The Pile: a New Weekly Feature on Improvisations

Kedrosky picOne of the few pleasures of going on the Internet on a Sunday is reading Paul Kedrosky's "Weekend Reading." In his column, Kedrosky regularly summarizes the business week past, hints at the news to come in the coming week, and lists articles to read to explain what it all means.

Welcome to "The Pile." Inspired by Kedrosky, we're going to try something similar here. Every Sunday evening, just as we're putting on our armor for the work week ahead, we'll share the best of what we're reading in our attempt to understand what's new and important in management. (Warning: Some of these web links may require you to register or pay to read them.) Here's what's on our minds, our screens, and our night tables this weekend:

Fortune coverIt's been hard to read Fortune lately. It's thin, the masthead continues to shrink, and too many times it seems like the strategy of the magazine is to replicate the gee-whiz attitude of its departed younger sibling Business 2.0. But the most recent issue has two fantastic pieces. In one, Steve Rattner's The Auto Bailout: How We Did It, the head of the Obama Administration's auto task force delivers a standard first-person tale, but Rattner is a former journalist, so his descriptions are particularly sharp. Here's what he noted about the GM management style: "At GM's Renaissance Center headquarters, the top brass were sequestered on the uppermost floor, behind locked and guarded glass doors. Executives housed on that floor had elevator cards that allowed them to descend to their private garage without stopping at any of the intervening floors (no mixing with the drones)."

Also in the current Fortune, Richard Siklos has another tale of management gone terrible awry, The Fight Over Michael's Millions, with the Michael in question being the late singer Michael Jackson. It's a tale of collossally bad money and talent decisions, the most poignant being the hiring of a $100,000-per-month personal physician. As Siklos concludes, "when it comes to the big financial questions, it's a good bet that Jackson's executors will not be asking themselves, 'What would Michael do?'" (Disclosure: I've both edited and been edited by Siklos.)

Economist picTwo recent pieces in The Economist deserve your attention, too. In Yum! Brands' New Corporate Culture: Taking the Hill Less Climbed, the magazine reports on how the parent company, parent company of several second-tier U.S. fast food chains, is working with John O'Keefe, once a Procter & Gamble exec and now marketing himself as a "master of triangular thinking and triangular action" to advance the corporate culture.

Contrarians will appreciate last week's The Three Habits of Highly Irritating Management Gurus, which applies a baseball bat to the theories of Stephen Covey. And if you have time for more on management consulting, perhaps like us you're a few weeks behind on your stack of New Yorkers and you're ready to read Jill Lepore's Not So Fast, which considers how scientific management started as a way to work and has become a way of life. Turns out today's GTD-style attempts to be as efficient as possible has a rich historical basis.

Caro book coverAnd finally, just off our night table is something that has been there for a long time and we're relieved to have the space back: the 1,167-page Master of the Senate, the third volume of Robert Caro's ongoing biography of Lyndon Johnson. There are many, many aspects of Johnson's leadership style that were, frankly, repulsive, but Caro's book describes, in what feels like subatomic detail, how the politician wielded power with sureness and ingenuity. It's a fascinating, cautionary tale of how power is taken and managed. We're not sure how many of our readers can commit to an 1,167-page bio, but almost every page has a vivid example of how an ambitious manager should -- or shouldn't --- behave.

Back to reading ...

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