Business Advice From an All-Star Lineup
Former BusinessWeek Executive Editor John Byrne is a veteran business journalist who has interviewed and, in a number of cases, known personally, many of the most renowned business leaders in America and the world. In World Changers, Byrne presents 25 conversations with a wide range of entrepreneurs with famous names and famous brands. Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, Ted Turner and Michael Dell are included, as well as the founders of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Federal Express, Amazon, Starbucks and Home Depot.
Inspiration From Surprising Sources
Many of the stories are familiar to business book readers: Michael Dell started his eponymous company in his dorm room, for example; and Netflix founder Reed Hastings was prompted to start his company because of an embarrassing fine for an overdue video. But even in the most familiar stories, the conversations can yield unexpected insight into the building of a successful company. Jobs, for example, told Byrne about a wonderful calligraphy course at Reed College, the college he attended briefly before dropping out. It was the calligraphy course that inspired Jobs to offer different fonts for the Mac. "If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts," Jobs said.
It’s a common assumption in business that many entrepreneurs can launch a company but need a manager to keep their creation in orbit. The examples of Jobs, Dell and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, however, demonstrate the opposite. Only when the founders come back to the company does that company rediscover the soul that made what is now a floundering enterprise successful in the first place.
Business is often divided into the "hard" and the "soft" — the hard being the numbers, the soft being people and culture. When Schultz first returned to Starbucks, he unequivocally dealt with the hard: He shut down 600 stores and put 12,000 people out of work. Seven out of 10 shuttered stores had been opened in the past three years, which was not a coincidence; unprofitable overexpansion had been one of the root causes of the company’s severe troubles. Then Schultz dealt with the soft side of business with equal intensity. He spent $30 million on a company retreat to New Orleans, still reeling at that time from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The reason, according to Schultz: The real source of the Starbucks success is not coffee, but an authentic commitment to both profit and a social purpose. "We went to New Orleans," Schultz explains, "because it was so fitting to go back there and demonstrate to ourselves and to that community the essence of Starbuck’s original business plan: to make a profit and to balance that, though it is hard at times, with a social conscience." Although Starbucks would sink to historic lows during the recession of 2008, today the company is once again a vibrant enterprise, at once profitable and still committed to its social purpose.
There are few takeaways in this book, beyond the expected encouragement for hard work, determination and risk taking. Whether describing Oprah Winfrey’s early life, Herb Kelleher’s scribbling the business model for Southwest Airlines on a cocktail napkin or Infosys founder’s Narayana Murthy’s Iron Curtain scare ("I said if this is how a Communist society treats friends, I don’t want to be part of that") the stories and conversations in World Changers are more about life’s challenges and opportunities than business models and financing. But then again, so is business.