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What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School
What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School
by Mark McCormack
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book from the Original Ari Gold, 1 April 2013
Mark McCormack was the lawyer and sports agent who founded IMG in 1960, signing Arnold Palmer as his first client. He and his firm revolutionised sports management, broadening the approach of athlete management beyond appearance fees and sponsorships into media, and true partnerships and areas like course design.

In addition to being pretty lucrative for his athletes, McCormack did OK himself, making it into the Forbes 400.

He wrote about a dozen books too, the most famous of which is "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School".

It's an outstandingly, insightful book with sections on People (how to read them, how to listen aggressively, the positives of ego), Taking the Edge in business, Sales & Negotiation, Running a Business, and being an Entrepreneur.

The Entrepreneur piece has some sharp observations in it about taking on partners, minority equity and what makes success.

The quotes that stuck with me:
"Smart people judge you by three criteria - and even if they don't, in time, it will determine how they think of you:
1. Commitment
2. Attention to detail
3. Immediate follow-up"

"What you can learn from working in the mailroom: you won't learn humility, you won't learn respect, and you won't learn the company inside out or bottom up. What you will learn is something very important, and perhaps frightening about yourself.
The people who get ahead have a need, are driven to perform a task well, no matter what the task or how mundane it may actually be. They bring to any job an attitude which actually transforms the job into something greater."

"Business is a competition, and any high-level, sophisticated competition is almost exclusively a head game. I have observed three attitudinal characteristics which are common to every champion I've known. The first is the champion's profound sense of dissatisfaction with his own accomplishments. Any goal that is attained immediately becomes just a step to a greater, more unreachable goal.
The second is an ability to peak their performances, to get themselves up for major situations, tournaments and events. No one can operate consistently as his or her highest level, but the legends always seem to perform when the stakes are greatest, and it's why the major tournaments have always been dominated by a limited number of
Finally it is their killer instinct - their ability to put their opponents away. In the champion's mind, he is never ahead;he never believes he is performing as well as he actually is."

Terrific book, very easy read... it gets the competitive fires burning. No Kindle version, paperback only:

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Sports Book., 1 April 2013
Moneyball is by "Liar's Poker" author, the excellent Michael Lewis (formerly of Salomon Brothers), who generally specialises in great stories surrounding financial or market incidences.

This book focuses on the Oakland Athletics, their General Manager Billy Beane, and their analytical, evidence-based, "sabermetric" approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite (due to one of the lowest revenues in the league) having one of the bottom payrolls in Major League Baseball.

If you've seen it, the subsequent movie showed some examples that the book details in depth of scouts and coaches and their subjective assessments of a player's talent and value. ("He looks good in jeans" was apparently a direct quote). Beane had been a highly "rated" player who benefited initially from these subjective assessments, being drafted out of high school as the number 23 player in the game. His career as a pro ball player never got going though - although those subjective assessments got him contracts with three other clubs - influencing Beane heavily in his rejection of the system that had evaluated him.

Faced with the challenge of being competitive with no club profile and a total wage bill less than a third of some teams, Beane looked for three things:
- places to fish for talent where others weren't,
- metric assessments of players, and rejection of subjective assessments,
- opportunities to use arbitrage principles to sell players at their peak value and buy at their lows.

Within those three, the A's shifted focus to university graduates rather than high school, and On-Base Percentage rather than traditional batting averages.

Beane was good at one other thing that is critical in taking an idea and making it part of your success - whether from frustration or just strength, he made tough decisions and forced others too as well as long as they were for the good of the organisation.

A sports exec told me a couple of weeks ago that, in his sport or club's case, that there was no clear signs that player spend affected results. It was suggested to him that spending badly, lazily or randomly on players would definitely kill that correlation. In every other sport, spend matters. It's the wrong decisions on a player that result in losses vs spend.

The key to this book and understanding its practicality (especially in sport) is not to focus on the issue of statistics, but on three key lessons:
- The challenging of conventional wisdom and historical behaviours in favour of results-oriented principles,
- The rigor of player recruitment and development throughout the organization in applying those principles - and accountability for actions and decisions,
- The importance of all results and projections being relative to the market valuation (of a player, coach, etc) and seeking inefficiencies if the market place allows.

Subsequent to the book, another lesson is reinforced: the requirement to be able to replenish the organization and to stay ahead of the curve - the A's have lost office personnel to other teams seeking the same result who have copied their methods, making those inefficiencies more difficult to obtain, as they are now open knowledge, and the methods are now competitive situations.

The A's haven't won a World Series (30 teams) yet, but have won division titles, including 2012 - still poor, and playing out of a very ordinary stadium in Oakland that they share with a football team.

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
by Walter Isaacson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 22.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Epic., 1 April 2013
Steve Jobs' "official" biography was written by Walter Isaacson - biographer of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Jobs engaged Isaacson when he knew he was in his final years, and gave him access to himself and his friends and family.

The result is a comprehensive and open account of Jobs' life and business career.

The achievements of his career are quite phenomenal for someone who didn't set out to have a business or entrepreneurial career: He launched a series of products over three decades that transformed whole industries: The Apple II, MacIntosh, Pixar, the iPod, the iTunes Store, the iPhone, the iPad, and the App store.

While the list makes it look like an unbroken stream of success, it wasn't. Products aside, he was regarded (understandably) as a pretty ordinary executive during his first stint at Apple, and at NeXT. His perfectionism and obnoxious behaviour at Apple led to him being forced out in 1985, and similar behaviour (only more excessively) after he founded NeXT was one reason the company never reached the heights of his other ventures.

As for what within Jobs' behaviour and makeup made him a success, a few things from the book stand out:

He was a perfectionist, and absolutely considered the world - and everyone in it - would bend to his will. People generally did, actually - often due to some pretty obnoxious behaviour. He divided people into "heroes" or "s--heads", and badgered the latter until they met his demands. Anyone who didn't care to make their product perfect, was a bozo. That meant, right or wrong, he won a lot of his battles with people. He insisted on every detail, inside and outside the product, be perfect.
He was a capitalist. He had an ability to turn the huge range of engineering and design ideas into consumer products that people would buy before there was any indication they wanted it. In fact, virtually every one of the eight revolutionary products above were, around launch, considered something that would fail to attract buyers.
His insistence on focus and simplicity defined Apple in both his stints, but most evidently in the second. Dictating that the company had too many confusing products, he drew a matrix on a whiteboard:Atop the two columns he wrote "Consumer" and "Pro"; he labeled the two rows "Desktop" and "Portable."Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant. That simplicity flowed through to the look and feel of the products and their packaging.
He was ruthless and relentless. Nothing stopped Apple's advance in the 2000′s: the iPod led to iTunes and Apple Stores, then the iPhone and iPad - and with each product, Jobs looked to the next improvements before the current one was even released.

There is one more skill that stood out that hasn't got a lot of ink: he was a phenomenal deal maker. That was the thing that stood out to me: many people have the above characteristics, but he may not have the status he holds without some of the deals he made.

He had incredible timing. With some help, he managed to float Apple the first time at its peak. Throughout his career, he got capital when he needed it. His deals with Disney on Pixar dominated the larger company: they funded the initial films while Pixar kept half the profits, and later Jobs used the cash from those deals to float Pixar, and the leverage of that cash to get Disney to buy Pixar (making Jobs the largest shareholder). Even NeXT he managed to get Apple to buy, commencing his reinstatement as CEO. Then, when no-one could get a digital music agreement - and most of the key players (like Sony and Universal) had easier pathways to doing so, Jobs was the one who got agreements with musicians and made iTunes a phenomenon.

Isaacson's assessment: "Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius."

A really good book on a fantastic character which provides some great business lessons and a look back over an amazing decade of consumer products.

Warren Buffett and the Art of Stock Arbitrage: Proven Strategies for Arbitrage and Other Special Investment Situations
Warren Buffett and the Art of Stock Arbitrage: Proven Strategies for Arbitrage and Other Special Investment Situations
by Mary Buffett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.81

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One Secret of Buffett's Early Exceptional Market Returns, 1 April 2013
One of the great "secrets" of Warren Buffett's wealth accumulation was his skill in arbitrage investments. As an example: Berkshire's stock portfolio performance from 1980 to 2003 had an average annualised return of 39.3% from 261 investments - 59 arbitrage deals produced an annualised return of 81.3%. Those deals had a huge effect on Berkshire's overall performance. Arbitrage was the secret for great results in down years for the S&P500 - when the market was taking a nosedive, he leveraged up on the arbitrage deals and made significant returns.

Buffett's ex-daughter-in-law Mary has written a series of books on his investing style, and this one is a perfect example of the "Do as I say, not as I do" nature of Buffett-watching. You won't hear him talk of arbitrage in his public pronouncements, but as the numbers above demonstrate, they're a very real factor in his success over time.

There are two specific keys to Buffett's success with arbitrage - and the fact that he hasn't put himself or his company in danger:
1) he focuses on "certain" or near-certain events: publicly announced, friendly takeovers in the main, and
2) rather than use leverage, he focuses on an "annualised" return, and uses the insurance float his company possesses to provide him with the investment funds to act.

The book is full of practical examples of Buffett's arbitrage - you'll spot the flaws in some that couldn't be achieved today because of changes in market conditions. Smart readers might also vividly recall that the News/Sky public takeover would have fitted neatly as an example - but would have cost a traditional arbitrageur dearly.

But focus on "certain" events, and avoid leverage, and you might spot some opportunities after reading this book in your lifetime.

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
Price: 3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An All-Time Great, 1 April 2013
This book sits firmly in the "oldie but goodie" category, and is one of my all-time favourites. It's about the (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt by RJR Nabisco CEO Robert Johnson to arrange a leveraged buyout of the company.

The gist of the story:
In 1988, the share price of RJR Nabisco had been depressed for several years. At the time, RJR Nabisco was a holding company for Reynolds (cigarettes: Winston, Salem and Camel) and Nabisco (one of America's largest food companies; Oreos, etc). An increase in anti-smoking sentiment in equity-land due to increased litigation risk had meant that despite holding the food assets, the shares traded at a discount all round.

This was the 80s of course, and leveraged buyouts (LBO) were all the rage, with junk bond money freely available. Unlike a traditional takeover where you need a lot of (your own) money to buy a target company, the acquirer in an LBO borrows almost all of the money needed to buy the company. At the time, junk bonds (high interest rate for high risk bonds) were extremely popular amongst investors and it was relatively easy to raise huge amounts of cash, particularly for undervalued businesses.

Whereas a bank will often take property and other fixed assets as collateral for a conventional loan, in an LBO the acquirer uses the future cash flows of the company as the collateral for their debt - meaning they can (or used to be able to) stretch the boundaries of financing beyond traditional levels (a bit like you or I would do when we buy an investment property). The fees - and brand cache - were enormous for the banks involved too, obviously.

Johnson, frustrated with a low stock price, and after an approach from Henry Kravis (of Kravis, Kohlberg & Roberts) decided to propose a management led LBO - the largest in history - of the firm. Given the stability of the cash flows that Reynolds churned out, the company was the perfect candidate for leverage but until then no-one had thought it would be possible to close an LBO of such scale ($20 billion USD). Unfortunately for Johnson, his announcement made it clear to every LBO fund on The Street that it was possible. The flood gates now open, the supposed simple transaction soon turns into an aggressive bidding war amongst other potential acquirers.

Johnson moved on from Kravis to Shearson Lehman Hutton, and KKR re-entered the battle on their own terms, as did Ted Forstmann at Forstmann Little. The battle became as much about ego and letterheads as money from that point. From an initial proposal of $75 a share, the battle was "won" by KKR with $112 a share. Johnson parachuted out with $60 million, so don't feel too bad for him.

The story within the story is magnificent though, including Johnson's insane spending as a CEO, and corporate governance in a time where those pesky things called "shareholders" were rarely thought of unless they were institutional. I know we still have some cowboys around in charge of companies now, but they weren't in charge of companies big enough to be on the Dow.

It's an easy read, good for a holiday or to or from work.

The Hustlers: Gambling, Greed and the Perfect Con
The Hustlers: Gambling, Greed and the Perfect Con
Price: 3.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You've got to know when to hold 'em... and bend 'em., 1 April 2013
"The Hustlers: Gambling, Greed and the Perfect Con" is the story of John Burke and John Aspinall and their illegal gambling parties in 1950s London and the legal clubs of the 60s - and the `fix' Aspinall put in with crime boss Billy Hill.

During the 50s in London, Aspinall's illegal gaming tables hosted society figures and the rich and famous, including everyone from Ian Fleming and Lucian Freud to Lords Lucan, Derby, Boothby and the Duke of Devonshire. According to Burke, 1,000 standard bet games were the norm (25k in today's cash). One evening, apparently without batting an eye, Lord Derby, who owned a lot of land in Lancashire, lost 300,000 (7 million today). Burke and Aspinall took 5% of the winnings.

When gambling finally became legal in the early Sixties, Aspinall opened the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square. The list of the club's original members was full of British aristocracy: 5 dukes, 5 marquesses, 20 earls and 2 cabinet ministers. Unfortunately, the money wasn't as good for Aspinall: it was an expensive operation, with the posh venue, the fact that they now had to pay taxes and under new laws, Aspinall could only make a "table charge", as opposed to a rake.

So the story goes, Aspinall was soon running into financial trouble and word reached Billy Hill that he was desperate for money. Hill outlined his proposal for the "Big Edge" to Aspinall, who "grabbed at it with both hands" according to the book.

Marked cards were deemed too easy to spot, so a machine was constructed that would bend the Clermont's cards a fraction, one way or the other, to note their value. A trained "reader" would then sit in at the game for the house, distinguish the probably value of other players' cards, and make bets accordingly.

Because the bends were small, the scam wasn't foolproof, but it gave the house a 60-40 edge, which is huge in gambling. Over months, that converted into millions for Aspinall and Hill.

Burke's conscience got him, and he left the Clermont a year after the Big Edge started. Aspinall used that as his chance to cut his links with Hill. According to Thompson, Aspinall then launched another casino scam, employing a crooked croupier to keep the odds in his favour.

Great story - very entertaining. Plenty of bonkers characters.

How They Blew It: The CEOs and Entrepreneurs Behind Some of the World's Most Catastrophic Business Failures
How They Blew It: The CEOs and Entrepreneurs Behind Some of the World's Most Catastrophic Business Failures
Price: 4.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Short stories on 16 modern business failures, 1 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm normally not into the negative books about entrepreneurs, but this is actually a pretty reasonable review of 16 CEOs and entrepreneurs that things went temporarily or permanently bad for, without too much of a hatchet job on them. It's mainly taken from publicly available information, and it more covering the stories than providing too much original analysis.

The chapter list includes:

Robert Tchenguiz - the UK property mogul.
Dick Fuld and James Cayne - the CEOs of Lehman and Bear Stearns during their credit crunch collapses.
Kevin Leech and Christopher Foster - UK entrepreneurs who's investments went bad.
Key Lay - the criminal, and seemingly sociopathic, Enron Chairman.
Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky - and their Putin-led attempts to turn a large fortune into jail time and exile.
Mark Goldberg - who had by far the most entertaining story, in blowing his fortune on 9 months as Crystal Palace chairman.

It's not written by the chef Jamie Oliver, so you don't have to worry about reading it with a lisp.

Most hit problems from hubris - but many, many people in the same situations have not lost their fortunes, or been forced to do extra jail time for upsetting Russian presidents. Unless you're fundamentally dishonest or a sociopath, you're probably not going to learn a lot of tips from this book, but the stories are good.

Great value.

How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It
How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It
Price: 1.91

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compilation of Blogs; good read - genuine advice, 1 April 2013
I read a book I didn't expect to like by Mark Cuban: "How to Win at the Sport of Business".

Cuban is the billionaire businessman and owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team. The book is an accumulation of blogs he has written, and at less than 2 and a light read it's pretty good. He's a bit of an "I" specialist, but he's earnt that.

Here's a few quotes I liked:

"There is always a caveat to destiny, and that's obligation. The greatest obstacle to destiny is debt, both personal and financial. The more people you are obligated to, the harder it is to focus on yourself and figure things out. I'm also a big believer that financial debt is the ultimate dream killer. Your first house, car, whatever you might want to buy, is going to be the primary reason you stop looking for what makes you the happiest. How crazy is it to settle for a house, car or X over what it is you would like to do on an hourly or daily basis? Never settle. There is no reason to rush. If you aren't happy with where you are, simplify your life and go out and try as many things as it takes to find what you may be destined to be. If there is such a thing."

"In basketball you have to shoot 50 percent. If you make an extra 10 shots per hundred, you are an All-Star. In baseball you have to get a hit 30 percent of the time. If you get an extra 10 hits per hundred at bats, you are on the cover of every magazine, lead off every SportsCenter and make the Hall of Fame. In business, to be a success, you only have to be right once. One single time and you are set for life. That's the beauty of the business world. Then everyone can tell you how lucky you are."

"Far more often than not, raising cash is the biggest mistake you can make. Investors, including myself, know what you don't, and they are not telling you. The minute you ask for money, you are playing in their game -- they aren't playing in yours. You are at a huge disadvantage, and it's only going to get worse if you take their money. The minute you take money, the leverage completely flips to the investor. They control the destiny of your dreams, not you. Investors don't care about your dreams and goals. Investors care about how they are going to get their money back and then some. The minute you slide off course from the promises you made to get the money, your dreams fall in jeopardy. You will find yourself making promises to keep investors at bay. You will find yourself avoiding your investors. Then you will find yourself on the outside looking in. The reality of taking money from non-family members is that they are doing it for only one reason, to make more money. If you can't deliver on that promise, you are out. You will be removed from the company you started.

If this sounds like a scene out of The Sopranos or some TV episode about a loan shark, you are right. The only difference is that it's all legal. There are only two reasonable sources of capital for startup entrepreneurs: your own pocket and your customers' pockets."

Cuban recounts his story of starting his business in the book - his advice seems to be genuine, and it's an easy read.

Taming the Lion: 100 Secret Strategies for Investing
Taming the Lion: 100 Secret Strategies for Investing
by Richard Farleigh
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a rabble, but good content, 1 April 2013
Richard Farleigh was briefly an investor on Dragon's Den, but didn't seem obnoxious enough, so he was cut pretty quickly. His book "Taming the Lion" is subtitled "100 Successful Strategies for Investing", and that probably gives a hint of my only real criticism of it: that, as far as books go, it's a disjointed ramble.

The actual text of Farleigh's writing, if you're willing to take the time to organise it yourself, is insightful, largely fact-based and pretty much on the money. It's got some lessons that have really stuck with me since, and some that resonate from things I've been through myself. He also has a unique way of describing them that you don't see from most authors.

Farleigh started his career working for the Reserve Bank of Australia, before moving to Bankers Trust as a trader and investment banker, and running a hedge fund in Bermuda. He's since moved to Monaco, then London. He's since become an angel-type investor with mixed success. That background of setting interest rates, investment banking, trading, hedge fund operation and SME investment gives him a remarkably rounded view of investment.

There's some good personal stories in it too.

"Taming the Lion" doesn't have investment or trading strategies in it, but it's a very good book. Ignore the "100 Tips", and focus on the content by making your own notes, and you'll get something out of it.

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team
War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team
by Michael Holley
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Insight on the Off-field NFL processes, 11 Mar 2013
War Room follows Bill Belichick and two of his former staffers running the football operations of three NFL clubs: the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.

Belichick and his staff developed and refined a scouting (recruitment) system while working for the Cleveland Browns in the early 90s. After Belichick was fired many of those staffers moved around the league, a few stopping at the New York Jets, before Belichick was hired as the head coach of the Patriots, and hired many of the Browns' staff to work with him again.

The Patriots went on to make 5 Super Bowls over the next 12 years, winning three, and winning their division 10 times. While some of that success comes from coaching, most success in sports comes from the players. The Patriots scouting system, which feeds into college and free agent recruitment, along with their salary cap management is the cornerstone of that consistent on-field success.

Holley's book details that system, and the seasons 2001-2011 - which is enjoyable if you're a Patriots fan. It also follows Scott Pioli, the long-time Patriots head of personnel, after he moves to the Chiefs as General Manager, and Thomas Dimitroff in his role as General Manager at the Falcons.

Holley gets a significant amount of access and openness from players, staff and the principals.

A very enjoyable read if you're into the NFL.

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