News Irish News

Monday 22 September 2014

Business chiefs prefer reading poetry to economics

Maeve Dineen, Business Editor

Published 29/12/2012 | 05:00

  • Share

IRISH business leaders prefer reading about music, wildlife and poetry rather than the economy.

  • Share
  • Go To

The Irish Independent asked some of our top CEOs and chairmen and women what they most enjoyed reading last year.

There was a sprinkling of business books, history, biography, thrillers and sport along with quirky choices such as Aer Lingus boss and gardening enthusiast Christoph Mueller's guide to the Burren, or Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher's choice of a book about Victorians in Tasmania.

NAMA's chairman Frank Daly relaxed by reading the works of two different poets – Dennis O'Driscoll's 'Dear Life' and John Daly's 'Songs of a Stargazer'.

The Central Bank's Matthew Elderfield enjoyed Robert Caro's latest instalment of his biography of US President Lyndon B Johnson, but who could have predicted that the Talking Heads fan would also have liked 'How Music Works' by the bank's David Byrne.

The Far East gets several mentions. The head of the IMF's mission to Ireland, Ajai Chopra, opted for a study of life in the former Bombay called 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' by Katherine Boo, while the chairwoman of the Revenue Commissioners, Josephine Feehily, picked Mohsin Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'.

It is interesting that none of our respondents picked books dealing with the economic crisis and few have chosen anything relating to their work lives.

One exception is Department of Finance boss John Moran who is tipping 'Nudge' – the bestseller with the interesting subtitle: 'Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness'. Sounds like the sort of book we want our civil servants to read.



Economics off business leaders' reading lists



IRISH business leaders are an eclectic lot, judging by the books they enjoyed this year. As usual, there is a sprinkling of business books, history, biography, thrillers and sport along with some quirky choices, such as Aer Lingus boss and gardening enthusiast Christoph Mueller's guide to the Burren, or Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher's choice of a book about Victorians in Tasmania.

The Far East gets several mentions. The head of the IMF's mission to Ireland, Ajai Chopra, liked a study of life in the former Bombay called 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' by Katherine Boo; while the chairwoman of the Revenue Commissioners, Josephine Feehily, picked Mohsin Hamid's popular and moving 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'.

There is no clear theme this year, although it is interesting that none of our respondents have picked books dealing with the economic crisis and very few have chosen anything that relates to their work lives.

One exception is Department of Finance boss John Moran, who is tipping 'Nudge' – the bestseller with the interesting subtitle: 'Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness'. Sounds like the sort of book we want our civil servants to read.



Juggernaut



The Ross O'Carroll Kelly juggernaut gets a single mention; Paul Howard's wonderful creation is obviously less popular with our business leaders than the reading public.

Like many fans of the US, the Central Bank's Matthew Elderfield enjoyed Robert Caro's latest instalment of his masterful biography of US President Lyndon B Johnson.

LBJ is not the only historical figure to get a mention.

Petroceltic boss Brian O Cathain enjoyed 'Vanished Kingdoms' by Norman Davies, which charts all sorts of kingdoms and countries that have been swept away by history. UPC's Dana Strong was enjoying history of a different kind – reading George RR Martin's bestselling 'Game of Thrones' while also watching the television series.

When it comes to business books, our respondents seem to prefer reading about large topics rather than the Irish economy.

Smurfit Kappa's Gary McCann was reading Oliver Wyman's 'What Creates Demand', which looks at why consumers buy things; while Dairygold chief executive Jim Woulfe turned to 'Good to Great' by Jim Collins for inspiration.





AJAI CHOPRA (IMF)

'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' by Katherine Boo

The book is about life, death and hope in a Mumbai slum. It is a brilliant picture of contemporary India and its entrenched contradictions. Boo's chronicle is non-fiction at its riveting best, disturbing but also inspiring. I was born in Mumbai and grew up there, making the book all the more special."



JOHN TEELING (Serial entrepreneur and exploration specialist)

'The Drop' by Michael Connelly

I read voraciously, particularly when travelling, usually thrillers: Ian Rankin's Rebus, Lee Childs' Jack Reacher and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch.

'This Time it is Different' by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff I bought a second copy after my first copy was borrowed. If you need to know what is going on in the world economy read this; it analyses credit bubbles over the centuries. Hard to read and worrying but clear thinking.

'A Personal Narrative of the Irish Rebellion of 1798' by Charles Hamilton Teeling

A direct relative of the John Teeling who ran the Whiskey Distillery in Marrowbone Lane. Published in 1828.



GAVIN SLARK (Grafton Group)

'The Girl that Kicked the Hornet's Nest' by Stieg Larsson

I had read the first two and needed to finish the trilogy off.



JOHN MORAN (Department of Finance)

'Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness' by R Thaler and C Sunstein

We need to think differently.



DAVID DUFFY ( Allied Irish Banks )

'Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes

For readers who like to be surprised, confused and challenged, this is a great read, it is complex, beautifully written and deals with the concepts around life, loss, and how we remember the life that we lived. It is written in a way that each reader may interpret many aspects of the stories through their own lens of life, it is also a book that can be read more than once and still offer huge enjoyment.



MATTHEW ELDERFIELD (Central Bank)

'The Passage of Power' by Robert Caro

I really enjoyed the last instalment of the excellent Robert Caro biography of US President Lyndon B Johnson. It's a fascinating insight into how the political system responded to the killing of JFK.

'The City of London' by David Kynaston made depressing reading that shows how credit bubbles, sovereign debt problems and insider trading are regular occurrences in financial history while 'How Music Works' by David Byrne was a splendidly eclectic series of essays and reminded me how much I loved Talking Heads when I was growing up in New York in the 70s and 80s.



JIM WOULFE (Dairygold)

'Good to Great' by Jim Collins

It's about business transformation – moving from an ordinary performance to extraordinary. There are many lessons of note in it about moving to a higher level of performance, especially for organisations that must compete internationally.



RICHIE BOUCHER (Bank of Ireland) '

English Passengers' by Matthew Kneale

A fictional, sometimes amusing, often thought-provoking and engaging story about Victorian English people in Tasmania from the assumed perspective of the English and of a native Aboriginal person.



GARY McCANN (Smurfit Kappa)

'What Creates Demand' by Oliver Wyman

In a tough period for business, this book goes back to first principles of understanding the market: the need to understand what causes consumers to buy (not just look), and how to deliver products or services there is (or can be) a market for.



BRIAN O CATHAIN (Petroceltic)

'Vanished Kingdoms' by Norman Davies

I particularly enjoyed the old British (Welsh speaking) kingdom of Alt Cluid, based on the Rock of Dumbarton outside Glasgow in the 9th century who loaded up a boat with their 1,000 years of sagas, songs, and poems, and sailed off to Anglesey to preserve their culture.

'Unforgivable Blackness – The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world' by Geoffrey Ward

A fantastic book on boxing and anti-black prejudice in North America pre- World War One.

'Headlong' by Michael Frayn

Very funny intellectual farce. I read this first 10 years ago but re-read it as an old favourite. It still makes me laugh.



MICHAEL MCATEER ( Grant Thornton)

'Shelbourne Ultimatum' by Paul Howard

The Ross O'Carroll Kelly character and storylines are so outrageous yet so realistic."



JOHN HERLIHY ( Google Ireland)

"Hell's Corner" by David Baldacci During 2012

I spent a lot of time traveling so it's great to find a riveting thriller to read, with thrills and spills by the dozen while all the time trying to guess the outcome.

When it comes to thrillers, I love reading David Baldacci books; each provides a couple of hours of entertainment and a year after reading them I can still remember the story.



JOSEPHINE FEEHILY (Revenue Commissioners)

'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' by Mohsin Hamid

I belatedly read it this summer, recommended by my sister. While the style might not be to everyone's taste, it's a clever novel which gives interesting insights into fundamentalist-type behaviour and deals with the dilemmas of straddling two cultures, and differing roles.

I'd recommend it for the intriguing ending which gives great scope for debate and for the quotation "Time only moves in one direction. Remember that. Things always change."



DANA STRONG (UPC Ireland)

'Game of Thrones' by George R.R. Martin

I watched Season One this autumn and started reading the books at the same time which was really helpful to better follow all of the characters and plot lines. Both the book and the show are very engaging.



CHRISTOPH MUELLER (Aer Lingus)

The Burren: A Companion to the Wildflowers of an Irish Limestone Wilderness' by Charles Nelson and Wendy Walsh

'William Robinson: The Wild Gardener' by Richard Bisgrove

Both books are related to my new garden project here in Ireland and my intention to work predominantly with plants native to Ireland.



'Summerhill A Radical Approach to Education' by Andrew Sinclair Neill is about education (we have three children) and the fact that my own education 40 years ago was strongly influenced by A S Neill. I still subscribe to most of his theories even though they are still radical after all those years. But he has written also very entertaining books like 'The Green Cloud' which is excellent reading for children and adults alike.





JOHN O'CONNOR (MD Tynagh Power)

My Journey' by Jim Stynes

A moving account of the inspiring life of Jim Stynes – Gaelic & Aussie Rules Footballer, founder of the Reach Foundation (the youth sup- port network), Irishman, adopted Australian, businessman and family man. His premature death earlier this year following his battle against cancer struck a chord with Irish and Australians.

'The Fish Rots from the Head' by Bob Garratt

A topical subject and thought- provoking read on developing effective boards. It starts with a question: who is the odd man out on this list of well-known bankers: Tom McKillop, Fred Goodwin, Victor Blank, Andy Hornby and Terry Wogan?

The answer is obvious but the reason is not. Terry Wogan is the only one with a banking qualification. Now, where's that Time Travel Machine!



FRANK DALY (Nama chairman)

I can't imagine life without books. Usually I have two on the go at any one time: "hard" – something vaguely biographical or historical – and "soft" – something totally fictional.

My latest fiction was 'The Casual Vacancy', JK Rowling's slice of life beyond Harry P. I bought it with misgivings but really enjoyed this razor-sharp tale that lifts the lid on life, love and petty politics in an apparently idyllic English town. I was surprised at how engaged I became with the fate of the tragic heroine.

Richard Ford's ' Canada' kept me engaged over a full week – it's well up to his previous standard and a great page-turner. As somebody who would still regard John le Carre's 'Karla Trilogy' with spymaster George Smiley as the creme de la creme of spy thrillers (I re-read them at least every two years) I got a lot of enjoyment out of Sebastian Faulks' foray into that area with A Possible Life – maybe not quite le Carre but engaging and houghtful all the same.

My bio/histo novel of the year was undoubtedly A.N. Wilson's 'The Potter's Hand'.

This saga of the life of Josiah Wedgewood and his family grips from the very opening scene of the amputation of Josiah's right leg performed in primitive conditions by a certain Dr Darwin.

The tale straddles several centuries knitting together the story of the great pottery empire, the generations who built it and the great intellectual dynasty that ensued from the Amputee and his Doctor, including, of course, Charles Darwin.

As the slave to a "thoroughbred mongrel" dog who rules my time outside NAMA I read 'In Defence of Dogs' by John Bradshaw on the promise that it would help me understand the psychology behind the growl, rising hackle and wagging tail (publisher's blurb).

Well it's a great insight into the evolution of the domestic dog and into what makes dogs tick. I now understand the mutt a lot better but it's made absolutely no difference to the reality that he's in charge and I'm there solely to entertain him.

One tip has been invaluable – I now have a toy for the mutt which I have named after a certain very vocal critic of NAMA – so when I get frustrated at this individual I simply ask mutt to "Get XXXXX" "Get XXXXX" and mutt duly obliges by vigorously throttling XXXXX. Ah, but that's therapy!

Finally, I always have a bit of poetry at hand for real soul food.

This year it's been two very different poets – former Revenue colleague and friend Dennis O'Driscoll (since deceased), whose book of poems, 'Dear Life', is so evocative of the ups and downs of office life, and another good friend of mine, John Daly, whose 'Songs of a Stargazer' is so evocative of the beauty and moods of my hometown, Dungarvan.

Irish Independent

Read More

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News