Tag Archives: business

Black Like Me

Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stern (Knopf, $26.00, 271 pages)

There were moments when I felt like I was being called the N-word with no one actually saying it. No one had to and maybe they were too smart to. So it was left to me to decide whether it was because I was black or because I was just me…

Anyone who has read and enjoyed the classic Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain may enjoy the memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef by Kwame Ounwuachi. Like Bourdain, Onwuachi is an interesting mix of confidence and uncertainty. While struggling with numerous aspects of working in the restaurant industry, Onwuachi can come off as bombastic and arrogant as when he writes that “my arrival (in the District of Columbia) was greeted with a lot of excitement and anticipation.” Perhaps so, but it did not result in enough people visiting Shaw Bijou, Onwuachi’s signature restaurant, for it to remain in business.

The key reason Shaw Bijou failed likely goes to the base cover charge – sold as an admission ticket, of $185 per person, not including tip and drinks. The flaw in this account by a talented young chef is that he attributes most of his stumbles and unforced errors to racism, even when the reader sees other factors in play. Still, Onwuachi has gone on to earn the title of “The most important chef in America” from the San Francisco Chronicle. You will need to read the sometimes surreal Notes – an entertaining, imperfect story – to find out why.

Recommended for foodies and those interested in what it takes to run a successful restaurant and why restaurants fail.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Alfred A. Knopf. This book, which includes thirteen recipes, was released on April 9, 2019.

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The Logic of Balance

Moreau Business

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance by Gary Moreau (CreateSpace, 188 pages, $9.95)

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance by Gary Moreau is an engaging work.  Moreau focuses on the point that business leaders tend to be guided either by their heard or their hearts (guts).  Most see it as a choice between, say, the colors blue (head) or red (heart).  But leadership may be purple; that is, it must rely on a balance between logical thoughts and instincts.

In Moreau’s words, “this book is all about context.”  The business environment, its context, is rarely solely about reason or logic.  It’s a blend of the two.

Moreau spends equal time illustrating the benefits as well as the weaknesses of relying on data-driven decision making and instinct-driven decisions.  Both will work at some points, but will fail if relied upon to the exclusion of all else.

One of the fascinating points made by Moreau is that many of the visionary individuals that our society holds up as models of business and societal leadership – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King, Jr. – had significant ideas (the “what”).  However, they had no specific plans (the “how”) for implementing their ideas.  That’s because sky-viewing visionaries must rely upon ground-based planners.

A great leader, as Moreau notes, follows his or her conscience.  This “sits at the crossroads of deduction and reduction.”  Yes, true leadership, in implementation of great ideas, requires balance.

Another key point made by Moreau, a valuable one for business managers, is that the world is a very big and tough place.  We tend to give too much credit to individuals for business successes and too much blame for failures.  The truth is that business leaders – CEOs or managers, cannot control the world.  A business failure may rest upon poor timing, poor global conditions, or many other factors.

There are a couple of issues with this work.  Firstly, Moreau engages in political discussions that are out of place and simply do not belong in the book.  In this, he fails to subscribe to his rule that context is key.  (Since he mentions Trump and Clinton, it’s surprising that he does not use them as examples of contrasting leadership styles.)

Secondly, like Joshua Wolf Shenk, the author of Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs (2014), Moreau tends to go too far in separating matters into one camp or the other.  In Shenk’s book, every artist was separated between being either a John Lennon (an instinctive artist) or a Paul McCartney (a hardworking artist).  But the world is more complicated than that.

In Understanding Business, Moreau is like the proverbial hammer that sees everything as a nail.  Everything is either mind or gut.  I suspect that at some point a writer will produce a book about successful business leaders and artists who fall into the in-between category.  (Joni Mitchell comes to mind as a musician who is equally instinctive and highly rational/logical/detail-oriented.)

Still, Moreau’s book provides valuable points for business executives.  For example, at one point he notes that a business leader should make a deductive decision using logic, but then test this decision using instinct.  That executive should ask, “Does it feel right?”  Excellent.

Finally, Understanding Business drives home one major point in these stressful times.  This is that business leaders must value and respect their staff members.  Executives cannot just talk the talk, they must walk the walk,  It does not take long for workers to realize that they are simply cogs in the machinery of their company.  When this realization hits, the company they work for can and will suffer.

Moreau Business 2

If you own or operate a business, large or small, you may wish to read Understanding Business.  It will serve you well.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

 

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Le Freak

Think Like a Freak (nook book)

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner (William Morrow, $28.99, 268 pages)

The key to learning is feedback.

The two Freakonomics authors are at it again! Levitt and Dubner have synthesized their ability to think in unconventional ways into nine chapters of charming, breezy and sometimes fascinating tutorials. This book is extensively annotated which adds to its credibility.

After a quick primer on how a freak thinks – unconventionally, to say the least, Levitt and Dubner launch into the basics of problem solving using their techniques. Basically, it comes down to teaching folks how to fish rather than feeding them answers. Of course, the approach is based on data, and the authors are well qualified to present the material as Levitt is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and Dubner is a journalist and media personality based in New York City.

Readers are provided with the basics of change through a look back in history to determine the root causes of present day conditions and beliefs. The text contains many witty accounts worded in a conversational tone. This reviewer likens Think Like a Freak to a survey book or a series of clever lectures along the lines of the highly entertaining PBS TV show, Connections with James Burke.

Some of the examples cited by Levitt and Dubner are widely known such as one about the awesome web purveyor of shoes and fashion, Zappos. Zappos is willing to pay employees to quit if they aren’t on board with the company’s mission of providing outstanding customer service. Although this practice has been referenced elsewhere, Levitt and Dubner give it their own spin.

The most surprising chapter is the last – The Upside of Quitting. It may be worth the price of the book. Readers will have to be the judge of that. No, you won’t find a spoiler here!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Connection

What the Dog Saw and other adventures by Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books; $16.99; 410 pages)

Learning is so much fun when Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) is the instructor.   Gladwell’s calm but engaging style is the common thread in this anthology composed of nineteen essays previously published in the New Yorker magazine.   There is just enough cohesion among the essays to  make for smooth transitions.   Yes, Gladwell cites some facts and studies used by other authors; however, his use of the material takes on a new look when seen through his question and answer format.

This reviewer was fascinated by the piece titled, “The Ketchup Conundrum.”   The reader is presented with the statements, “Mustard now comes in dozens of varieties.   Why has ketchup stayed the same?”   This is a condiment that dominates most others, whether it’s in a booth at a burger joint or on a family’s kitchen table.   One brand in particular rises above the rest in taste tests, and that’s Heinz.   Gladwell provides a charming history of ketchup along with the various challenges that have been made to the Heinz dominance of the field.   After reading the essay, I felt compelled to buy a bottle of Heinz for my own taste test.   Mind you, our household is rarely the scene of actual cooking so I had to be creative in using my purchase.   Happily, the flavor of Heinz blends perfectly with cottage cheese resulting in a pseudo-macaroni and cheese flavor without the carbs.

The preceding example is indicative of the connections that can be made to the everyday life of the reader.   This anthology is by no means a heavy-duty literary work; rather, it prompts conversations with family and friends.   Isn’t that what knowledge does?

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the book was purchased for her.

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False Profits

Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff by Erin Arvedlund (Penguin Group; $16.00; 336 pages)

In this book, financial journalist and first-time author Erin Arvedlund systematically maps out the intricate network of relationships within the Bernard Madoff investment fiasco.   Arvedlund expended a considerable amount of time and energy in developing this book.   She realized that Madoff was full of double talk and could not be delivering the consistent returns to his investors that they thought they were earning when she interviewed him for Barron’s magazine in 2001.   The interview resulted in an article entitled, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   In response to Arvedlund’s questions, Madoff was typically evasive; he was off-putting when she asked him how his system for investing worked.

The fact that an immense Ponzi scheme was carried out by Madoff through his near-secret advisory activities escaped all but a few of the most Wall Street-savvy auditors.   This secrecy was coupled with the attitudes of his elitist-minded millionaires – there were enough greedy and willing people to feed the pyramid and maintain its immense demand for money over several years – and how many is anyone’s guess.

This reader sends kudos to Arvedlund for her calm, balanced and well-written narrative.   It delivers facts, figures and helpful insight.   Well recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.   Note:  This trade paperback version contains a new chapter that updates events since the date of the original hardcover release.

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Carry That Weight

Now, Build A Great Business:  7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in Any Market by Mark Thompson and Brian Tracy (Amacom; $24.95; 256 pages)

I read a lot of business books.   I read business books on how to love your customers, how to hire and fire, how to think big, how to narrow your focus, how to be more creative and yet more disciplined.   Such in-depth attention to select issues is incredibly useful to business practitioners who know just what they should focus their attention on.   But for new or growing business owners, a more holistic treatment to the business of doing business is needed, and that is what Mark Thompson and Brian Tracy’s new book, Now, Build a Great Business provides.

The front flap on Now, Build a Great Business pronounces:  “You’ll find no theory here – just practical steps you can take immediately, with simple explanations of exactly how to measure how well you’re doing at each step along the way.”   For some, this approach may seem rote, but the authors, absolute business gurus, make the material fresh and memorable.

And being memorable is important.   None of us have the time to reference back to books we’ve read in the past, so we need any mnemonic devices to remember some of this key advice in times of need.   Thompson and Tracy make complex and subjective concepts structured and linear.

To be a good leader, they suggest that you remind yourself of three key Ps:  Purpose.   Passion.   Performance.   When hiring, follow their Law of Three:  Always interview at least three people for a position; Interview the candidate you like in three different places; Have the candidate interviewed by at least three different people.

Stocking their book with stories and brief anecdotes about other companies’ successes, failures, decisions and risk-taking, the authors enable you to assess your own company and mindset – all with the goal of devising a plan with measurable goals.   In one of the most simple and useful sections of the book, the authors offer “a very simple sample set of thirty-three measures to inspire or provoke you to create your own dashboard for your business.”

After reading each chapter, you’ll be given a worksheet where you can reflect on your own personal experiences by way of the terminology and wisdom given.   I particularly love the last question on the worksheet, “What one action are you going to take immediately?”   Now, Build a Great Business is oriented toward action and will help you be too.

Recommended.

This review was written by Jack Covert.   To see the original version, go to: 

http://blog.800ceoread.com/2010/12/10/jack-covert-selects-now-build-a-great-business/

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When the Music’s Over

A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence G. McDonald with Patrick Robinson (Crown Business Reprint Edition; $16.00; 368 pages)

A Colossal Failure of Common Sense describes a CEO acting as if his firm was too big to fail…  One might be tempted to think that Lehman’s bankruptcy was too mild a punishment for the firm’s management.”   James Freeman, The Wall Street Journal 

The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers is now 2 years behind us.   It was the largest bankruptcy in history and the first in a series of banking and financial institutional failures linked to the housing bust.   It marked a low point in the chronology of Wall Street.   Former Lehman vice president of trading, Lawrence McDonald, and a veteran professional writer, Patrick Robinson, have painstakingly detailed the intellect, honesty and caring at the heart of the Lehman trading groups that tried valiantly to warn upper management of the impending doom.

This one hundred and fifty-eight-year-old institution was leveled by a small clique of men at its very top who lacked the restraint and manners that were the key to traditional corporate culture at Lehman.   The arrogance, greed, weak egos and excesses (think of TV’s Dynasty) are similar to the unfortunate behaviors exhibited by members of any and all cliques.

We view the action from McDonald’s perspective starting with his early yearning to work at a major player on the Street.   If you think every aspect of the real estate bubble and bust has been examined and reported on, think again.   This hefty book is written from an insider’s perspective.   Credit is given to whomever it is due at both ends of the spectrum of good and evil.  

The reader can feel the suspense building as the story continues to develop.   This book became a true page-turner prior to its end, even though its conclusion had already been written.   Recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Less Really is More

Street Fighters by Kate Kelly (Portfolio, 245 pages)

On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System by Henry M. (Hank) Paulson, Jr. (Business Plus, 496 pages)

“Bear Sterns, as it turned out, was only the first in a long string of financial firms to suffer mortal harm.  …By September 2008, just six months after Bear’s sale to J. P. Morgan, the investment banking industry had effectively ceased to exist.”   Kate Kelly

Kate Kelly’s book, subtitled The Last 72 Hours of Bear Sterns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street, proves once again that less can be more.   This is a riveting, fly on the wall, account of the rapid demise of the once-powerful Bear Sterns investment firm.   Sterns was Wall Street’s fifth-largest investment bank with a market value of $25 billion dollars – with a “b.”   It was virtually given to J. P. Morgan for the fire sale price of $236 million – with an “m.”

Kelly’s book, an expansion of a three-part series of articles that she wrote for The Wall Street Journal, tells us how this all came to pass in less than half a week in March of 2008.   These were mad-crazy times, the beginning of this country’s fiscal implosion and she covers it in a manner that brings to mind Robert (Bob) Woodward’s reporting.   As with Woodward, Kelly interviewed hundreds of individuals who were present at the meetings and events described here and quoted them without attribution.   But in some instances the reader can clearly tell who the source was, as in cases where an underling criticizes a supervisor.   However, Kelly’s style is smoother and less choppy than Woodward’s first drafts of history.

Street Fighters has 229 pages of actual content and it appears to be just right.   The typical reader will finish the true tale thinking that everything essential was told and little was left out.   There’s both a new preface and a prologue to the trade paperback edition for those who don’t choose to supplement the account with Google searches.

That the length appears to be just right is not something that can be said of On the Brink, the loveable Hank Paulson’s 496 page account of the U.S. and the world’s financial meltdown.   If the mention of 500 pages doesn’t make the point, consider that it takes 13 full CDs to contain the unabridged audiobook version.   Apparently no editors were employed to deliver this effort.

What’s mind-boggling, and often frustrating, about Paulson’s account is that he appears to cover every meeting, every phone call, every thought over a period of weeks and months with dozens of important figures.   Yet he tells the reader that he does not maintain briefing papers, nor ask his staff members to do so, and does not keep records (including e-mails) other than phone call and meeting logs.   From this, he’s recreated virtually everything that happened from an apparently perfect memory – or could it be that recordings were used?   It doesn’t really matter.   It’s just that there is so much detail that this reviewer was worn out less than a third of the way through.

There are also some contradictions apparent in Paulson’s telling.   He gives us several of his seemingly expert opinions about the financial events of the last two years before reminding us that, “I’m not an economist.”   This has the same effect as someone writing about brain surgery and then stating, “I am not a physician.”   He also tells us that he’s not a sentimental person, but he writes of the often-criticized Tim Geithner like a father writing about his favorite son.   One half expects to read that Geithner solved the financial crisis by walking on water.

For those looking for an explanation as to why the U.S. government saved or bailed out some companies but not others, the explanation is not here.   Why did the government ensure that Morgan purchased Bear while permitting Lehman Brothers to fail?   All that can be said is that Paulson provides a few non-explanatory explanations.   In the end they just do not add up.

And lastly, as Bob Seger might have warned, what to leave out is just as important as what to leave in.   Kate Kelly in her nonfiction account nailed it.   Paulson was not even close.

Take Away:  Street Fighters is highly recommended.  

A copy of Street Fighters was purchased by the reviewer.   A copy of On the Brink was provided by the publisher.

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Hungry Heart

This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness by C. Clinton Sidle (Larson Publications)

C. Clinton Sidle is a recognized expert in consulting, leadership training, and human potential development.   This Hungry Spirit is a departure from his previously published works that focused on strategic planning and achieving personal and organizational greatness.   Instead, Sidle uses his personal journey through difficult times as the structure for sharing the skills needed to make it past the rough spots we all face.   (The original subtitle of this book was Seeking Happiness in the Heart of Discontent.)

This book is well-organized.   There are exercises within each chapter designed to engage the reader and bring to life the concepts being taught.   Key phrases, pearls of wisdom, are highlighted in sidebars that accompany the text.   Sidle draws from a wide variety of resources to make his pitch for mindfulness and introspection.   His approach seems best suited to a reader who has not yet explored the concepts of meditation, keeping a journal and opening one’s heart.

It’s easy to picture the author leading workshops and drumming up enthusiasm for the topic at hand.   He conveys a sense of importance and necessity when describing the steps that can lead the reader to a calmer, more fulfilling, life.   However, Sidle’s writing is a bit labored.   This reviewer sensed that he would rather conduct an interactive workshop than be restricted to mere words on a page.   His message is bold and somewhat aggressive.   The feeding of the hungry spirit becomes a mission with goals and objectives, not unlike the leadership skills and human potential topics he is known for in business and military circles.

A counterpoint to This Hungry Spirit can be found in The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.   Many of the concepts are quite similar; however, the tone and mood created in The Power of Now is highly suggestive rather than direct and blunt as is the case with This Hungry Spirit.   It will fall to the reader to decide which approach is likely to be the most effective for his/her personal needs.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME).

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