The Book Corner

Faculty Members Review the Latest Business Books

2007 Volume 10 Issue 1

Featured in this issue:

The Triple Bottom Line

By Andrew W. Savitz with Karl Weber

Jossey-Bass, 2006

Recommended by Rick Hesse, DSc, Professor of Decision Sciences

I recommend The Triple Bottom Line for anyone interested in running or being part of a sustainable organization. The triple bottom line is a concept that emphasizes economic measurements, environmental impact, and social responsibility. Some have dubbed it Profit, People, Planet. This book gives many good illustrations of successful and unsuccessful company strategies and carefully explains each part of the triple bottom line phenomenon.

Focusing solely on profits can backfire if a company drains its resources, both natural and human. Over 2200 CEOs have signed the UN Global Compact, which encompasses human rights, labor standards, environment, and anti-corruption, so if your company is not involved, your competitors certainly are. Furthermore, such endorsement does not affect just CEOs; every manager and business function needs to be involved. Approximately 3000 companies around the world voluntarily publish reports on environmental, social, or sustainability issues. As proof that it pays to be socially and environmentally conscious, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and the FTSE4 Good Indexes of these companies have also outperformed various market indices.

The authors provide a good historical perspective of companies and the factors that are pressing modern companies to be more socially responsible. In a freer, more interdependent and wired world, companies have more opportunities and threats than ever before.

Sustainability is not about being social do-gooders or philanthropists. It is a matter of finding the commonality between doing good and running businesses well. The book examines initiatives such as Toyota’s hybrid automobiles, GE’s Ecomagination projects, and PepsiCo’s development of drinks for healthier lifestyles. Such companies are consciously seeking to integrate profitable alternatives with social benefits.

The book examines three ways to sustain businesses:

  1. Protect the business: Reduce the risk of harm to customers, employees, and the community.
  2. Run the business: Reduce costs and the amount of resources needed, including energy and unsustainable inputs. For example, by raising salaries 3 to 5 percent over the industry average, Wegeman’s grocery has cut its labor costs by 13 percent of revenues, resulting in provision of unemployment insurance, lower turnover, and reduction of lost productivity.
  3. Grow the business: Find new markets, new products and services and improve reputation and market share. Listening carefully, even to critics, and learning to partner with your business community and suppliers can pay big benefits, as Wal-Mart is slowly learning.

Savitz and Weber also do a credible job of looking at the backlash and criticism of the concept of sustainability. They acknowledge that companies do not always start with a problem-free environment, so the authors therefore devote time to showing how companies have turned problems into opportunities. For example, Nike finally turned around its problems related to using child labor, and the fast-food industry is currently facing the rising public concern about obesity linked to consumption of convenience foods.

Finally, this book explains how to launch your own business’s sustainability program and manage stakeholder engagement. Developing measures and reporting results completes the cycle of creating a culture of sustainability. In short, I highly recommend this book.

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A Leader’s Legacy

By James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Jossey-Bass, 2006

Recommended by Ann E. Feyerherm, PhD, Director of MSOD Program

The primary organizing scheme of this book is built around the question “What difference do I want to make?” This question requires not only self-knowledge but also a deep regard for others. Legacies are about the world which others step into when a leader steps away. The provocative essays are organized by four themes; Significance, Relationships, Aspirations and Courage.

This modest volume is full of thoughtful advice for new and experienced leaders. Even though you could argue with some of the claims (for example, it is better to be liked than respected), there will be invitations to examine your own leadership style and philosophies. It might even be reassuring—the “tough truth” about leading is that “sometimes you hurt others and sometimes you get hurt.” The authors are not “in your face” about your own leadership style, rather they are suggestive of behaviors and beliefs worth pondering. There are no “skill building” exercises or practice frameworks. There are several stories of the authors or respected peers and leaders to jog your own memories.

A useful mindset while reading the book is one of curiosity. A journal by one’s side to jot down reactions and your own stories and learning would be a way to approach this book. It could also be a companion to any leadership development program; perhaps a chapter a week for conversation between members of a leadership team or a pair in a boss/subordinate role.

If you are a follower of Kouzes’ and Posner’s earlier works on leadership, you will note several of their themes echoed in this volume—the importance of trust, of forward-thinking, of listening to and speaking from the heart, of courage, and that leadership is everywhere, not just by virtue of title. These are themes worth hearing again, and cast in the light of leadership legacy, take on new meaning.

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L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon

By Leon Gorman

Harvard Business School Press, 2006

Recommended by Sam Farry, MBA, Adjunct Faculty of Applied Behavioral Science

It would be difficult to find a more relevant management topic than values based management. In the wake of HP, WorldCom and Enron, everyone is talking about ethics. Often treated in an overly simplistic manner, ethics is much more than merely “doing the right thing.” Values cut both broad and deep. They are connected to all aspects of an organization. You have to grow with and nurture them.

This book is a case study of L.L. Bean, of Freeport, Maine, whose core business is catalog sales, a company that has struggled with and been managed by explicit, straightforward values. An extremely successful company for nearly 100 years, Bean has addressed key issues and has consistently questioned and redefined itself in the face of needed change with regard to establishing an authentic corporate identity, building and explicating its brand, continuously improving service and value for customers, and maintaining and accelerating growth.

L.L. Bean formulated a set of values that has endured to the present time: honesty, self reliance, thrift, and love of the out-of-doors.

  • To sell fully tested, high quality products of the best functional value;
  • To provide superior and personal customer service backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee;
  • To write honest, straightforward catalog and advertising copy that builds trust and mutual respect in customers;
  • To sell through a catalog channel that can reach a national market from Maine and its outdoor heritage.

The book’s author, Leon Gorman, the grandson of L.L. Bean and the company’s longtime president, provides an intimate view of the interdependence of a key leader and his company as they strive continuously to grow yet hue to standards that simultaneously respect all key stakeholders: customers, employees, vendors, owners, and community alike. In his commitment to maintaining the company’s integrity, purpose and growth, Gorman’s development as a leader progressed from central entrepreneur to professional manager to a team-oriented strategist who helped spell out a “platform for growth” to facilitate management succession.

This book spells out how the relevance of trends such as Theory Y, Total Quality Management (TQM), Process Engineering, Structural Redesign, and Strategic Management have emerged at L.L. Bean from the ongoing fluctuating needs of the organization derived from measurable data and from the insights of its president and employees in their attempts to gain the most from major change initiatives.

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Taking Advice: How Leaders Get Good Counsel and Use It Wisely

By Dan Ciampa

Harvard Business School Press, 2006

Recommended by Jeffrey Schieberl, JD, MBA, Practitioner Faculty of Business Law

Dan Ciampa’s new book addresses the assertion that how to accept advice and utilize it effectively has not been given the attention that it warrants. He has been on the giving advice side of the giving/receiving advice equation for quite some time. His experience has been that there are very few “smart clients”—that is, clients that understand how to utilize and optimize the benefits of advice that they received. Mr. Ciampa clearly states that the “core premise” of his book is that contemporary leaders or those “in charge” must be “shrewder and more discerning advice takers.” It is his view that this is important especially during times of change.

In the Preface the author tracks the history of management consulting including its transformation from a profession to a business. He explores why even experienced leaders need advice as well as what he refers to as the “help paradox.” His assessment of leaders who seek out help is truly refreshing in its candor. Inadequacies as to the advice given correlates well with the acknowledgment that those who are giving advice must do a better job.

Fundamentally, Ciampa considers advice taking as a skill. The author offers the reader an intriguing, viable framework for taking advice. In addition, he considers the types of advice and kinds of advisors in a practical understandable manner. The attitudes and behaviors of effective advice takers are also discussed. Lastly, the book characterizes listening as the “master skill” and explores its key success factors.

I found this book to be thoughtfully organized, concise and substantive. It offers invaluable insight for contemporary leaders relative to the skill of seeking, taking, assessing, and applying advice.

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The Kindness Revolution: The Company-Wide Culture Shift That Inspires Phenomenal Customer Service

By Ed Horrell

AMACOM, 2006

Recommended by William Bleuel, PhD, Professor of Decision Sciences

I really liked this book. I could relate to almost all of the examples in the book and the author’s approach to customer service. The two aspects of the book that were most appealing to me were (1) the examples of real companies who have demonstrated remarkable success with much of the success founded on excellence in customer service and (2) the perspective of bringing kindness into the business environment.

I was so taken by the concept that I thought I would go out of my way to offer some extra kindness to everyone I dealt with for a short period of time to see if kindness really made a difference. It did—not a surprise! The results of my very brief and non-statistically valid experiment were both a personal sense of well being while treating every one with kindness and receiving a very warm response in return in every case.

The book starts out with a discussion of owning customers and the value that comes from owning customers. The author makes the point that when you own a customer they are not vulnerable to competition. The key ingredient to losing customers, according to the author, is indifference. On the other hand, the key to owning customers is superior customer service.

Seeking companies that have superior customer service, the author found that all of them are well known and that each practice kindness in one way or another. The conclusions that the author reached are that superior company performance is achieved by superior customer service and that superior customer service begins at the top of the organization.

In line with Pepperdine’s approach to a values-oriented curriculum for management, the author concludes “that values play the most significant role in determining how employees and customers are treated in any organization.”

The book is an easy read with 185 pages and can be completed in an evening of casual reading.

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About the Author(s)

Graziadio Business Review, is an online journal that delivers relevant business information and analysis for business, government, and non-profit managers. From accounting and finance to ethics and work/life balance, the Graziadio Business Review extends current business debates in new directions that you can use to advance your business and professional career.

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