leadership

Nine business books you should read today

Eloise Keating /

Verne Harnish business books

Verne Harnish's 'Mastering the Rockefeller Habits' is recommended reading for business leaders.

Thousands of new business books are published each month, but how do you know which ones are worth your hard-earned cash?

SmartCompany asked a panel of entrepreneurs and chief executives about the best business books they’ve read and why they would recommend them to other business owners.

Here’s our list of nine business books you need to bury your head in today.

1. The E Myth by Michael Gerber (HarperCollins)

Michael Gerber’s bestselling manual for entrepreneurs and small business owners was recommended by numerous members of our panel.

Penny Spencer, managing director of Spencer Travel, says The E Myth was essential in the early stages of her $50 million business.

“It taught me how to delegate and look beyond just doing what I was good at and learn more about everything,” says Spencer.

The E Myth also comes highly recommended by Tammy May, founder and director of MyBudget, and Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels, who told SmartCompany it can easily be knocked over in a day.

“A classic but a great book for any SME owner feeling like they don’t know how to grow,” says Gamble.

Sheree Sullivan, chief executive of South Australian cheesemaker Udder Delights, also speaks highly of The E Myth, which she read around 13 years ago.

“It really helped to get my mind, and therefore my vision, in the right place to build a business that worked for me, and not a job that I worked for,” Sullivan told SmartCompany.

“I learned to draw an organisational chart of what I wanted the business to eventually look like, with very brief job titles and descriptions in each box, and the name of the person in the business who worked in that role,” says Sullivan.

“Initially, my name was in almost all of the boxes. As we grew I was able to find an employee to work in one of the boxes, then another, then my name began to be removed from some of the roles. We still work to this concept, and are in the process of taking our names out of all the ‘compliance’ boxes.”

2. Good to Great by Jim Collins (Random House)

Don Grover has a wealth of experience in the Australian retail industry, having spent 27 years at David Jones and heading up bookselling chain Dymocks for nine years. He is currently chief executive of clothing and shoe retailer Fusion Retail Group.

“I have still not found a book so inspiring for the competent owner of manager than Jim Collins’ Good to Great,” Grover told SmartCompany.

Colin Kuchel, founder and director of Australian Outdoor Living, also speaks highly of Collins’ book, which he told SmartCompany is “possibly the book that has had the single biggest impact on me and Australian Outdoor Living”.

Kuchel says one of the key takeaway points from Good to Great is to “get the right people on the bus”.

“Don’t write the business plan and then put on the people, but put the ‘truly good’ people on the bus and the plan will write itself,” says Kuchel.

3. Leadership by Rudolph Giuliani (Little, Brown)

While not strictly a business book, Spencer says this book by the former mayor of New York was “very powerful” while she was growing her business and it’s a book she still refers to.

In this book, Giuliani explains how rules of management allowed him to gain some control over the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“It taught me how to lead in many different scenarios,” says Spencer. “Reading how Giuliani led the city of New York during and after September 11 was so inspirational.”

4. The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni (Wiley)

Kylie Bishop is the chief executive of LBW Environmental Projects, a new company recently formed by the merger of the company she founded with her husband, LBW Environment, and another South Australian business Environmental Projects.

An avid reader, Bishop says Lencioni’s book is currently on top of her reading pile as she takes on the management of a much larger team.

“As I bring 20 people together in a recent merger, I am acutely aware of the responsibilities of my role as an owner and the chief executive,” says Bishop.

“Like a session with a great mentor, this book confirmed what I do well and reminded me that there are things that I could be doing better in relation to the health of my company,” she says.

“This practical book describes four simple disciplines that will continue to give my business an advantage and reinforced my determination to build a cohesive leadership team that communicates clarity around its ‘why’ with non-bureaucratic people systems.”

“For any business owner with a desire to lead a business that is both smart and healthy, this book is a must read,” says Bishop.

5. Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson (Ebury Press)

Many business owners will already be familiar with the story of the charismatic founder of the Virgin brand, but Spencer says Branson’s business manual helped her enormously once her business was well-established.

Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson was perfect when I was entering 10 years in business,” says Spencer.

“I loved his honesty about his failures which made me feel if he could fail in some areas of business, I’m not doing too bad,” she says. “Also, he wrote a lot about mentoring in this book which inspired me to start TIME Travel Industry Mentor Experience.”

6. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Penguin)

Mat Jacobson, founder of Australian-based online education provider Ducere Centre of Management, recommends this book on decision-making by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman.

“Although not technically a business book, Kahneman is the leading authority on decision-making and how we analyse and process opportunities,” Jacobson told SmartCompany.

“We like to assume we are always rational and objective thinkers, however, our biases play a much more significant role than we anticipate,” says Jacobson.

“Understanding how to make better decisions is relevant to every aspect of one’s business.”

7. Maximise Your Potential, edited by Jocelyn K Glei (Brilliance Publishing)

The book Simon Westcott, owner of LUXE City Guides, recommends to fellow business owners is Maximise Your Potential – a collection of writing about building expertise and taking risks.

Westcott, who is also the co-founder and chairman of boutique travel company Mr & Mrs Smith and a former global publisher of Lonely Planet, told SmartCompany this book “epitomises the new spirit of connectedness and collaboration in business”.

“It has interesting practical advice about recording and analysing successes and failures,” says Westcott. “And it’s a timely reminder about working to your passion and finding ‘flow’.”

8. Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish (Select Books)

Harnish’s book is another favourite of both Tammy May and Michelle Gamble, who both say it is essential reading for a growing business.

And like The E Myth, Gamble says this book is also full of practical tips, advice and real business examples, and can be read quickly.

“A book that dissects the habits of high growth businesses with some great planning tools included,” says Gamble.

9. The Success System That Never Fails by William Clement Stone (HarperCollins)

At 17, one of the first business books Colin Kuchel ever bought was Stone’s manual on success.

“Stone summarised each chapter of this book with a page or so of bullet points of ‘Little Hinges That Swing Big Doors’,” says Kuchel.

“I have always used this term and focused on the smaller things. If we carry out all the (so-called) minor things to the nth degree, the bigger results will inevitably come to pass,” he says.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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