The Book Corner - Review

The Book Corner

Featured in this issue:

The Book Corner again offers a variety of book options to suit a variety of reader interests. However, each in its own way emphasizes something about values and business: spiritual values, concern for the environment, the value of courage and adventure, and the disasters that occur when the negative values of greed and excessive hubris dominate. Some of these may make good beach reading as you enjoy a summer vacation. Others may require more solitude and reflection, but whatever your schedule and preference, we are sure that you will find something of value in these recommendations.

A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America: A Hard Look at Spirituality, Religion and Values in the Workplace

By Ian I. Mitroff and Elizabeth A. Denton
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999

Reviewed by Professor Karen Schnietz

Have you ever felt that it would be inappropriate or frowned upon to share your religious/spiritual practices with work colleagues? If so, you are not alone argue the authors of this provocative book. Mitroff, a business professor at the University of Southern California, and Denton, a business consultant, surveyed and interviewed over 200 mid- and senior-level managers for this fascinating examination of the “divided soul” of corporate America, that is–the demand by most organizations (substantiated by the authors’ survey results) that employees leave any discussion of their faith tradition at the front door. These results are eye-opening for anyone among U.S. managers who thinks that spirituality is dead (or critically wounded).

The authors make the case for why spirituality should not be left out of the workplace. They examine why the topic of spirituality and work has not received scholarly attention, present the empirical findings of their surveys, and suggest five models of ways spirituality can be incorporated into the workplace. The authors also claim, perhaps most provocatively, that organizations which allow their employees’ spiritual practices to be integrated with their work lives do better in terms of creativity and productivity than do organizations that compel the division of employees’ spirituality and work. Readers who are part of formal religious faith traditions may find the authors’ use of the phrase “spirituality” as a substitute for religion to be a bit timid, but the book provides a much needed beginning to a long overdue public conversation.

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Greening the Firm: The Politics of Corporate Environmentalism

By Aseem Prakash
Cambridge University Press, 1999

Reviewed by Professor Karen Schnietz

In recent years, an increasing number of U.S. firms have voluntarily elected to reduce their waste and pollution in excess of the levels required by U.S. law or to establish other non-mandated “green” policies. What explains the decisions of some firms to engage in “beyond compliance” environmentalism, especially since the costs of such efforts are often both substantial and unknown in advance and are thus a potential source of competitive disadvantage? Moreover, why will the same firm adopt one beyond compliance policy, but not another? What explains variation within the same organization?

To answer such questions, most academic studies of corporate environmental responsibility concentrate on factors external to firms and leave what actually goes on inside the firm a “black box.” Prakash, a business strategy professor at George Washington University, provides a rare internal investigation of the managerial decisions and conflicts at Eli Lilly and Baxter. He examines several of these firms’ beyond compliance environmental policies, both those adopted and those not, from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s. While Prakash’s writing style is dense and will strike some readers as overly academic, the book offers remarkably candid portraits of intra-firm power struggles, leadership and decision making. Thus this book is an excellent read for managers interested in leadership, corporate politics, and corporate environmental responsibility.

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WIRED: a romance

By Gary Wolf
NY: Random House, 2003

Reviewed by Marjorie Walsleben, Associate Editor of GBR

A romance is a prose narrative that relates the adventures of chivalric heroes, extraordinary events and idealized exploits. Wolf’s book does all of that and more in a wild roller coaster of a read detailing the 1993 founding and later foundering of the “cool,” hip online ‘zine, Wired, and its website HotWired. Still a contributing editor at Wired, Wolf chronicles the early days of the World Wide Web and Wired‘s trajectory from its inception as a revolutionary magazine to being the first Web publishing enterprise to put together an initial public offering.

Iconoclastic entrepreneur and utopian autocrat Louis Rossetto and his more humanistic partner and co-founder Jane Metcalfe yee and haw through much of the 1990’s pursuing Louis’ vision for Wired with relentless techno optimism, outrageous finagling, and pure chutzpah. Whether you are a computer geek, a venture capitalist or merely Jane or John Doe, you will find this short historical retrospective amazing, entertaining, and inspiring.

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The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron

By Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
Portfolio, 2003

Reviewed by Professors Owen Hall and Chuck McPeak

This book is about what happens when unabashed greed, bumbling incompetence, and excessive hubris collide. The authors lay out a compelling story about a business model built on a house of cards. Enron had amazingly reached the apex of corporate status by 2000 – becoming one of the Fortune 500’s top ten firms. However, according to McLean and Elkind, less than a year later as bankruptcy drew near, Ken Lay, Enron’s recycled CEO, was spending considerable time selecting the interior appointments for Enron’s new $45 million corporate jet – a case of Nero fiddling as Rome burned? This book is a must read for those interested in better understanding the virtue of values centered leadership.

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