This book is pretty easy to consume. It’s the captivating story of Ross Johnson (the eventual CEO of RJR Nabisco). It describes his ascension from obscurity as a middle-aged accountant to his role as president of Standard Brands, then the merger with NABISCO, the merger with RJ Reynolds, and finally the buyout by KKR for over $30B (the biggest LBO to date, inflation adjusted).
While this book is non-fiction, in my opinion it’s strength is the drama. That said, it does an excellent job of illustrating the state of private equity in the 1980s, the dynamic between management and owners, the nature of M&A and dealmaking at the time, and the corporate consolidation of the 80s.
I think it was less interesting and informational than “Storming the Magic Kingdom” (my reaction here) which similarly illustrates the dynamic of 1980s finance—private equity, corporate raiders, hostile takeovers, mgmt vs board, junk financing—but does a better job of describing concurrent developments with the company (Disney) vs this book which focuses on Johnson.
This book has been recommended to me by countless people at Wharton and, according to Wikipedia, is Andrew Ross Sorkin’s favorite book.
Just discovering this for myself. Reminds a lot of the Apple 1984 ad that came a bit later. A subtle thing, but I like how the monk created a high quality manuscript first. Also, he does a good job of being sort of lazy in a relatable way.
Watching this documentary blew me away. It’s not that it’s super exciting or dramatic, it’s that it covers a HUGE piece of the history of technological development that I was mostly unfamiliar with prior to watching this film.
The movie covers the story of George Westinghouse’s beginnings, his rise to dominance, and his company’s fate after he passed on, Westinghouse was a college dropout who found education in his fathers factory and the union army during the civil war. His first commercial success was the Westinghouse air break. This invention was a new way to stop trains quickly and, equally importantly, to allow the breaks to be controlled from the engineer instead of having men on the roves of the cars turning valves. From there he went on to start over a dozen more companies, participating in railway products, setting up the natural gas grid, electricity, and, after he passed on, appliances. One of his greatest contributions was to take the work Nikola Tesla started on Alternating Current, and lead it in beating out Edison’s Direct Current as the standard for power.
The movie is filled with fascinating details as you watch technologies, mechanical and electrical, get productized all by this one man. It’s also interesting, though, to learn about the ways in which Westinghouse contrasted with Edison, his rival in the day. Westinghouse was renown as a beneficent manager and humble inventor. Arguably, because of those qualities, and his willingness to be open minded and collaborate, he was able to accomplish more than Edison.
Highly recommend if you’re curious about business or technological history.
This movie does a fantastic job of documenting the life of Hollywood entrepreneur, talent manager, and power broker David Geffen. Geffern, along with several other famous names like Steven Spielberg, are interviewed throughout this movie. It depicts his story: coming from poverty, sneaking into a talent agency, signing his first big artist Laura Nyro, going out on his own to start Asylum, selling Asylum, starting and selling Geffen Records, operating inside Warner Brothers, and ultimately helping start DreamWorks SKG.
You get a real sense for the his indomitable ambition, his behind the scenes style, his preference to be in a support position, and his aggressive way of getting things done.
This is an awesome book. Much from the same cloth as “Barbarians at the Gate” I’m told, but about a company that is likely much more relatable to us all: Disney. The book covers a period in the 1980s—a time when corporate raiding was rampant—when Disney is confronted with two significant initiatives of corporate activism. Without saying too much, the first is a hostile takeover attempt, and the second is a move to clean house of the executive team.
The book tells a very interesting narrative: it would be captivating even if were a fiction. Moreover, it’s a fantastic illustration on the difference between the managers and owners: their incentives and their levers of control over the firms direction. It also elucidates in great detail how politics between directors can be conducted.
The book ends with Michael Eisner and Frank Wells being brought in to run the company—the beginning of a 20 year period that would take Disney into the 21st century and evolve it into much more of a conglomerate than it had ever been before.
An article in Wired titled “This Is the Man Bill Gates Thinks You Absolutely Should Be Reading.”
A great Q&A with a polymath professor and prolific writer named Vaclav Smil. He has great, fact driven perspective on a lot of topics at a global scale. The piece doesn’t go super deep into any one topic, but does give you a sense for what you can expect from Vaclav as a thinker.
Columbia science professor on the pursuit of knowledge.
I love this talk. Stuart Firestein argues there’s a misconception in how we think about the way science works. He presents a new analogy — the ripple in the water. Moreover, he talks about “high-quality ignorance” and the reality that the more you know, the more you don’t.
If you’re a curious person, I think you’ll find this very comforting.
Richard Feynman on the nature of the question “why.”
I love so many things about this video. Richard Feynman is asked “what is the meaning of the force between magnets?” Clearly irritated, he goes on to rant about the difficulty of answering the question “why.” It’s a great discussion of the challenge of managing and leveraging assumptions in communication.
In this talk he’s both funny and full of insight. How do you develop a great mind? “What you’ve gotta do from this point forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields, hygienically speaking.” How do you become a great writer? According to Bradbury, write one short story every week for an entire year — you’ll be dissatisfied every time, but also a bit better.
Lots of lessons to take from this talk. Discovered it via Explore by Maria Popova.
Kevin Spacey on the arbitrary distinctions between different forms of cinematic storytelling.
He asserts a really cogent perspective on film. It’s particularly interesting in the context of what’s happening in the industry today. That is to say, with distribution shifting to online streaming, it calls into question the distinctions between a TV show and a movie, which for example, largely had to do with their respective means of distribution which, once distinct, are converging.
I’m not sure why more people don’t love this movie. Perhaps it’s dizzying. Whatever the case, it really resonates with me. The tricky and fantastic thing about Cloud Atlas begins with it’s structural differences from other movies. Instead of having Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, and the cast each assigned a character to play, the Wachowski’s give every cast member a “soul” to play. The movie depicts 5 different stories — each set in different time periods from the stone age, to the imperial age, to the present, etc. In each of these stories, the souls take on different characters, of varying importance. That is to say, in one story, the soul played by Tom Hanks is the main character, a doctor, while in another he’s a tertiary character, a gangster. While the characters and settings change, the personalities of the souls shine through constant. And with that structure, the Wachowski’s are able to not only relate 5 entertaining stories, but, moreover, have the devices to powerfully suggest a number of philosophical ideas.
I realize that all sounds complicated. The easiest way to understand it is to watch it. Which I recommend.
This movie is incredibly entertaining. The performances are compelling, there are awesome action scenes, and lots of funny moments. On this basis, there is reason enough to recommend this movie. Beyond these basics, though, there’s even more reason to like this film. First, Tarantino seems to want to challenge — and mess with — the audience. He is comfortable defying typical narrative structure and Hollywood convention and the result is delightful. Second, the movie, which came out at the same time as Lincoln, conveys a powerful message about slavery. While the topic is discussed explicitly in Lincoln, the gruesome treatment of slaves in Django confers the same point but in an implicit manner which, I felt, had greater potency.
An awesome read. Kessler offers his “12 rules” for entrepreneurs and, I’d say, who wins in business. His tone is frank and the prose are easy to read. The hypotheses are original and ring true. Moreover, he gives fantastic historical examples which are reason alone to read this book. Highly recommend.
Enjoyable to read, the best thing about the book is the anecdotes. It does a great job of illustrating points and a cautionary tale of how many entrepreneur/VC relationships go. Komisar also offers great perspective on how to think about what you want. The book won’t blow your mind though.
I read that this was a classic book on principles of design thinking and that it was pragmatically written so that it could be easily consumed and referenced. I found all these things to be true. Further, Krug has a fantastic tone and is extremely honest.