There are a few inspiring pieces of media that have driven my own career in business that I would like to share.
Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance by Louis V. Gerstner Jr. (Book)
An historic institution, IBM, was struggling in the eighties and early nineties, and came up to the brink of collapse. Louis V. Gerstner arrived as CEO, cleaned house, and expanded business offerings. One example of a policy that IBM had was that anyone could have an out against their direct boss, which made it so that people could do whatever they wanted, even if it was not in the company’s best interests. He quickly ended this practice. He also canceled OS2 operating system in favor of Microsoft Windows when it was obvious that they couldn’t compete, and sold Windows instead (giving the customer what they wanted). It is a very good read in terms of seeing someone go into a large corporation and lead it back to success. Gerstner is aware that he is boasting his own ego in the book, but he does remark that the numbers speak for themselves.
The Founder (Movie)
Ray Kroc was a a typical traveling salesman in the 1950s, selling milkshake machines across the US, when he happened upon a restaurant in San Bernadino CA. Called McDonalds, it was known for its fast service and quality product, unlike many of the drive thru restaurants of its day. Kroc convinced the brothers (owners of the establishment) to give him a crack at franchising the restaurant (it had failed previously), and he became very independently wealthy from owning the real estate under the restaurants themselves. Kroc was an older man when he got into the restaurant business, but proved very successful due to what he would describe as “persistence”. Today, the company is recognizable all over the world, and is uniquely American. Kroc, of course, had his shortcomings, which the movie does describe a bit.
Business Adventures by John Brooks (Book)
This book recently came back into print, from the urging of Bill Gates. He had borrowed (and is still borrowing) the book from Warren Buffet, dating back to the early nineties. John Brooks was a business writer for the New Yorker. The book was first published in 1959 (updated many times since), and describes several stories that deal with large financial problems and conditions that interested him at the time. These include the stock market crash of May 1962 in detail, the failure of the Ford Edsel, the history of a federal income tax.
Pirates of Silicon Valley (TV Movie)
This 1999 TNT movie, based on a book called “Fire in the Valley,” described the early personal computer companies developed on separate time lines by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. While a TV movie, POSV is probably more accurate than some of the other portrayals of Jobs et al in their heyday. This was all but confirmed on separate occasions by Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. I find this movie to be the precursor to The Social Network, describing a different set of intellectuals and hobbyists who came to make the computer accessible and affordable to the average consumer, and made a fortune in doing so.
American Experience – Silicon Valley (PBS Documentary)
This documentary describes the founding of the entire tech industry in California, in the Silicon Valley area. Known as the “Traitorous 8,” the documentary describes eight scientists who left behind the brilliant, but difficult-to-work-with William Shockley to form their own semi-conductor companies. Shockley was a co-inventor of the transistor (for which he received a Nobel Prize), a device that was to replace vacuum tubes in computer processing. These devices were set to make large-scale computers and electronics smaller and more reliable. Employees had never left a company on this scale before to start their own, but members of this group began Fairchild Semiconductors, Intel, and other tech companies.
Meals Per Hour (YouTube Documentary)
This documentary describes the Toyota Production System (TPS) as applied to a charity dedicated to feeding a New York community in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It is short, but an excellent demonstration of the system that helped launch (and continues to affect) Toyota’s success throughout in the world, and should be an inspiration to anyone wanting to improve business processes in their own companies.
Business Casual (YouTube Channel)
Chock full of business histories of the most famous (and infamous) businesspeople, this YouTube channel is just incredible in what they are able to accomplish on a consistent basis. They do their research and put together insanely good videos on professionals who have had great ideas or have shifted their business to dominate the market. Be forewarned: you may spend hours here. These are the business histories that you may have not learned about in school.
The Peter Schiff Show Podcast
I don’t always agree with him, but Peter Schiff was one of the few people to have predicted the previous financial crisis / recession when everyone else was dismissive towards him. He deserves a great amount of respect for this. An anti-tax libertarian, he is still outspoken on many issues, but seems to be one of the few people again suggesting that we are on another downturn, and that it has the potential to get much worse if we are not careful. Schiff is educational, insightful, and has a great following – there are many ways to subscribe to his podcast (website, Spotify, iTunes), so pick one.