Learning from top 25 leaders

  • Business
  • Monday, 13 Jun 2005


AN ancient Arab saying goes like this: “The ordinary man learns from his own experiences, the wise learns from others’ experiences, while the fool learns from nobody’s experience.” 

In recalling this wise saying, I cannot help but appreciate “Lasting Leadership – What you can learn from the top 25 business people of our times”, originally compiled by Wharton School Publishing, and released this year by Pearson Education. 

The book is not just about Andy Grove’s leadership style at Intel, or solely discussing Bill Gate’s achievements over at Microsoft, but also include the stories of 23 others, some of whom are already renowned corporate leaders like Sam Walton, Jack Welch, Richard Branson, etc., with a few lesser known albeit having meaningful experiences to share. 

So, readers will get to learn not one leadership style but 25, and apart from finding out how each of the 25 leaders overcome their respective problems, readers also get to know their individual profiles as well.  

For example, I not only read about how Andy Grove handled his two toughest challenges in his career at Intel – fierce competition from Japanese chipmakers in the mid-1980s nearly caused Intel to go under, and a decade later when the company came under fire from customers and the media over a flaw in its Pentium microprocessors – but also found out he was born Andris Grof of a secular Jewish family in Budapest in 1936.  

I marvelled, too, over how as a young lad, he had to go into hiding when the Nazis begun rounding up the Jews after invading Hungary during World War Two. In 1950, he worked as a journalist, but was disillusioned by the Government’s restrictions. Six years later when Soviet tanks crushed Hungary’s October rebellion, he escaped with a friend by crossing the border into Austria, and then sailing to the United States where he Americanised his name to Andrew Grove. 

Thanks to the journalistic inclinations of the authors – Pandya is editor and director of Knowledge@Wharton, a web-based journal published by the famed Wharton School, and Shell is its managing editor – readers will enjoy the easy-to-read book as a well-researched text of specific business lessons which they can use to develop their own leadership styles and achieve results, and at the same time, relish the stories which personalise each of the business leaders.  

Presented in 10 chapters, Chapter 1: Best of the Best: Inside Andy Grove’s Leadership at Intel, is most compelling. 

Those seeking to build a strong corporate culture could find valuable tips in Chapter 2: Leadership and Corporate Culture. This chapter offers the experiences of Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, Mary K. Ash at Mary Kay Inc, and James Burke at Johnson & Johnson. 

Given the corporate scandals of recent years, such as Enron, WorldCom, etc, Chapter 3: Truth Tellers, discusses the need for integrity as in truth telling. Herein, three leaders – Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, management guru Peter Drucker, and William George, at Medtronic – are singled out. 

Chapter 4: Identifying an Underserved Market, should be a boon for readers who sigh for fresh markets to penetrate. The opening sentence states: “The most successful companies of the last 25 years haven’t always been based on radically new products or technologies. Some have sprung from their leaders’ ability to identify and cater to markets that were emerging but whose needs had not been identified.” The chapter goes on to share the experiences of Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle, Charles Schwab of Charles Schwab & Co., and Muhammad Yunus whose Grameen Bank gives loans to the poor in Bangladesh to enable them to become self-supporting entrepreneurs. 

Vision is touched on in Chapter 5: Seeing the Invisible, as readers learn how to see what others don’t see from Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs, cable mogul Ted Turner who founded Cable News Network, and financier George Soros, the chairman of Soros Fund Management. 

In Chapter 6: Using Price to Gain Competitive Advantage, readers learn from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart on how to buy low, sell at a discount, and make up for the low margin by moving vast amounts of inventory. Another leader featured in this chapter is Michael Dell who keeps costs low by using direct sales as his principle sales channel and integrating Dell’s supply chain seamlessly with those of its suppliers. Should readers still clamour for more, those of Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com are thrown in for good measure. 

Chapter 7: Managing the Brand, should bring smiles to many marketers as they read the experiences of Oprah Winfrey at Harpo Inc, British maverick businessman Richard Branson, and Lee Iacocca who immortalized Chrysler. 

Since leadership and learning goes hand in hand, and leaders need to learn fast, Chapter 8: Fast Learners, features Microsoft chairman Bill Gates who was a fast learner long before he began to write software programs at the age of 13, Federal Express CEO Frederick Smith who has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to learn rapidly from observation and experience, and former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner whose ability to learn fast helped to save his company. 

Chapter 9: Managing Risk, is a must read as readers could find valuable tips from Berkshire CEO Warren Buffet, Alan Greenspan who heads the U.S. Federal Reserves, and Fidelity Management & Research vice chairman Peter Lynch. 

Chapter 10: Conclusion – Making It Work: Lessons of Lasting Leadership, says it all. 

No one in management or who regards himself or herself as a leader can afford to give this book a miss since there is so much one can learn from an assortment of no less than 25 top leaders.  

l Khoo Kheng-Hor appreciates feedback and he can be reached at http://www.webpoint.com.sg/suntzu or suntzu333@yahoo.com 

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