June 1997

Books for better business

By John A. Sease
By Michael Bloomberg
By Larry Hirschorn
By Warren Bennis
By Michael Phillips
By Stephen Fishman
By Stephen Fishman
By Linda Stern
By Stephan Schiffman
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Prestbo is markets editor of the Wall Street Journal and Sease is a WSJ editor and writer. That's one clue of how plugged in this book is. And the authors take a pretty orderly approach, outlining the risks, rewards, vehicles to approach (such as American depositary receipts) and those to avoid (such as foreign bonds). Issues such as privatization, primitive management, and the quirks of emerging markets are touched on. It would be hard to top Jim Rogers' great international investing book from a few years back, Investment Biker. This book doesn't try, being more of a dry, journalistic reference. And no one should assume that one book is enough to get a handle on such a large topic. Still, Prestbo and Sease do a yeoman's job of defining some of the parameters, telling how to choose the right kind of money manager, and outlining how to structure an international portfolio. Result? The book is a great way to prepare for testing some deep waters.


Michael Bloomberg is one of the most intriguing characters of the late 20th century. When he took a multimillion-dollar retirement from Salomon Brothers, instead of investing it in the stock market (where he arguably had some expertise) or sailing around the world for a few years, he immediately plunged a large portion of his stake into a brand new company with very dicey chances of success. Now, almost 20 years later, it looks like his bet was a solid one. The name Bloomberg stands for innovation in the world of financial data-gathering. In many ways Michael Bloomberg is the Ted Turner of the 1990s.

Several years ago Bloomberg hired "Wall Street Journal" reporter Matthew Winkler to spearhead his news operation, and Winkler has also been on tap to help with this book which has been several years in the making. The book is told as though one were interviewing Bloomberg, with a narrative as smooth and readable as natural conversation. Of course there's a lot of self-aggrandizement, but it seems deserved. Bloomberg has accomplished a lot. Plus, he is not so full of himself that he can't boil some of his success down to some simple, transferable maxims. As a result, his book is entertaining, informative and potentially helpful to people who take risks with their own businesses.


This slim volume is unusually eloquent in relating the trends of contemporary popular culture to the structure of authority in working groups. Hirschorn has been studying the subject at many companies and has concluded that traditional models of authority have lost their effectiveness. The cases he presents here support the argument for more vulnerability and openness in the post-modern organization. Hirschorn has learned some of these lessons the hard way. His best examples come not from instances where he went into the organization and saved the day. The most telling lessons arise out of consulting engagements that appear headed for disaster. The value of such encounters can be much higher than the typical glib assessments and formulas applied by many organizational thinkers.


Not since Michael Schrage's No More Teams has there been such as nice, case-by-case analysis of successful collaborations. The authors study famous teams such as the Manhattan Project, Black Mountain College, as well as groups led by James Carville, Steve Jobs and others. They examine closely how great work is created in groups. The reader can take many of these lessons and apply them to a wide range of collaborative situations. The literature of collaborative effort has expanded in recent years with the increased focus on working in teams and putting together groups on a task basis. There's also been a lot of new work on the evolution of thinking within groups. Bennis and Biederman remind us of the many precedents worth examining not only for the exemplary work but for the creative process that went into it.


The first couple of chapters set the tone for this novel book. Chapter 1 is called "Advertising: The Last Choice in Marketing." Chapter 2 is called "Personal Recommendation: The First Choice in Marketing." Need we say more? Probably not, but it is refreshing to see a marketing book that deals with such basic elements as trust, helping people and educating customers. Particularly for the small business, these discussions are invaluable. Yes, there's also the (sigh) chapter on Internet marketing, and chapter on the marketing plan. Even those items are put in the proper perspective. One would think the authors, with 50,000 copies in print of the first edition of their book, might have some say in the title. But no, the publishers rejected the author's choice of title: "It Worked for Jesus!"


Independent contractors — the fastest-growing class of workers in America — face organizational, tax, legal, accounting and other hurdles they are ill prepared for, even with an entire previous career that might have been spent in the womb of a corporation. Even though they have tacked on a snappier title than one used to expect from Nolo, this has all the quality of that reliable self-help law imprint. It walks the reader through the basics of choosing a form for your business, dealing with start-up concerns, the myriad tax paying and reporting issues, and introductory information on recordkeeping, intellectual property and agreements. The book contains many sample agreements. The enclosed floppy disk also contains independent contractor agreements.

This second edition of Fishman's book could be considered a companion title to the above, particularly for independent contractors who hire each other. The emphasis on hiring rather than being an independent contractor means there are more laws and regulations to keep track of. And although there are many benefits to using IC's instead of hiring employees, important distinctions must be maintained which keep the parties separate in the eyes of the law. This book covers everything from properly classifying different kinds of contractors, from family members to consultants, and also provides forms in both printed and floppy disk form.


Savvy recordkeeping, diligent tax deductions, and smart shopping are the author's remedies for the worst of all problems for the self-employed: cash flow. It's the item that sinks more small startups than any other, and one of the things the newly self-employed find it easiest to underestimate. This book is almost like a personal finance guide for the self-employed, and the author has tried most of the tips she advocates. The entire book, but particularly the "Annual Checkup" at the end, will serve as a ready reference for anyone caught in the adventure of being self-employed.


As a big fan of Schiffman's early book Cold Calling Techniques, I've been looking forward to this one. Schiffman is an aggressive and savvy sales trainer with a talent for organizing the tools of prospecting, interviewing, presenting and closing. His engaging, no-nonsense style is like a focused refresher course on the things really important to selling. And in one chapter he tells more about attitudes and traits of success than some entire books can encompass. Any sales rep looking for a book to help them move ahead now shouldn't overlook this one.

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