The Wisdom of Titans: A book review by Bob Morris

Wisdom TitansThe Wisdom of Titans: Secrets of Success from Entrepreneurs Who Rose to the Top
William Ferguson
bibliomotion books + media (2013)

“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison

According to William Ferguson, “After interviewing the eleven titans for this book, and based upon my knowledge of and interaction with many others, I found a blueprint – a recipe of behaviors and attitudes, if you will – that truly makes the difference…The common thread among them is the importance of service. Brands, technology, and processes aside, what makes [their] companies successful are the people who have customer contact, whether the customer is a patron at a dining table or a patient in a clinic.”

Although Herb Kelleher is not one of the eleven, this is precisely what the former chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines has in mind when explaining his company’s extraordinary success: “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.” Presumably all of the eleven “titans” agree. Ferguson suggests a major value that each personifies, although all great business leaders embrace these values to varying degree:

o J.W. (“Bill”) Marriott: Have fun at work
o William (“Bill”) Sanders: Be a student of the business
o Stuart Miller: Make your mark outside
o Noel Watson: Grow the bottom line — period
o Julia Stewart: Coach, mentor, and teach others
o Robert L. Johnson: Create value out of a vision
o Sam Zell: Be true to yourself
o Richard (“Rick”) Federico: Take a risk to do things differently
o Paul L. Diaz: Measure your progress at every step
o John Robbins: Be mindful of the shadow you cast
o William A. (“Bill”) Jensen: Make a 2 percent difference

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, presented as mini-commentaries within the narrative, also listed to indicate the scope of Ferguson’s coverage.

o Tapping the Wisdom of Titans (Pages 1-4)
o CEO Performance Objectives (15-16)
o An Exemplary Board of Directors (31-32)
o The Right Leader for the Right Time (48)
o The Seamless Transition (63-64)
o The Teaching Leader (76)
o Dealing with Risk and “Pilot Error” (93)
o Evaluating CEO Performance (107-108)
o Cultural Capability (122-123)
o The Strength of Being a Team Leader (130-131)
o Tough Times Call for Strong Leaders (143-143)
o Outwork Your Competitors (162-164)

In the Epilogue, Ferguson observes, “Entrepreneurs who become titans are able to assemble the pieces in such a way that the whole is a unique and value-added creation far greater than the individual parts…The transition from entrepreneur to titan also depends largely upon the culture that is built; in a very real sense it sets an expectation for behaviors and interactions, whether among employees or with customers. To a person, the titans profiled in this book could define their cultures in tangible terms that, not surprisingly, evoked excellence, commitment, integrity, attention to detail, and recognition that success can never be taken for granted.”

It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their respective industry segments. Jim Collins writes about good to great companies. In this volume, William Ferguson examines good to great business leaders, entrepreneurs who became titans. Remember what you learn from them…and apply it.

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