The Books Business Leaders Read

The Books Business Leaders Read

I love to read. Because I love to learn. Not only do I read in order to make me better as a coach, but to know more about the world. Which I suppose impacts on the way I think and act in business too.

And, it’s not just me who thinks reading matters. According to a Fast Company study, the average CEO reads approximately 60 books per year. That’s a lot, right? Well, I think I get through about 100. I told you I love to read!

Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, they’ve all talked about how important reading is, and how it’s led, in part, to their success. The study also found that 88% of financially successful people read at least 30 mins per day.

“Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today.” — Mark Zuckerberg

As some of you will know, I also produce a podcast – The Melting Pot - and in one of the episodes my guest, Shannon Byrne Susko told me she used to read four books a week for two years when she was starting out in her first business. She said: “A lot of people go – how can you read that many books – now I wasn’t reading, at that time it was books on CD. I was consuming information like crazy. The CEOs we work with, they’ve got to be learners but that was a little extreme, there’s no doubt. I was desperate to prove that board of directors wrong that said I couldn’t do it…. I really wanted to work out how to do it so I sort out the best thought leaders.”     

Shannon went on to build and lead two high-growth technology companies and she's now passing on her knowledge through coaching and her own books, The Metronome Effect and 3HAG Way.

I get to talk to some pretty awesome people for my podcast. Those who are successful in the business world, who have made an impact, who are continuing to make an impact. One of the questions I like to ask is: “Which book would you recommend others to read?” So, as we get our reading list ready for those summer holidays, I thought I’d pop all the recommendations together for you (including mine), just in case you need some inspiration.

And, if you would like to listen to the podcasts – you can do so on iTunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

My Recommendation:

Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace by Ricardo Semler

It is really hard for me to choose just one book but this was almost one of the first business books I read. I picked it up early on in my business career and the things I took from it have stuck with me to this day. Stuff like:

  • No jobs titles
  • Directors car parking (and not having set places)
  • Don't have to wear a tie
  • No clocking in clocking out
  • Information sharing

This book was originally published in the 1980s, and even now I’m shocked that still only a few businesses are run in this way, even though, to me, it makes sense. Does that mean that I am weird and it talked to me - or was it this that changed the way I looked at business? It certainly made me realise you could change the way companies are run. I had spent a lot time in big companies and saw first-hand the lack of trust and respect, the frustration people felt, and it struck me that there must be a better way to do things. This book showed me that way. I went on a crusade to create some great places to work, and I’ve been recognised many times for that. So perhaps I have a lot to thank Ricardo Semler for.

I include the following links because I want to share what I found to be a great tip from McKeel Hagerty, CEO at Hagerty Group. He told me he gets more from a book if, before reading or listening to it, he can hear the author interviewed on a podcast a few times first. He, and now I, find the key themes are clearer and stickier when you do this. Another tip is then to use Blinkist to review them again in summary in the future.

Quotes from the book 

Interview with Ricardo by Tim Ferris 

Alain Falys

Alain is a serial entrepreneur. He's currently the chairman of YoYo Wallet the fastest growing mobile payment and loyalty payment marketing platform in Europe. And, he's raised a massive £35 million in seed to series B capital from Tier 1 VC's in the last 10 years - he knows a lot about business! Alain’s recommendations are:

The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology by William Mougayar

The Business Blockchain charts new territory in advancing our understanding of the blockchain by unpacking its elements like no other before. William Mougayar anticipates a future that consists of thousands, if not millions of blockchains that will enable not only frictionless value exchange but also a new flow of value, redefining roles, relationships, power and governance.

Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

This book is “Che” Guevara’s account of the guerrilla war that led to the 1959 Cuban Revolution. It features chapters including Che’s first meeting with Fidel in Mexico, the mythical moment when Che had to choose between a knapsack of medicine and another of ammunition, and the anguished story of the murdered puppy.

Alain says of both books: “I like books that explain about a certain subject matter, rather than pure business books. Like the Business of Blockchain by Mougayar is a great book I’ve read recently, so, if you want to know the basics of blockchain, how it relates to what happened in the 90s around the internet, that’s a great book to read. There’s a book I’ve actually thought about many times, it’s not a business book but I have used it in the context of business, that I found on a beach in Cuba in 2004. It’s a book by Che Guevara the revolutionary, and it’s basically about life in the jungle when they were making their way up to Havana. It’s about perseverance and continuing the journey no matter what. It’s almost like - take no prisoners - but it’s about a single goal, and the goal is capturing Havana and what they have to endure in the jungle in terms of suffering and so on which always really made a mark on me. The way he writes about the single-mindedness is something I’ve applied in business. In that, you’ve got to be very clear about your goal when you create a company and you make sure you and the team do everything to reach that goal and avoid distractions.”

Nick Earle

Nick has spent over 35 years in tech. He’s currently the Chairman and CEO of Eseye - a leading company in the Internet of Things Market. He was involved in Virgin’s Hyperloop One and has also worked for Cisco and HP. His recommendations are:

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Bold comes from the co-authors of the New York Times bestseller Abundance. It’s a how-to guide for using exponential technologies, moonshot thinking, and crowd-powered tools to create extraordinary wealth while also positively impacting the lives of billions.

Nick says: “Bold is a wonderful book. It talks about the difference between linear and exponential. For example, if you take 30 linear steps and the steps are a meter then you end up 30 meters away, but if you take 30 exponential steps – so, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 etc – you circumnavigate the world 16 times. The point is that Moore’s Law** is driving everything we’re talking about and Moore’s Law is exponential. That’s why Kodak invented the digital camera, and then Kodak was made bankrupt by the digital camera. They thought the digital camera was linear, but it turns out it was exponential. So, it got twice as good and twice as cheap every 18 months. And guess what, it killed Kodak.”

(**Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years.)


Alexandra Eavis

Alexandra is the CEO Dovetail Lab. Working to create an integrated system using blockchain that will enable patients to have access to and control over their medical data. She is also the CEO of NFC Helps Me a social enterprise to support people with learning disabilities acquire life and employment skills. Alex’s recommendation is:

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE - Phil Knight

Shoe Dog provides an unvarnished story of how Phil Knight (who had borrowed $50 from his father to import trainers) started Nike and turned it into a £30 billion global company. He’s honest and doesn’t shy away from writing about the struggles of running a business. Phil details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream - along with his early triumphs.

Alex says: “this is a great book, a really well-told story, and really interesting”. It was “a cracking read and emotionally sensitive for a founder who isn’t so good at sharing secrets.”

Alexander Kjerulf

Alexander has been working to create happier workplaces for over 15 years. He is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Woohoo inc and one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work. He's also written two books - Leading With Happiness and Happy Hour Is 9 To 5. He has three recommendations for us:

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh shares the different lessons he has learned in business and life, from starting a worm farm to running a pizza business to now running an online retailer that's doing over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually.

Alexander says: “An amazing book, very practical, I love it. Great story.”

Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia

Here Chapman and Sisodia show how any organisation can stop viewing its employees are simply func­tions, to be moved around, 'managed' with carrots and sticks, or discarded at will. By doing so, disengaged workers begin to share their gifts and talents toward a shared future.

Alexander says this book is “phenomenal.” That it’s Bob’s “personal journey because he was raised and educated as a hardcore businessman, he had a business degree, he learned what matters in business is profits and making money and that was it. Then at one point, he has this near spiritual awakening, and he realises there are actually more important things than that and that everybody matters – hence the title of the book. So, he took his industrial company and made it a human workplace where people loved to work and this book describes how he did it.”

The Seven-Day Weekend: A Better Way to Work in the 21st Century by Ricardo Semler

The second time Semler appears on our list. In this book, he explains how he transformed a small family business into a highly profitable manufacturing, services and high-tech powerhouse - 40 times larger - while watching his favourite movies or relaxing with his son in the middle of the business day.

Alexander says: “This is one of my favourite books because it shows how far you can take this idea, 7 Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler. It’s one of those books that make you think, “oh my god this is possible. This is awesome, you can do it.

Happy Hour Is 9 to 5

And don't forget Alex’s own book Happy Hour Is 9 to 5. He suggests the subversive notion that we are all responsible for our own happiness at work and if we take one step we impact everyone else and enhance their productivity, creativity and flexibility.

Evgeny Shadchnev

Evgeny Shadchnev is the CEO of Makers Academy, a computer programming boot camp in London. His recommendation is:

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

In the New York Bestseller, Principles, Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, shares the unconventional principles that he’s developed, refined, and used over the past forty years to create unique results in both life and business—and which any person or organisation can adopt to help achieve their goals. The book’s hundreds of practical lessons, which are built around his cornerstones of “radical truth” and “radical transparency,” include Dalio laying out the most effective ways for individuals and organisations to make decisions, approach challenges, and build strong teams.

Evgeny says: “There are so many good books to read – I don’t think there is a single one to pick out, because books are so individual. Something that changes my world may not change yours. But having said that…. Ray Dalio’s Principles should be read, whether you agree with Ray Dalio on his teaching doesn’t matter. It’s very important to understand his point of view. He’s an amazingly successful hedge fund manager and he wrote a book about how he runs the business and it’s amazing.

I would also recommend reading some non-business stuff. The most interesting things I’ve read that have had a direct impact on how I run the business were about history, about religion, poetry, spirituality, it was fiction. Things that were not really about business but it was really helpful.”

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  • Nathan Hodson

    Great reminder that everyone wants the good life, but not everyone gets the good life because not everyone is willing to do what it takes.

  • Mitch Parker

    For those who can't afford go to a library !!!!

  • Kevin Carver

    After reading this, I am walking my behind to buy some more books.

  • Wesley Reid

    Amazing information

  • Anthony Phillips

    Wow this is superb from beginning to end. Thanks for sharing this list with us.

  • Benjamin Anderson

    Very inspiring !!!!!

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Dominic Monkhouse

Leadership Expert

Dominic Monkhouse is a proven architect of business growth with a demonstrable track record. As managing director, he scaled two UK technology companies from zero revenue to £30 million in five years. Since 2014, Dominic has worked as a CEO and executive team coach, helping ambitious CEOs and their leadership teams reach their full potential and achieve sustainable growth. He is the host of “The Melting Pot with Dominic Monkhouse” where he talks with some extraordinary thought leaders, fellow business authors, and CEOs to absorb their wisdom. Dominic is the author of F**K PLAN B: How to scale your technology business faster and achieve plan A, an exciting blueprint for cultural change and business transformation.

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