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Speed Review: Zenobia

The Curious Book of Business

by Matthew Emmens & Beth Kephart

Speed Review: Zenobia
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Down the Corporate Rabbit Hole

Teaming a CEO with a poet to collaborate on a business book might sound like an “Alice in Wonderland” proposition. But the result, Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business by Matthew Emmens, CEO of the $14 billion Shire Pharmaceuticals, and award-winning poet and author Beth Kephart, is a business fable that is as inspiring as it is curious.

Zenobia is the tale of job applicant Moira. Bored with her current position, she decides to answer an intriguing want ad. The ad brings Moira to Zenobia, a once-mighty company, now fallen into neglect and disrepair and bogged down in its way of doing business. To fulfill her mission, Moira must find Room 133A by 9 a.m. –– not an easy task, considering Zenobia’s current state: “There was, to begin, no apparent way up. The doors of the elevators had been sealed long ago. The stairs zinged this way and that, crossed over and through, circled back and endlessly in.”

Zenobians
Moira’s quest to find Room 133A brings her into contact with the denizens of Zenobia. Along the way, Moira meets several archetypical characters representing the worst of those who populate the business world. To reach her destination, Moira must not only navigate the confusing structure that represents the company itself, but also contend with such employees as Hedger, a man who avoids giving a straight answer at any cost; Trenchy, a woman so confined to her own tasks that she has no idea what her colleagues are doing; and Stomper, a cynical killjoy who would like nothing more than to see Moira fail.

Lighting the Way
In each of the book’s 13 chapters, the authors detail another step on Moira’s journey. Each step illustrates a basic principle for success, such as “Conceive a Plan; Pursue It,” “Prepare for Ridicule” and “Seek the Unlikely Alliance.” As the book progresses, we see Moira succeed because she refuses to be dragged down by the negative aspects of Zenobia. She forges ahead, relying on her talent, intelligence and courage to identify opportunities and solutions to find Room 133A.

But this story is not just Moira’s. As the heroine fights her way through the quagmire that surrounds her, the authors show how her actions inspire many of the Zenobians to not only follow her, but to begin forging their own ways ahead to success: “What she saw just then was even far more dazzling than the lambent atmosphere. For at the end of the kite tail, on the rungs of the ladder, in the spaces between things, against the warp of the wood, she saw a rising stream of Zenobians … They were making the journey for and with one another, showing each other the way.”

A Deceptively Simple Tale
Zenobia is an engrossing read that provides readers with honest enjoyment. The concepts it presents are often astonishing in their simplicity. Logically, we all understand that in order to succeed we must first have a plan and then be prepared to follow it. Most of us can expound on the virtue of being a good listener. However, the authors reveal the importance of these concepts not as declamations from business gurus but rather as lessons from an engaging heroine on a unique journey.

Zenobia is a book for anyone who has lost his or her way in the business world, who feels stalled or who just needs a little inspiration. Moira’s story is a reminder of what can be achieved in business and in life when we aren’t afraid to take risks and show some courage.