The market may be> beginning to rally and the M&A business may be regaining ground following the Hershey-Cadbury deal, but it s always a good time to go back to the basics. Here among the books our editors and writers have chosen are ones that look at how to streamline your marketing, how to simplify your spending, and how corporate boards sold America up the river.
We ve also got a new version of a classic fictionalized look at stock-market speculators that s still relevant today and a spy thriller that brings us into the Middle Eastern mind.
Build a Killer Plan In Less Than a Day
Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance
Reviewed by: Will Swarts
It s not written down in The Little Blue Book of Marketing" but it s no less a truism of corporate organizational behavior: Put a group of managers responsible for business growth in a room and within an hour, there will be three times as many ideas and opinions about the best way to go as there are midlevel executives gathered.
Veteran marketers Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance attempt in this book to set out some foolproof guidelines to focus and direct the energies of people responsible for marketing plans, all within the span of a (very) full day. There are some useful insights and techniques within these pages, from guidelines for delegating control of a marketing meeting to keeping a giant spare sheet of paper to the side for any off-agenda ideas that emerge, but writing about the planning process without doing actual planning is a tricky endeavor.
Kurnit and Lance sustain a fresh and energetic tone, though some of their ideas are common-sense principles dressed up with business terminology. That doesn t mean these concepts aren t useful, but it s tough to see this as groundbreaking work, even if it fulfills its promise to save time.
By Edwin Lef vre, Jon D. Markman and Paul Tudor Jones
Reviewed by: Jami Makan
This book by journalist Edwin Lef vre was originally a series of newspaper articles in 1922. It s a first-person quasi-memoir about a fictional character named Larry Livingston, based on interviews with a real-life trader named Jesse Lauriston Livermore. Livermore made and lost more fortunes by the age of 25 than most people will see in a lifetime, we are told in the preface, and Lef vre a keen and longtime observer of New York s financial markets apparently saw this rags-to-riches tale as an ideal vessel into which he could mix his own views about all that was deceitful, wretched and corrupt, yet also energizing and transcendent, about Wall Street.
This annotated version pairs the text with old photographs and sidebars of historical details about that era. For example, in the first chapter the Livingston character describes his job as quotation-board boy in a New England bucket shop. The sidebar tells us what exactly these shops were (places where speculators bet on price changes, just like one would bet on a horse race) and how boys used to manually record the changes being telegraphed there using chalk on large wooden boards. Nearby, a black and white picture shows a crowd of men, with moustaches and bowler hats, sitting in front of one such quote board.
Because of such insightful additions, this new version is a good resource for anyone interested in the history of stock trading. The story itself deserves even wider attention, though, at a time when our portfolios and the nation s economy have yet to recover fully.
Speculation is as old as the hills, the narrator tells us early on. Whatever happens in the stock market to-day has happened before and will happen again. Considering these words have been around since 1922, it s time investors memorize them once and for all.
How the Failure of Corporate Boards Is Ruining American Business and Costing Us Trillions
By John Gillespie and David Zweig
Free Press; $27
Reviewed by: Robert J. Hughes
How badly are corporate directors harming both the companies they supposedly serve and the American economy? Consider: Bank of America dropped a director from its board without notice when she questioned the $76 million pay package to the at a time when the bank had laid of 12,600 workers. One energy company s board gave its CEO a $75 million bonus and $25 million in other compensation, even as its market cap fell by $33 billion and it underperformed its competitors by 23%.
These are just two examples that authors John Gillespie and David Zweig bring to their expos of the overseers of governance, a company s corporate directors. Here, it s not just the big names of CEOs and such who share the blame for our economic crisis: it s those nameless directors who get paid for doing little, and when they do something, do it badly.
Gillespie, a former investment banker, and Zweig, a founder of Salon.com and a consultant who advises executive groups on improving performance, write in an accessible, mainly jargon-free style about the collective delusions of corporate directors. They delve into such terms as shareholders' rights, which don t really exist due to the many loopholes in business law, and explore the conflicts of interest among many compensation consultants.
The book is likely to anger investors, many of whom have already suspected directors of malfeasance, but it s also a readable primer on the nature of corporate finances.
A Simple Program to Help You Spend Less and Save More
By Alice Wood
Free Press; $19.95
Reviewed by Robert J. Hughes
Author Alice Wood s concept of wealth-watching was borne out of her own resolve following a freak head injury she sustained on a commercial air flight. She found herself having to learn simple things over again like handling finances and decided to create Wealth Watchers, to look at each penny she spent, modeled after the Weight Watchers concept of tracking every nibble.
And like the time-tested Weight Watchers plan, in Wealth Watchers people take personal responsibility for their spending knowing one s credit score, arranging the best way to pay bills, for example. Wood s book includes sample charts that help clarify points, such as 15- or 30-year costs for a $150,000 fixed-rate mortgage, including monthly payments and interest. Wood also includes compelling anecdotes about how some people have spent less, including that of a woman who resolved to spend no more than $50 per week feeding her family of four, and managed over the course of a decade to save $78,000. I trained myself to shop carefully, so today it is actually difficult to spend a lot of money, the woman says.
The ideas are basic, but that doesn t mean they won t work: get organized, create a monthly budget (so few people do this), keep a spending journal (akin to a food diary) to track where the money goes. The book also has a journal area at the back write directly on the pages or create one modeled after the format here that should help clarify one s cost-conscious way of financial dieting.
By Alex Berenson
Reviewed by: Robert J. Hughes
After the end of the Cold War, thriller writers were at a loss to create novels that spoke to the paranoia of modern society and the deadly gamesmanship of spycraft. Terrorism has given renewed impetus to the genre, and its best writers, such as Alex Berenson, not only provide gripping plots but also insights into cultures whose customs still elude many of us.
In his new novel, The Midnight House, Berenson s spy hero John Wells returns for a fourth outing, this time trying to uncover who murdered members of a secret interrogation team. But there s more to it than that: Berenson s books are memorable for their intricate plots that reveal more layers than they at first suggest, as well as their knowledge of the self-serving nature of managers at all levels of government.
So we get skullduggery both foreign and domestic, and duplicity both bureaucratic and secret agent. The action of The Midnight House shifts among various locales, including Washington and Cairo, and Berenson writes believably about interoffice politics and on-the-ground field operations.
His John Wells, fluent in Arabic and versed in Middle Eastern ways, offers western readers a chance to experience the world through an Arab perspective. When, disguised as a Kuwaiti, he encounters an assortment of characters on the streets of Cairo, we feel for him not only as an American undercover agent, but as an Arab among Arabs, with all of the tribal differences that only Arabs discern. This is a rare thriller that combines intelligence and humanity.