Soundview Executive Book Summaries

A Decade of Insight at Your Fingertips

I tend to be one of those people who gets caught up in the moment. Much of my time is spent looking ahead to upcoming business titles and working with our editorial team to chart out the trends in business publishing. The downside is there’s often little time left for looking back.

What tends to spark those rare moments of reflection is when I read something online or am doing a bit of research on a past event, such as this list of world headlines from 1999. In those moments I tend to shudder and think to myself, “Wow, that was 10 years ago … already!” While this statement is generally followed by a lament about my age, sometimes it causes me to look back at the titles that we’ve covered.

I’m always grateful for these moments because it’s in them that I see the continued relevance of many of our summaries. There’s a reason that James Collins and Jerry Porras’ Built to Last is still among our top sellers five years after its release. The business book world is one in which a high percentage of titles released in a given year are deemed out-of-date within a year of their debut. Fortunately, part of our selection process is to give subscribers summaries of books that we know will be around for some time.

The culmination of our efforts is now available for your benefit. Soundview is now offering a Premium Online Subscription. This subscription gives you full access to our entire online library. That’s 10 years of summaries! The library is completely searchable by title, author and subject.

Visit us at for more information. Sometimes the best way to look ahead is to look back first.

Luxury Status at What Cost?

Part of producing each month’s edition of Soundview Executive Book Summaries involves recording and editing the audio version. While conversing with a colleague at a studio with whom we work, the subject of malls came up. My friend mentioned that he’s seen more than a few empty storefronts as he walked through one local mall.

By coincidence, I came across this interesting photo study from Time magazine today. It’s important to note that at least one of the photos included in this collection is of a set of stores that were abandoned decades ago. However, the remaining stores are all fairly recent closings.

I found the photo study while reading an article about hard times at clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F). If you have children, or attended college between 1996 and 2006, you’re probably intimately familiar with this company. As an editor, I love the way Time used the classic tactic of posing a question in its headline. Is A&F really the worst recession brand? We might want to cast a critical eye over other business sectors before we do too much picking on people who sell hooded sweatshirts and, as the Time article notes, $90 jeans.

Still, the central issue in the article that is most worthy of discussion is how companies that are perceived as luxury brands should handle tough times. I found the concept of price cutting to be of particular interest in this article. Theoretically, a luxury brand that cuts its price runs the risk of losing its status, but does this assumption apply during times of economic hardship? I agree with the marketing professor in the article who notes that if you keep your prices low for a period of time, you create an expectation among customers that they’ll stay that way.

What’s your take on how luxury brands should navigate a recession? Send me a comment and let me know your thoughts.

The Buck Stops Where?

It’s amazing how far 0ne can travel from one’s original intent while clicking away on the Internet. All I really intended to do was read a few headlines about the weekend’s news. That simple goal led me to clicking on an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Of course, much like with any blog (mine included, I hope) the lure of clicking an embedded link was too much to resist. So that led me to Gene Healy and the public policy group the CATO institute. The CATO folks published an essay excerpted from Healy’s book The Cult of the Presidency. It makes for quite interesting reading.

As I often mention in this forum, I avoid anything political because it inevitably leads readers of otherwise sound minds into a tizzy as they attempt to decipher my personal opinions. I first delved into Healy’s essay because of the quote featured in the Times article that Americans have come to view the president as a “living American talisman” against all sorts of problems, even natural disasters. The notion of culpability for the nation’s highest office is echoed in miniature at virtually every corporation. We’ve covered the topic ourselves on many occasions, recently with our summary of Brian Dive’s The Accountable Leader.

Accountability is the “high price” one has to pay for a position of notoriety within a company. However, there are many individuals who thrive on such conditions. The subject of individual accountability continues to rank as one of the most discussed in any company. It’s important to point out that accountability isn’t designed as a system where someone takes the fall for any mistakes that occur. In fact, that’s the opposite of good accountability practices. The key point made in many books that discuss this topic is the need for accountability to be proactive rather than reactive. If job roles are clearly defined and expectations are simply stated at the outset of any project, it becomes easier to track the project’s progress and clear up any mistakes along the way.

Stay tuned to to learn more about the subject of accountability. We are currently looking at additional accountability titles for upcoming editions of Soundview Executive Book Summaries. In fact, I’ve got one here on my desk right now. I’d better stop my clicking and start my reading for the day!

Is Your Business Going in Circles?

When was the last time you were lost? Take a minute and think about it. When was the last time that you were unable to find your way from point A to point B? Now that we live under the constant glare of the electric eye known as GPS, we don’t spend too much time worrying about where we’re going. The wilderness (what little of it remains) is probably the last place where there are no guarantees that if we veer off the clearly marked path, we’ll find our way home again.

The fear generated by being lost is something both films and novels have used to great effect over the years. One way to up the tension level is to have the character make what seems to be a life-saving turn only to discover that he or she has been walking in a complete circle. According to a recent study on a German TV show, discussed in this Science magazine blog , walking in circles may not be a plot-device invented by writers.

The fear of getting lost evaporates when we take the time to prepare the course we plan to travel. The same rule applies in business as it does in exploration. A well-planned strategy is a business’s map to its eventual destination. When we don’t take the time to look ahead to the potential barriers that may stand in our way, we inevitably seem to go around in circles attempting to solve these issues.

If you’re preparing to set your course for success, Soundview has something that may help you with your plotting. The brand new Soundview Strategy in Business Collection presents summaries from 25 books that cover every angle of designing and executing a successful strategy. Order your copy by clicking on this link. Consider it a GPS for CEOs.

This Network is Our Big News

Wouldn’t it be nice to attend a presentation without having to hear a lot of shouting? Bet you thought that wasn’t possible anymore.

Well, I’ve got good news for everyone today. Soundview isn’t in the business of resolving the country’s health care debate. (Although, if you caught our recent Soundview Live event with Harvard professor and author Clayton M. Christensen, we hope you learned as much as we did!) What we can offer you is the knowledge and experience of some of the top speakers in the areas of leadership, management and success.

How do we manage this feat? The Soundview Author Network!

One aspect of our business of which I’m most proud is the time and effort we put into developing good working relationships with the authors whose books we summarize. Like the authors themselves, we know that the book is only part of the author’s overall message. Our author network keeps you posted on an ever-evolving calendar of events featuring some of our favorite authors. The calendar includes a list of speaking engagements for authors in our network. These are the “shouting free” events I referred to earlier.

But that’s just the beginning! Click on each author in the Soundview Author Network to view the author’s bio, featured Soundview products and multimedia relating to some of the author’s major topics. I spent some time yesterday watching author Patrick Lencioni discuss why teams fail and was very surprised by what he had to say.

The Soundview Author Network is growing all the time and that, I think, is some good news. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of good news now and again?

No Better Buyer than Buffett

I came across this review of a book released earlier this year that discusses R.C. Willey, the furniture and electronics store purchased by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. I wonder if people didn’t focus on this book because it dealt with Bill Child, the founder of R.C. Willey, rather than on Buffett himself. That’s a shame, because Child is a fascinating character whose efforts helped propel his business to blue chip status in the eyes of the world’s most famous investor.

How to Build a Business Warren Buffett Would Buy does more than just give readers a peek into how to remodel a business from one that struggles to one that exceeds expectations. The book goes beyond numbers into the aspects of moral character and trust that form both a good workplace and a company profile that Buffett admires.

In regard to ethics, Child’s own belief in the adaptability of a business and the importance of creating a loyal work force have been echoed time and again in books about Buffett. When we reviewed Alice Schroeder’s comprehensive Buffett biography, The Snowball, we were struck by how often Buffett executed acquisition decisions by paying as much attention to the company’s philosophy as he did its balance sheet.

As the reviewer in the article above notes, the acquisition of R.C. Willey made Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway a substantial profit, while Child certainly benefited from receiving “A” shares in Buffett’s company as part of the buy-out. Without going into a long explanation, “A” shares in Berkshire Hathaway trade for a significantly higher price than “B” shares. It just goes to show that there is still a value on companies founded on a strong work ethic and firm moral character.

Anti Social Media, Anyone?

I have a soft spot for USA Today. I know that as editor-in-chief of a business publication, I’m supposed to peer down my nose at the much-maligned “McPaper,” but let’s be honest, folks … If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel and found a copy under your door when you wake up, did you just leave it on the ground? Of course not!

So, when I spotted this article from USA Todayonline, it sparked an interesting conversation here in the editorial department. Business books on social media are flooding the market. Take a look for yourself by clicking here. A personal favorite is Groundswell, a book which we examined in a Featured Book Review last year. This book is notable because it was among the first to give an in-depth look at the impact of Web 2.0. What my colleagues and I were discussing is whether or not people have reached their limit with hearing about social media. Don’t get me wrong, we’re as addicted as everyone else to Twitter, Facebook and other sites. We’re not debating whether people are tired of using social media sites, it’s whether or not they’re tired of reading about them.

Generally speaking, by the time the number of titles about a time-sensitive subject reaches a few dozen, the subject might be wearing thin with readers. This is particularly true about any book that deals with technology. In our “here today, gone later today” world of innovation, book publishers occasionally have trouble keeping up with the pace at which technology changes. We struggle with it ourselves from time to time, and we have the good fortune of being able to publish a monthly product.

 I thought I’d toss this question out to you. Help turn the tide in this week’s great editorial debate. Are you interested in more coverage of books that deal with the business applications of social media? If so, reach out to us via one of our own social media sites. The links are listed above.

Or you can always go the traditional route and send us a comment via our Web site,

Keep the Pipeline Full

Here’s a story that might raise a few eyebrows. The New York Times reported over the weekend about the reintroduction of guaranteed bonuses for certain recruits on Wall Street. The practice has been a part of recruiting in the financial industry for some time, but it’s obviously raising questions in a time period when many companies in the financial sector are on the receiving end of taxpayer-funded government bailouts. The debate over using guaranteed bonuses is an interesting one. Companies could argue that they need the bonuses to ensure that the top talent ends up at their company. The deals this person brokers will bring in profits that would eventually trickle down to those who maintain an investment portfolio with the institution. On the other side of the fence is the taxpaying public who could feel wronged that the companies their tax dollars bailed out are now able to revert to pre-crash era spending. The potential for the financial sector to rapidly return to its fast-living, risk-taking ways makes for a nervous public.

The war for talent, particularly in the leadership realm is an ever-growing concern. Despite business schools churning out scores of graduates each year, there continues to be a claim that true talent is coming at an ever-increasing premium. One person who would likely argue against lavish spending as a means to ensure a company possesses good leaders is author and management expert Ram Charan. We featured his book, co-authored with James Noel and Stephen Drotter, The Leadership Pipeline as a bonus summary for our subscribers in Soundview’s August 2009 edition. Charan and his co-authors are adamant that good leaders can be “home grown” if the company is willing to take the necessary steps to educate the leader and put him or her in the situations necessary to guarantee good growth. Organizations are encouraged to constantly refine and adjust their program to help the company sustain its influx of leaders. If a company executes the practices that Charan, Noel and Drotter suggest, it should not have to resort to a splash of cash to keep the leadership pipeline from slowing to a drip.

As the Times suggests, the practices of the financial sector will give Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s “pay czar,” plenty to stay busy. Perhaps Feinberg should consider giving Ram Charan a call.

Twitter … Down But Not Out
August 7, 2009, 2:49 PM
Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , ,

In a world where social media has permeated every aspect of life, there were probably some serious cases of separation anxiety occurring yesterday. Where were you when Twitter went down? What always amazes me about this type of online incident is the way in which even the most massive, well developed Web sites in the world are still at risk to hackers. If you have a second, check out the link above for PC World’s story about the possible cause of the incident.

Fortunately for “tweeters” everywhere, the site came back online within a day. We’re among those that are pleased by its return. For those of you who haven’t checked us out yet, Soundview Executive Book Summaries is on Twitter. Click this link to check out our tweets about business books, authors and happenings in the business publishing world.

Fuel for Thought

Every so often, I read a review of a book that leaves me (temporarily, at least) at a loss for words. This is how I felt when I came across Timothy Gardner’s review of $20 per Gallon by Christopher Steiner, an engineer-turned-journalist. I have to compliment Steiner for having a better balance of optimism and pessimism than most writers who cover the energy crisis . On the one hand he acknowledges that the inevitable depletion of the Earth’s fossil fuel supply will allow only the elite to enjoy the luxury of certain types of travel. He also offers the view that electric or alternative fuel powered cars will not be able to provide the punch needed to get one safely from coast to coast, despite being adequate for city driving.

But as Gardner points out, Steiner’s book is largely positive in its vision of a future without cheap petroleum. The book seems to take on a modern, eco-inclined adaptation of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Steiner pictures an America where people walk and bike everywhere, creating a healthier crop of Americans. He believes people will grow their own produce again and the government will reinvest in urban renewal and develop superior mass transit systems. Cleaner air? Fresh, chemical-free food? A nation that’s gone from fat to fit again?

With all due deference to the late former Beatle, you may say Steiner’s a dreamer but something tells me he’s not the only one. The fact that it may take gas prices reaching $20 for these changes to be set in motion is not easy to digest, but it is definitely a real possibility.