8 Great Books By CEOs

October 17, 2012 Darcy Jacobsen

The Steve Jobs biography has probably been the book of the year, when it comes to inspiring discussion, (if not always emulation). But there are some other terrific books are out there that offer advice and inspiration and are worth reading. Here is a collection of eight books by noted CEOs that we think have earned a spot in any business library. Each of these leaders has brought new ideas to the table for inspiring and engaging employees, and most of them cite a connection with values and an emphasis on appreciation as critical to their success. I’ve included a quote from each author (not always from the book) to give you a better sense of what they’re about. I’ve also linked to a few articles on each leader, if that’s more your speed!

Book cover of Touchpoints

Picture of Douglas Conant


Author: Douglas Conant
with Mette Norgaard

Company: Campbell Soup

When Doug Conant took the helm of Campbell Soup Company in 2001, the company had just lost half its market value in one year and was in what Conant calls a “Circle of Doom”. By focusing on engagement and interaction, with an emphasis on embracing interruptions as opportunities to learn and lead, Conant was able to restore the company’s market leadership and deliver 10 straight years of earnings-per-share growth.

“I had to get the culture back on track, because my observation has been, is, and always will be, that you can’t have an organization that consistently delivers innovation unless you have a high level of engagement and a high level of trust.”“As Campbell CEO, I sent 10 to 20 handwritten notes out a day. For example, I might have said, ‘I saw you did good work here. You got this line up and running on time.’ Or maybe I said, ‘You helped us get into this test market ahead of schedule.’ I avoided gratuitous compliments and focused on the business priorities.” “Over my 10-year tenure, I wrote 30,000 notes.”

Delivering Happiness BoxPhoto of Tony Hsieh who founded ZapposDelivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose

Author: Tony Hsieh

Company: Zappos

An emphasis on culture is what has driven success at Tony Hsieh’s company, Zappos. “Pay new employees $2000 to quit. Make customer service the entire company, not just a department. Focus on company culture as the #1 priority. Apply research from the science of happiness to running a business. Help employees grow both personally and professionally. Seek to change the world. Oh, and make money too.” With its innovative approach the online retailer has grown to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales every year.

“We decided we really wanted the Zappos brand to stand for the very best customer service and customer experience. And so, when we made that decision and announced it to the company, what we found is that so many employees were a lot more passionate about the company. And when customers call up, they can sense the other person on the other end of the phone, really truly care about delivering the best service.”

Book cover of Pour Your Heart Into It.Photo of Howard Schultz of StarbucksPour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Author: Howard Schultz

Company: Starbucks

“Starbucks, as it is today, is actually the child of two parents,” begins Shultz. “One is the original Starbucks, founded in 1971, a company passionately committed to world-class coffee and dedicated to educating its customers, one on one, about what great coffee can be. The other is the vision and values I brought to the company: the combination of competitive drive and a profound desire to make sure everyone in the organization could win together. I wanted to blend coffee with romance, to dare to achieve what others said was impossible, to defy the odds with innovative ideas, and to do all this with elegance and style.”

“Whatever your culture, your values, your guiding principles, you have to take steps to inculcate them in the organization early in its life so that they can guide every decision, every hire, every strategic objective you set.”

Book cover of Business as UnusualPhoto of Anita RoddickBusiness as Unusual

Author: Anita Roddick

Company: The Body Shop

While the book itself is a bit unfocused, Roddick’s story, about the building of The Body Shop, a cosmetics company dedicated to socially responsible values, is anything but. The late Dame Anita Roddick was a true pioneer who blazed the trail for companies built on conscience and heart, and her story is worth reading.

“My vision, my hope, is simply this: that many business leaders will come to see a primary role of business as incubators of the human spirit, rather than factories for the production of more material goods and services.”

Book cover of Let My People Go Surfing The Education of a Reluctant BusinessmanPhoto of Yvon Chouinard of PatagoniaLet My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

Author: Yvon Chouinard

Company: Patagonia

Patagonia, Inc.is an inspiring company with a unique and offbeat culture, and a strong commitment to environmentalism. In this book, Yvon Chouinard tells his company’s story and explains the core philosophies that have sustained them on their journey to success, including his philosophy for a “new style of responsible business”.

“Blurring the lines between work and play worked for us, because it was part of the core reasons we came to work every day. I honestly can’t remember ever having a problem with an employee taking advantage of our flexible hours. When your employees care about the mission of the company, they work harder.”

Book cover of Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great ServicePhoto of cofounder Ari WeinzweigZingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service

Author: Ari Weinzweig

Company: Zingermans/ZCoB

Ari Weinzweig, cofounder of the beloved Zingermans Deli, has a book that is based on growing a small deli into a group of seven small businesses that  do a profitable $13 million a year in sales. His 12 Natural Laws of Business include: “If you don’t create a great, rewarding place for people to work, they won’t do great work,” and “Great organizations are appreciative and the people in them have more fun.”

“Ultimately, we know that people want to feel their work makes a positive difference; that their extra efforts were noticed and contributed to a good cause; to feel like they can improve the quality of their own life and the lives of those around them through their work. When we do that we have a far more rewarding workplace to be a part of, which means that we’re having more fun, which in turn means that service improves and sales go up.”

Book cover of Employees First, Customers Second Turning Conventional Management Upside DownPhoto of Vineet NayarEmployees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down

Author: Vineet Nayar

Company: HCL Technologies

Vineet Nayar is CEO of a “behind-the-scenes” technology-services company in India, with operations in 26 countries. HCL is known for its technical excellence and its strong focus on internal transparency and employee engagement. Under five years of Nayar’s leadership, HCL’s revenues grew from $700 million to about $2.6 billion.

“Calling our policy Employees First, Customers Second was our way of defining this attention as our primary aspiration going forward. It was also a statement about the relationship between leaders and the people who execute. How do you maximize the experience that customers have in the value zone where they meet your company’s work? We think the answer is for management to see itself as an enabler, and for employees to see themselves as “doers” with a great deal of accountability and autonomy: the ability to choose much of what they do. In this way, we create organizations in which employees are aligned with the customer.”

Book cover of Taking People With YouPhoto of David NovakTaking People With You

Author: David Novak

Company: YUM! Brands

David Novak, longtime CEO of YUM! has written an inspirational book about how his company has remained at the top of the heap since its spinoff from PepsiCo in 1997, with stock that has consistently risen at an average annual rate of 16%. Novak, who inspires introspection in leadership, “is an absolute fanatic about publicly recognizing good performance, and recognition is at the heart of Yum’s culture.”

“I have come up with a formula for success no matter what kind of business you happen to be in: 1) Make sure you have the right people around you; 2) Have fun and drive results by recognizing the achievements of others; and 3) Be a passionate learner, and pass on what you know to others. Not only will this make you a success in business, but it will make you a success in life.”

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