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Rise and fall of entrepreneurs

Published on Friday, 10 Sep 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: How They Blew It
Authors: Jamie Oliver and Tony Goodwin
Publisher: Kogan Page

For anyone who recoils at the prospect of yet more words of wisdom from Jack Welch, or the latest paean to Warren Buffett and his investment advice, How They Blew It by Jamie Oliver and Tony Goodwin offers a lively and instructive alternative.

Adopting the principle that there is as much to learn from other people's mistakes, as from the usual celebrations of success, the authors line up a modern who's who of executives and entrepreneurs with one thing in common - after hitting the heights, it all went spectacularly wrong.

Presented as 16 case studies detailing the background, rise, fall, and presumed motivations of these individuals, the roll call includes Bernard Ebbers, once of WorldCom and now inmate #56022-054 of the Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution in Louisiana, where he has time to ponder which part of "God's plan" led to US$3.85 billion in accounting misstatements.

And there is Richard Fuld, who admitted to feeling "horrible about what happened" to Lehman Brothers. His personal fortune came largely from the repackaging of dodgy mortgages, which came to light with the firm's 2008 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with debts of US$613 billion.

Journalist Oliver and businessman Goodwin cast their net beyond corporate America to illustrate the fine lines that divide fortune and failure, entrepreneur and con man, self-belief and delusion. They tell how Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky found it doesn't pay to get on the wrong side of Vladimir Putin; why Zhou Zhengyi's luck ran out in Shanghai's property market; and how Icelander Jon Asgeir Johannesson managed to bankrupt his country. For the reader, there are sound lessons and morals to be drawn from each story. These range from don't neglect the details to don't believe your own public relations, and don't mix business with politics. The authors incline towards analysis and explanation of the mindset of an entrepreneur, speculating about what spurs the ambition for wealth, achievement or a lasting legacy. They speculate on why people forget what got them to the top or feel compelled to over-reach with one more deal or a poorly planned venture in unfamiliar territory.

In most cases, though, the questions they should really be asking is how did these people get away with it for so long, and where were the auditors, regulators, and straight-thinking non-believers who should have been saying that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.


How to turn good ideas into hard cash

Title The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge

Authors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble

Publisher Harvard Business Press

Category Business 

Many companies make much of their focus on creativity and the search for innovations to transform their sector, but they repeatedly fall short when it comes to converting viable ideas into revenue-generating products, services or operational enhancements. But, of course, without good execution, all the ideas ultimately amount to nothing.

Using examples from companies such as BMW and Timberland, this book, released on September 2, explains the key steps for progressing from innovation to actual results. 

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