Where to find wisdom: experts in their fields pick their favourite business book
A good book should do more than just entertain, it should also inform, particularly so when it comes to the business world, where a particular piece of knowledge can make or break a deal. Here our contributors name titles that have impressed them.
There is so much information to sort through these days, an endless torrent of data, opinion and events. Sometimes it pays to take a step back and seek wisdom in an excellent book. With that in mind we asked a panel of contributors to the Business pages for their answer to this question: What is the one business book that you would recommend to our readers?
In a world when company values crash or soar with a tweet, and quarterly earnings reports seem dated, it’s worthwhile taking a look at the longue durée. Angus Maddison’s Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD is a heroic attempt to calculate the world’s and national economic output over the last two millennia.
Here we find a yardstick for a Roman peasant’s bare subsistence lifestyle versus an African villager today, and learn that for all Britain’s coal and steam engines, China was the world’s largest economy as late as 1870, with India not far behind.
As the western-dominated global economy of the past two centuries fades away before our eyes, and populists try to build walls against the inevitable, Maddison’s analysis of the wealth of Han, Song or Ming China, Abbasid Baghdad, Persia and Mughal India reminds us that the real action has almost always been in Asia.
Maddison’s task is, of course, impossible with any precision. But it is a great corrective to a World Bank report or national economic plan that carries its smooth extrapolations confidently to 2030 or 2050.
Robin Mills is the author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis
Manar Al Hinai
I would highly recommend Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This book looks at successful people throughout history such as The Beatles and presents readers with a new perspective on goals and success. It’s a good read for both teenagers and adults. In the book, Gladwell challenges the idea that success is based solely on hard work, but cites statistical references to analyse the factors that contributed to success, such as how the opportunities that were presented to some of the greatest artists and business people of all times had to do with birthdates, time and place, just as much as talent. My favourite aspect of Outliers is the 10,000-hours rule, where Gladwell describes how it takes people 10,000 hours of practice to become experts at what they do.
Manar Al Hinai manages a branding and marketing consultancy in Abu Dhabi.
My favourite business books are biographies, particularly of successful entrepreneurs who have done something with their lives and added something to the richness of our lives. Steve Jobs, although a lamentable human being, was one and Elon Musk is another – both highly creative people who actually made things which people use, as well as money. Ashlee Vance’s book, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and a Fantastic Future, is a great read about an extraordinary man who in a few short years has created – among other things– a car company which this week climbed above General Motors, around for more than a century, to become the biggest US car company by market value.
But Water Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs takes first prize. It is based on 40 interviews with the creator of Apple who then died, leaving Isaacson full freedom to say what he liked about him. There is plenty of personal stuff, which shows just how nasty he was, but we do get to understand what drove this passionate, focused and imaginative man to build what could well become the world’s first trillion-dollar company. On the way he changed forever whole industries: computers, music, mobile phones and maybe watches, and created an entire new industry from scratch, apps, which employs thousands of people around the world.
You have to admire him for that.
Ivan Fallon is the author of Black Horse Ride: The Inside Story of Lloyds and the Financial Crisis
Milton Friedman is remembered among the public for his strong and controversial advocacy of free markets. But what got him his Nobel Prize for economics was for his research on monetary history and theory.
His most famous work was A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, a massive tome written with his colleague Anna Schwartz that became one of the most influential economic books of the 20th century. But my selection is The Great Contraction, 1929-33, which was originally a chapter of the Monetary History. It was released as a very readable separate book in 1965, and in 2008 was re-released in a new edition.
The Great Contraction argues the depression of the early 1930s was caused by a severe shrinkage of the money supply. Panicky customers rushed to get their money out of banks in the wake of the 1929 stock exchange crash, forcing many of these banks to go out of business. The process by which banks create money by lending and relending, a phenomenon known as the multiplier effect, went into reverse as the bank sought urgent repayment from borrowers.
The money supply contraction meant people had less to spend, causing the economy itself to shrink. Nowadays, the Federal Reserve would step in to lend banks money to keep them afloat in such an emergency. But in the 1930s few economists understood the relationship between money supply and overall economic activity.
Patrick Werr has worked as a financial writer in Egypt for 27 years
I am rarely impressed by financial books as they are usually written by someone with an agenda, without qualifications or are stuffy economic tomes, with Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century being an honourable exception, so my choice is Michael Lewis’s The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine which was made into a film a couple of years ago.
The book is more complex than the film, but Lewis remains engaging even when describing financial twists, turns and switchbacks based on a combination of sleights of hand, blind optimism and downright lies. The concepts are complex but the big take away lesson is that the more layers in any financial transaction, the more complex it is; the more the end user, the man in the street will pay, and probably lose. Overly complicated concepts and constructs that you don’t understand are to be avoided and it is best to avoid any financial house of cards.
The book is mainly about the subprime mortgage market in the US tied up with a multi-layered bond market, but the principles apply to most investments and indeed other things in life. If it is too complicated, if you don’t understand it, or you don’t trust the people you are dealing with, walk away.
Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser in Dubai
One of the more entertaining reads related to the industry for me has to be Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker. Preceding his other successes (Moneyball, The Big Short, Flash Boys and Blind Side), Liar’s Poker chronicles the boom of the bond market through the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It reads more like a non-fictional memoir which gives an astute insider’s view into a bond trader’s life and the various ups and downs that entreatingly come with it. It’s very well written, a page turner, even for non-finance professionals – and although it takes place more than 20 years ago, some of the underlying themes plaguing the industry in those days remain relevant even today. It serves as a must read for people in the industry – a must read for those thinking about getting involved – and for people not associated with the industry who can get a really good insight to how things succeed and fail in the chaos that is the financial world.
Gaurav Kashyap is the head of futures at EGM Futures
I’m going for The Flying Sheikh by Najib Alamuddin, the memoirs of a man who I believe embodied all of Lebanon’s energy and potential in the so-called golden age before the 1975-90 civil war. From 1952 to 1978, as chairman of Middle East Airlines, Alamuddin took the newly formed carrier and shaped it into a company that captured the panache and elegance of the new Lebanon. MEA became the envy of the Arab world, setting a benchmark of excellence and glamour for today’s regional carriers. Alamuddin, who went on to be a government minister, was also a board member of Lebanon’s Intrabank, at the time the biggest financial institution in the Middle East. When Intrabank collapsed spectacularly in 1966, many saw it as the moment politics and finance collided and the seeds of civil conflict were sown. The Flying Sheikh, written a decade before Alamuddin’s death in 1996, is a book of courage and integrity. Would that Lebanon had such business leaders and politicians today.
Michael Karam is a freelance writer who lives between Beirut and Brighton
While business is done in the Gulf by taking the time to know and establish trust with your counterpart, American businessmen are up front. And while both may be Europeans, Germans and the French negotiate differently. Business isn’t done the same way around the world and Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway is a great guide through the specifics of business etiquette across cultures.
The book describes the do’s and don’ts in 60 countries, from the right gesture to the appropriate words to use in a conversation. More than this, you will learn about the particular business mindset, value system and logic in your counterparts’ culture. After you read it, you will be better prepared for what might otherwise be a cultural shock.
I see many missed business opportunities linked to misunderstandings. I recommend this book as a precious resource for businesswomen and businessmen involved in international negotiation and trade, or managing offshore teams.
Radoine Nachdi manages the Abu Dhabi activities of Chalhoub Group
My pick is Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, by Christopher Schroeder. It has everything you wanted to know about the region’s technology start-up scene – particularly relevant given the recent Amazon deal to buy Souq.com. Schroeder vividly and passionately relates the story of the early pioneers including the efforts in the 1990s of the Aramex founder Fadi Ghandour to create the logistics infrastructure that the Middle East’s fledgling e-commerce sector has been built upon. Through meetings with the key personalities, Schroeder reveals the obstacles and challenges that have been overcome, from distinctly Arab ones like wasta to the usual problems of the market not being quite ready for some of the earliest companies like Arabia.com. It is by seeing this all through Schroeder’s eyes, his excitement at finding so much talent and drive in the region, that you realise what has actually been achieved and that it should not be taken for granted.
Mustafa Alrawi is The National’s business editor
‘Tomorrow’s Gold: Asia’s Age Of Discovery’ by Marc Faber. This is a book that many of my business friends have borrowed and I always have to ask for it back. Of particular relevance to this region is how to spot each stage of the emerging market business cycle, although actually the UAE’s market has become much more mature since the book was written. The title alludes to Faber’s prediction (the book was published in 2002) of a brilliant future for gold as an asset class, and indeed it soared from US$300 in 2002 to $1,923 in 2011. He also explained why Asia would rise in the early 21st century, written at a time when there was barely a Chinese face in the Emirates, and the pressures on the US economy as its debts ballooned, long before the nemesis of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Faber is a contrarian master, that is the art of investing in what is out of fashion before it comes into fashion and the price goes up. His irreverent tone is fun too.
Peter Cooper has been a financial journalist in Dubai for two decades
In The Troubleshooter, the late Sir John Harvey Jones described his tenure as a turnaround consultant to six struggling and diverse businesses that were not of his choosing.
No nonsense but still a congenial personage, his advice carried 34 years experience, including five years as chairman of ICI.
Sir John said later that his solutions were often commonly held internally, but politics made their voicing difficult for insiders.
There is a contemporary takeaway in these pages for UAE businesses concerning non-executive directors. These broadly experienced independent, and they must be independent to be effective, persons are often crucial to successfully executed business strategies.
Who points out the elephants in your boardroom?
David Daly is a chartered accountant in Dubai
For excerpts from even more top-notch business books, click on thenational.ae/bizbooks
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Published: April 15, 2017 04:00 AM