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Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Miner's Secrets Hardcover – 1 Nov 2005

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 140 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers (1 Nov. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078521299X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0785212997
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,598,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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EIGHT OF MY COUSINS and I sat around Grandpa, squatting on the scrubbed and waxed linoleum. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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By Siriam TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 Jan. 2006
Format: Hardcover
This short book attempts to be simple in delivering five key lessons (plus wrap up in some savvy homely anecdotes of his grandfather's mining experiences in pioneering times to fill out the book) but is likely to leave most business book readers feeling short changed one suspects.
Sutton's turn around credentials and war stories underpin the five rules which can be written in less than half a page and will not be unknown to most readers. Where the pinch comes is that Sutton's real theme seems to be acceptance his book will not be
immediately of use but once read should be kept in a bottom drawer for reference to when things start to go wrong and application of one of the lessons will he argues apply.
I would class it as an easy two hour maximum read - food for thought but not going to get you fired up as to what you might do new unless you are in the unfortunate position of being in a company that is actually going into tailspin.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm one of those "overpaid consultants" to which Sutton refers early on and I am quite widely read in this genre. I also have solid blue-chip career experience behind me, though, so I don't feel unqualified to comment on Sutton's preventative medicine counsel.

Firstly, I would warn that this is written in a vernacular, chatty style, with fragmented sentences. This irritated me. While I am a firm believer in accurate and concise business language, I expect a certain amount of effort to be put into correct punctuation and grammar. This almost over-the-top writing style made it difficult for me to take the author seriously, regardless of how many businesses he has turned around. Would he go to a job interview or board meeting in ripped jeans and shirt? I highly doubt it. Therefore, regardless of how good his resume may be, he should make similar presentation efforts on his written word. If it were not for this ridiculous way of writing, I would recommend this book to my senior management. However, I would be embarrassed to do so.

That aside, Sutton has a talent for crystallising business issues and drawing similarities from seemingly diverse organisations. His simple messages are accurate and very tangible. There is a refreshing lack of economic theory, with only slight reference to interpretation of debt to equity ratio. The canary motif is quite cute, but is less important than the business lessons taught in following his Grandpa's career through the mining industry. What appears to be a fundamentally basic business structure proves to be the blueprint for any business, the same things go wrong regardless of what is being sold or marketed.

However, this book taught me nothing new. It may be useful to help articulate ideas but midway through I stopped reading it to find out hot new tips for running businesses and more to find out what happened to Grandpa.
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Format: Hardcover
At the outset, I acknowledge what is more a quibble than a complaint: I prefer the word "organization" to "corporation" or "company" (both of which, obviously, are organizations) while agreeing that just as canaries once protected coal miners, their human counterparts can now protect (your choice) (a) businesses, (b) corporations, (c) organizations, or (d) all of the above.
Whether or not Sutton was ever a coal miner is irrelevant. The focus should be on the five so-called "secrets" which he reveals in this book. (None is a head-snapper.) It would be a disservice, however, both to Sutton and to those who read this brief commentary to list the five out of context. They are best revealed within the book's narrative. The same is true of the "Big Secret" which Sutton shares in his final chapter. My advice is to go with the extended "canary" metaphor and allow Sutton to explain which of various business disasters are (key word) avoidable or whose impact can at least be reduced by rigorous preparation. Think of "canaries" as comprising a squadron of early-warning signs. It is imperative to know what they are, and, what each indicates. Those who ignore them do so at great peril.
Here are what I consider to be the key points which Sutton stresses, either by explication or implication:
1. Unlike their feathered counterparts, human canaries must be properly trained so that they will recognize and then report potential problems, dangers, etc. and do so in a timely manner.
2. Of equal importance, senior management must ensure that these "messengers" (a.k.a. whistle blowers) are encouraged and rewarded rather than punished.
3. All organizations have points of vulnerability. Everyone involved must be constantly alert to potential threats.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9e90a894) out of 5 stars 13 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ea9d870) out of 5 stars The Importance to All Organizations of "Preventive Maintenance" 20 Oct. 2005
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
At the outset, I acknowledge what is more a quibble than a complaint: I prefer the word "organization" to "corporation" or "company" (both of which, obviously, are organizations) while agreeing that just as canaries once protected coal miners, their human counterparts can now protect (your choice) (a) businesses, (b) corporations, (c) organizations, or (d) all of the above.

Whether or not Sutton was ever a coal miner is irrelevant. The focus should be on the five so-called "secrets" which he reveals in this book. (None is a head-snapper.) It would be a disservice, however, both to Sutton and to those who read this brief commentary to list the five out of context. They are best revealed within the book's narrative. The same is true of the "Big Secret" which Sutton shares in his final chapter. My advice is to go with the extended "canary" metaphor and allow Sutton to explain which of various business disasters are (key word) avoidable or whose impact can at least be reduced by rigorous preparation. Think of "canaries" as comprising a squadron of early-warning signs. It is imperative to know what they are, and, what each indicates. Those who ignore them do so at great peril.

Here are what I consider to be the key points which Sutton stresses, either by explication or implication:

1. Unlike their feathered counterparts, human canaries must be properly trained so that they will recognize and then report potential problems, dangers, etc. and do so in a timely manner.

2. Of equal importance, senior management must ensure that these "messengers" (a.k.a. whistle blowers) are encouraged and rewarded rather than punished.

3. All organizations have points of vulnerability. Everyone involved must be constantly alert to potential threats. Once one is identified, the appropriate person(s) must immediately be informed.

4. All organizations (regardless of size or nature) should have zero tolerance of criminal behavior, of course, but also of inappropriate behavior when in violation of what should be a clearly stated policy or procedure.

5. An organization's human canaries need not, indeed should not be limited to its employees. Customers, vendors, service providers, and "alumni" can also participate in an early-warning system.

Sutton makes clever and effective use of the extended "canary" metaphor and also of his grandfather who immigrated (at age 14) from Ballybunion, Ireland, to Harlan, Kentucky, and went to work in a coal mine. It is Grandpa Sutton who serves as the source of the five "secrets," each of which is revealed and then discussed within its own dedicated chapter. This use of what I call "Grandpa fables" may seem a gimmick but it's not. Sutton is too clever for that. Each of the "secrets" suggests lessons which can guide and inform sound business decisions.

In each of the first five chapters, Sutton identifies a common problem such as what usually happens when a company's profits sag and its management decides to cure this by adding revenue, any revenue. He lists five probable consequences. (Please see page 17.) Later in the same chapter, he responds to a separate but related question: What's the cure for a growing company with shrinking profits? He cites real-world examples. Offers specific suggestions. (Please see pages 23-26.) He concludes the chapter with a boxed summary of key points, "Your business is in trouble when..." Sutton follows a similar format in each of the other chapters: first a "Grandpa fable," then lesson(s) it reveals, relevant examples, probable consequences if the problem is not solved, a solution suggested, and then an appropriate variation on "Your business is in trouble when..." Given its length of only 126 pages, this is more a booklet than a book. Sutton's purpose is to focus his reader's attention on a limited number of "business disasters," and covers each with brevity and clarity.

I lament the fact that more often than not, those who sound an "alarm" of one kind or another are discouraged and even punished. Oh sure, some people are merely trouble-makers whose hidden agenda which may be unclear even to them. Fair enough. However, it is in the best interests of every organization (regardless of size or nature) to realize where its areas of vulnerability are most serious, to establish and support an "early warning system," and then require everyone involved to be alert to potential crises. Sutton offers some informative examples and some excellent suggestions as to how to do this.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fc7163c) out of 5 stars Must Read For Managers 5 Dec. 2005
By Joshua S - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Corporate Canaries is one of the few business books I have come across and was better off after having read it. I have since changed my entire approach to managing and feel more secure as a result. I found it to be an easy read and it's not terribly long as well. Lots of great information and lessons packed into this little package!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ea57834) out of 5 stars Don't underestimate this quick read 18 Jan. 2008
By R Brimeyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In 2005, I joined a company that I was told would close within 6 weeks. When I arrived the two guys in charge were trying to guess what the last day would be. I disagreed with their assessment of the company & took some steps to turn the company around. After these were successful I was able to persuade them to try a few more steps. 20 months after I arrived, the company completed a profitable year & was headed in the right direction. Then I read this book. I was amazed at how closely the points in the book matched the steps I had taken to turn around the company. So I know first hand that this works, & that alot of organizations just don't make priorities of the points listed therein. I moved on to another company that was struggling & I've done alot of the same things again, with similar results. Read this book & follow the lessons within. Your organization will be better for it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ea87a2c) out of 5 stars Corporate wisdom 23 Sept. 2012
By S. Maruta - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Trying to match the brevity of Corporate canaries, I will simply say that it distills lessons in corporate wisdom that could easily be overseen as 'too simple' or even simplistic. They're not. I found it an amazingly honest tales of what a veteran who has seen it all in corporate warfare would share with new recruits to help them survive on the battlefield. Here you'll find good and simple advice. Simple doesn't mean trivial: I've seldom read books that deal honestly with the fate of corporations having to deal with the death of their market (it does happen a lot though!), or that tell you the simple truth about leveraging: borrowing money for growth is not necessarily a loosing gamble, it just happens to have very high negative odds and requires nerves of steel. Don't try it if you don't feel lucky...
HASH(0x9fb673e4) out of 5 stars Great things to remember 1 Feb. 2013
By YoyoMitch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In my quest to read from a broad spectrum of disciplines, I committed to reading at least two business books a year. I was delighted to find this one as it was an easy read and comes with a guarantee. "This book will help managers detect a serious business problem, either in your company or in a competitor's, within a year of reading. If not, I will return your money plus a dollar." (p. xii) (The guarantee is void three years after the copyright which raises the question of the shelf life of what is said in this book.) My management responsibilities are limited to one office, two employees (myself and an intern), three volunteer receptionists and a caseload; therefore I did not expect to discover a "Corporate Canary" in my system. This book was read in hopes what was said to a professional business setting would translate in a nonprofit world. I suspect my CEO is familiar with the five "canaries" Mr. Sutton mentions in this work, as I spotted none of them alive in our agency. WHEW!
The canaries mentioned in the title and discussed throughout the book are derived from one of the safety measure's coal miners once used of having canaries spaced throughout the mines as gas detectors. If the canary was alive and well (singing, moving about, flying around the cage) all was well. If the canary stopped being well, the alarm was sounded and the mine cleared, as the canary's tolerance for gas was much lower than humans and the miners had time to leave before they were affected. Mr. Sutton translated five of these "canaries" he learned at his grandfather's knee into effective management tools and industry indicators. By his report, he was very effective in reading his canaries.
The five "canaries" (rules) are more commonsense than a breakthrough.
1. "You can't outgrow losses." - Fix what is causing the losses, growth, and profits, will follow.
2. "Debt's a killer." - The business ends up servicing the debt instead of its customers, employees, stockholders. "Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender." Proverbs 22:7
3. "Fools fly blind." - Know what is happening, in your area, the company, the industry. Become educated enough to have an idea of "what's next."
4. "Any decision beats no decision." - Anyone who has ever been a part of an organization where the leadership is unclear or uncertain, knows the slow death trying to work in such an environment is. Make an honest decision. Even if it proves to be wrong, it is better than doing nothing.
5. "Markets grow and markets die." - DUH! This should be commonsense until one remembers: the railroads, who thought their job was railroading, not transportation; Kodak, who thought their product was film, not pictures, etc.

It took me less than a busy day to read this small book. For those in management, or just starting out therein, this is a good "reminder" book to keep around. One never knows when one will have to crawl into a new "mine," the canaries are important.
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