MEMOS FROM THE CHAIRMAN, by Alan C. Greenberg (Workman Publishing, 156 pp., $14.95). It might sound boring: A collection of in-house memos, unadorned by pictures or explanation. But "Ace" Greenberg is not your typical memo writer.
The chief executive of Bear, Stearns & Co. since 1978, Greenberg keeps the investment house on its toes with terse, often humorous missives that cut straight to common-sense points.
The memos show Greenberg in the process of fostering a corporate culture that many outsiders have come to admire - where financial success is rewarded but so is being honest, and even whistle-blowing on potential misdeeds by colleagues or superiors. "Absolution can be granted for losing money but never for lying about it," Greenberg writes.
The one-page topics include simple things like answering telephones, not throwing away paper clips, not bad-mouthing competitors, and letting people know where you can be reached if you leave the office. More broadly, they commend sticking to the basics during hard times, staying humble in good times, and focusing on customers.
Greenberg enlists the help of that "dean of business philosophers," Haimchinkel Malintz Anaynikal (a man unheard of outside these memos), to make the book a fun read and avoid a preachy tone. The sage's reminders, which Greenberg passes along second-hand, include: "Thou will do well in commerce as long as thou does not believe thine own odor is perfume."
Also enjoyable are the book's jabs at management trends and fads that, even when they have merit, often deserve a little ribbing.
In one memo, Greenberg announces the creation of a "backward planning" committee. (Why? "Just examine the records of those companies that have had personnel devoted to strategic or forward planning....")