create your own style of management and your own corporate culture, and have the confidence to know when to and when not to apply the experience of other entrepreneurs.