This may not be the first, and certainly will not be the only place you see this reference to Bill Gates’s favorite business book. We have a longstanding love of long-form journalism, aka detailed descriptive story-telling. So we link to the post on gatesnotes in celebration of an otherwise-might-have-missed-it book:
…Brooks was also a masterful storyteller. He could craft a page-turner like “The Last Great Corner,” about the man who founded the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain and his attempt to foil investors intent on shorting his company’s stock. I couldn’t wait to see how things turned out for him. (Here’s a spoiler: Not well.) Other times you can almost hear Brooks chuckling as he tells some absurd story. There’s a passage in “The Fate of the Edsel” in which a PR man for Ford organizes a fashion show for the wives of newspaper reporters. The host of the fashion show turns out to be a female impersonator, which might seem edgy today but would have been scandalous for a major American corporation in 1957. Brooks notes that the reporters’ wives “were able to give their husbands an extra paragraph or two for their stories.”
Brooks’s work is a great reminder that the rules for running a strong business and creating value haven’t changed. For one thing, there’s an essential human factor in every business endeavor. It doesn’t matter if you have a perfect product, production plan, and marketing pitch; you’ll still need the right people to lead and implement those plans.
That is a lesson you learn quickly in business, and I’ve been reminded of it at every step of my career, first at Microsoft and now at the foundation. Which people are you going to back? Do their roles fit their abilities? Do they have both the IQ and EQ to succeed? Warren is famous for this approach at Berkshire Hathaway, where he buys great businesses run by wonderful managers and then gets out of the way.
Business Adventures is as much about the strengths and weaknesses of leaders in challenging circumstances as it is about the particulars of one business or another. In that sense, it is still relevant not despite its age but because of it. John Brooks’s work is really about human nature, which is why it has stood the test of time.