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....")
-- Mark Trumbull
ESCAPE TO THE FUTURES, by Leo Melamed, with Bob Tamarkin (John Wiley & Sons, 463 pp., $27.95). Melamed and financial writer Tamarkin have really written two books. Part 1 is a "rags-to-riches" saga about Leo Melamdovich (Melamed), a child immigrant of Polish-Jewish background arriving in the United States with his parents after fleeing the Nazis. His journey to Lithuania, on through the Soviet Union and to Japan before arriving at Seattle in April 1941, is harrowing and inspiring. From the Northwest, Melamdovich traveled on to New York and then, finally, his most important destination, Chicago. His saga is a poignant reminder of the favorable impact immigrants can have in reshaping the very fabric of the Republic.
The other story, in Parts 2 to 4, is about Melamed, now Americanized and a college graduate clutching a law degree, starting out as a commodities trader, and eventually rising to head the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Melamed turned the exchange into one of the world's leading institutions for "financial futures" - the exotic world of risk management based on buying and selling contracts that fix a future price for commodities.
Melamed's book is not for all. Parts 2 to 4 are for specialists. But check the book out of the library and read just Part 1. Value the family photographs: the young couple in love, the '65 Corvette, the children of the next generation. Part 1 is about America and the Fourth of July and the meaning of liberty. Keep out immigrants? Hah! Bright folks like Leo Melamed and his family couldn't be kept out if everyone tried.
-- Guy Halverson
THE AGE OF HERETICS: HEROES, OUTLAWS, AND THE FORERUNNERS OF CORPORATE CHANGE, by Art Kleiner (Doubleday, 414 pp., $29.95). Most Americans may associate the 1960s with political and social issues like civil rights and Vietnam. This book is about events in business in that era (plus or minus a decade) that, while not nearly as momentous, are noteworthy in their own right.
Kleiner tells of little-known people who were busy trying to put a more human face on corporate America, which he argues had evolved into a numbers-driven endeavor that often thwarted its own progress.
The radicals in this book aren't shaggy-haired hippies. Some are social psychologists, whose research finds that a leader's style can dramatically affect the character of people in a group. Others are plant managers making laundry detergent (Charles Krone at Procter & Gamble) or dog food (Lyman Ketchum and Ed Dulworth at General Foods). Far from corporate headquarters, these men find that by giving workers a large role, in self-managing teams, productivity and innovation shoot upward.
Their success wins some fans, but does not spread universally because it bucks deep-rooted traditions, Kleiner concludes. These were modern-day "heretics," similar to medieval heretics trying to convince their church to change from within.
Kleiner paints the Harvard Business School and the McKinsey consulting firm as the villains, enforcing a stultifying "rule by numbers" approach to business.
If you're interested in the history of management, this book will pull you in. It traces milestones from New York State's introduction of blanket corporate charters in 1811 to Frederick Taylor's scientific management (around 1900) to Tom Peters 1982 book "In Search of Excellence" (in which heretical ideas become vogue). Kleiner is working on a sequel.
-- Mark Trumbull