The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time

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The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time by Verne Harnish, published by Fortune

This is the sort of book that busy managers will appreciate; short, easy to read and providing the sort of knowledge that can impress others, both at the dinner table and the Board Meeting.  For the author/editor – well known as a management journalist and speaker – producing such a book must have been a relatively easy task; the hard part was persuading nine different writers to choose two examples of ‘great decisions’.

In fact Harnish has done an excellent job because, unlike many similar collections, the style is consistent and the flow is excellent.  There is even a summary of each chapter for those short of time and a concise foreword that contains the editor’s ‘top five’.  However, when reading this foreword I began to have concerns that, like many USA books on business, the emphasis was too much on behavioural processes and corporate cultures, and not enough on the hard decisions that resulted.  Half of the eighteen examples had this sort of behavioural flavour; it may be because of my own background and MTP’s business focus but I thought that this was not the right balance.

When assessing Harnish’s top five, I could see the logic of the best decision being Apple’s bringing back Steve Jobs after ten years of isolation but was less sure about Sam Walton’s decision to have a morning meeting, Bill Gates’s practice of taking off a ‘think week’ or Jack Welsh’s setting up of a training centre.  However well these ideas worked, I would rather have heard about the decisions that were made than the processes that led to them.

My top five were quite different.  I enjoyed reading about how Johnson and Johnson’s CEO defied advice and, at high cost,  recalled a dangerously faulty product with total openness; and how a small company called Softsoap blocked Procter and Gamble’s efforts to copy their product by buying up all the available bottles.  I was also expecting more risk taking investment decisions to be featured, like the one example quoted – Boeing’s decision to invest in the first jet airliner.

So this is a good read, for work or holiday; I finished it in one afternoon on the beach and it didn’t feel like work.  But readers should be careful not to take the lessons too literally; setting up regular staff meetings or having ‘think weeks’ – even setting up a new training centre -are not likely to work unless the outcome is better business decisions.

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