September 19, 2005

News & Opinion: FT Financial Editor Andrew Hill on New Biz Book Award from FT/Goldman Sachs

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 4:39 PM – Filed under: Publishing Industry

Tomorrow the finalists of the first annual Goldman Sachs Financial Times business book of the year award will be announced, with the winner to be made known to the world on November 21 in what is promised to be a "gala ceremony." FT Financial Times financial editor Andrew Hill recently took some of his time to answer a few questions from us about the contest. Q: Can you share a few details on the contest itself, such as how many entries you1ve received for this award, as well as any other important bits? A: The contest attracted a great deal of interest--as the only one of its kind in the world and with a first prize of 30,000 that was probably inevitable--but of course the 150 or so titles that were submitted by publishers represented only a fraction of the eligible titles published in the 12 months since last October. My colleagues and I worked hard to make sure that the confidential long list of books that were considered by the judges included works from across the spectrum of business books. The aim of the prize is to find "the most compelling and enjoyable book on business issues", and that overall criterion was intentionally broad. In the end, we selected 17 books for the long list--from hard-bitten investigative journalism about recent corporate scandals to lofty analyses of globalisation, as well as a few books on management strategy. In some cases, the judges had to "call in" books that had not been formally submitted but seemed to be worth reviewing. I was surprised that some obvious candidates were not submitted--and that some titles that would probably never have met the criteria found their way into our in-tray. Once the industry hears the buzz created by the inaugural award, I think publishers will pursue a much more targeted approach in 2006. Q: In the States today business books don't get much "respek," to quote Ali G. The number of publications that reviews business books is in steep decline (and even some business weeklies prefer to review non-business titles), smart writers like Barbara Ehrenreich bash the genre in the pages of the New York Times, and you would be hard-pressed to find many booksellers "hand-selling" the new Jim Collins. So what gives? Should the genre get more respect? Do few titles set the bar high enough? Will people start to confuse this new award with the Booker? A: One of the aims of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book Award is to encourage authors and publishers to sharpen their act. I don't think we will ever have difficulty finding 20 or 30 titles for a long list of the best business books, but it would be great to have 100 to choose from. Most of us are "in business" in one form or another and all of us are affected by the successes and failures of business, finance and industry, so it surprises me that the genre is losing ground. I was interested to see in a recent browse through American and British book stores that our shortlisted titles were found in more than one "genre" (from current affairs, to economics and even politics), so perhaps the tag "business book" is doing a disservice to some very powerful works that have a broader importance. As for confusion with the Man Booker prize--that seems unlikely. We are global and the original Man Booker seeks the best works from the UK, Commonwealth and Ireland; we are after the best business books, broadly defined, they are looking for fiction. That said, I was a little disappointed that publishers didn't submit any strong business novels this year. After all, we are looking for the most compelling and ENJOYABLE title about business--who's to say that in some years (Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full springs to mind), a work of fiction couldn't make the shortlist? Q: Part of the basis for the past question is a belief that business books have indeed gotten better over the past 5-10 years--that there is a greater selection of books, that the good ones are of higher quality, and that many ambitious books strive to do more than simply provide a list of tips and tools. They help you, to paraphrase Jack Covert, to see the world differently. Would you agree or disagree with this, and why? And if so, how does this tie into the launch of the contest? A: I think you're right that business books have got better in the past decade. But they also seem to have multiplied and, at the fringes, there are some very poor books. My colleague Mike Skapinker has described them as books by "get-rich-quick tipsters, motivational preachers and one-minute-solution merchants". Alas, busy people such as the FT's readers and Goldman Sachs' clients, don't have much time to filter out the poor ones. As a result they may end up rejecting the whole genre. This prize aims to help do the filtering for them. Q: The award is designed to recognize books "that quickly become a must read for anyone whos serious about business." What are some classic business books that would fall into this category? And what makes a business book a "must-read"? A: A personal selection would include Roger Lowenstein's When Genius Failed, on the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management, the hedge fund, and, more recently, Jim Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, although it is perhaps too soon to call either a classic. Liar's Poker, though flawed, remains a fantastic read. Some of the benchmarks cited by the judges as they were assessing the long list included The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Jim Collins' Good to Great and Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma. We're running a discussion at in which readers are invited to suggest their favorite business book of all time--it's throwing up some interesting suggestions. Q: What are your hopes for this award? The reward is certainly rich, and will motivate authors to compete. Do you believe it will raise awareness of business books and ideas in general? A: As outlined above, we're hoping it will motivate authors to raise their game. I think the publicity around the award will also encourage book stores to push the worthy finalists' books a little more aggressively--if that means that people who would normally shun a "business book" take a second look, then it can only be good news for us and for everyone involved in that area of publishing.