Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes by Sydney Finkelstein
, Portfolio, 318 Pages, $26.95 Hardcover, June 2003, ISBN 1591840104
When we hear of a giant business failure, we think the executives must have been stupid, didnt know what was coming, didnt try hard enough, had bad leadership skills, or were just plain crooks. Finkelstein, a professor at Dartmouths Tuck School of Business, says that most of the time, none of the above are the reasons behind the disaster. In fact, CEOs are very smart and usually top experts in their fieldsotherwise they couldnt have become CEOs in the first place, right? So, this leaves an incongruity. Why do companies with skilled executives fail? Finkelstein has conducted one of the largest (if not the largest) studies on why businesses break down, and supplied answers for us in this new book.
The book is broken down into three parts, the first of which gives detailed accounts of how different companies failed in four different areas or stages: new business ventures, change initiatives, mergers, and strategic planning. After each example, the author points out what the executives mistakes were, what circumstances affected them, and what they maybe could have done differently. I really enjoyed reading about Webvan, Saatchi & Saatchi, and the Red Sox. In the second part, Finkelstein gives four reasons for executive failure like fulfilling the wrong vision, refusing to look at or accept reality, failing to act when necessary, and having bad habits or personality traits. The last part of the book shows us how we can learn from the mistakes of the CEOs in the book so hopefully we wont end up as a sample case in the revised edition!
I liked this book for its far-reaching range of businesses and personalities. Also, the author doesnt spend way too much time on any one examplehe gets straight to the point. I think Why Smart Executives Fail is an important book, especially in the context of the latest news involving Martha Stewart.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.