Monday 1 May 2017

Three answers to just One question

Rush by Todd Buchholz Car Guys vs Bean Counters by Bob Lutz Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman by Louis Ferrante

James Pressley

THE US isn't working, to borrow Margaret Thatcher's slogan, and many investors are bracing for a double-dip recession. With about one out of every six American workers unemployed or underemployed, what to do?

Learn to love the rat race, advises hedge fund veteran Todd Buchholz. Sack the MBA-educated bean counters, says auto executive Bob Lutz. Manage the Mafia way, counsels Louis Ferrante, a tough guy turned motivational speaker.

These are the recommendations of three new books that address, in wildly different ways, a question bedevilling advanced economies: How can we revive growth?

Buchholz, whose mercurial career has included stints as a Harvard economics teacher and as a White House adviser. In 'Rush' he argues that competition isn't the root of evil, as social critics aver. It's the source of happiness.

Buchholz originally set out to write a book positing the opposite. That theory fell apart, he says, as he delved into the findings of neuroscience, anthropology and behavioural economics.

"Happiness is not a peaceful, frictionless bliss," he says. "That would be mixing up happiness with dozing off to sleep."

Like it or not, thousands of years of evolution have burned competitiveness into our DNA, driving humans to develop lifesaving vaccines as well as bank-killing financial instruments.

We tend to feel happy when our lives have forward momentum, Buchholz says. Especially if the momentum leaves the Joneses eating our dust.

"Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living," he says.

"True, I suppose. But the overexamined life is not worth living, either."

* * * * *

That comment would make a fitting epigraph for Bob Lutz's book, 'Car Guys vs Bean Counters'. Here, the former vice chairman of General Motors describes how executives armed with master's degrees in business administration drove America's biggest car maker into the ground.

Yes, union demands contributed to GM's ignominious skid into bankruptcy protection. Government meddling didn't help either.

Yet GM's fatal flaw was more insidious, Lutz suggests. This deep dysfunction became clear to Lutz when he flipped through binders containing photos of cars' under-development.

GM's product-development system, it turns out, was giving powerful senior executives, not designers, the final say on how a car would look, he says. The execs were understandably preoccupied with quantifiable objectives, such as assembly time, warranty costs, percentage of reused parts and speed of execution. This MBA-driven process, however well intended, produced "perfect mediocrity".

* * * * *

If number crunchers are choking your enterprise, take tips from what Louis Ferrante calls "the longest-running corporation in history"; the Mafia. He presents 88 management lessons in 'Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman'.

His topics range from confidence building -- "why a mobster makes his son pull the trigger" -- to networking -- "it's good to go to a funeral as long as it's not yours". What we get is common sense dressed up as parables about executions and how to avoid ending up in a car trunk.

Ferrante, who wised up after doing time in prison, closes the book on a cautionary note about the risks of surrendering to our most primitive instincts. You should read Machiavelli's 'The Prince', he advises, only to learn "how low your competitors may stoop, and then rise above the muck".

All of the books reviewed are available to purchase on www.independentbooks.ie with free P&P or by calling 01 405 9100

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