As a Part-Time CFO, What Was Your Favorite Book in 2017

A CFO’s Favorite Books in 2017

Every year, I say I’m going to quit reading business books. Well, this CFO failed again miserably.

I read 41 books and listened to another 47 bringing me to 88 total books, a bit far from my goal of 100 every year.

Interested in seeing my partial list of favorite books from the prior year? I’ll want to know your favorites too.

My Favorite Book in 2017

I rarely give other authors or CEOs too much credit. That’s because I watch too many peers fall into idol worship. So I do everything I can to protect myself from authority bias, the tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure.

In spite of this deeply-held conviction, Alan Mulally is now officially my favorite CEO, although he is retired.

Mulally not only experienced turnaround success at Boeing but at Ford too. What I don’t understand is that this guy appears to be under the radar in some circles and possibly one of the most underrated CEOs based on discussions I’ve had with other business owners. Each time I bring him up, I generally get, “Who’s that?” Or is that because Columbia, Missouri is a hick town after all?

I learned about my new business hero by reading and listening to American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company. I also listened to the book a second time during the second half of 2017.

My favorite trait of any high-performing CEO is humility, and you can catch a glimpse of it in his interview with Jay Leno who also read the book.

I became so enamored with Mulally that I read Working Together by James P. Lewis. Mulally wrote the forward to this out-of-print book and it comes the closest to outlining Mulally’s Business Process Review (BPR) based around working together as a holistic team.

I still wasn’t finished. I still wanted to learn more. Mulally was a historian, and he cared about the Ford legacy along with the origins of the Detroit automaker. Like Mulally, I needed more. So I also devoured the book the Whiz Kids by John Byrne who obtained his journalism degree in my own backyard, the University of Missouri.

I still wasn’t done with learning about Ford. I also read My Forty Years with Ford. I admire Henry Ford for what he accomplished, but I cannot say that I respect him as a person. I’ll let you make that decision, but his was a life of tragedy and sadness although he probably never saw it that way.

Business Biographies

You already know my favorite book from 2017. A close second is Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower by Cynthia Cooper. I could not put it down. Every CFO should read it. Every CEO should read it. Board members, CPA firms, heck, everyone should read it. Special thanks to Bruce Reed, the CFO of PracticeLink, for suggesting this title.

From Worst to First by Gordon Bethune was the second book I read in 2017. I couldn’t put it down either. Every consultant should read this book. I’ll be talking about this book in a future post.

We are Market Basket had a feel-good component to it, but it was also disturbing to see a family business implode due to more-than-petty differences. Great book if you want to see core values in action. I’ve already given away a couple copies of it. This is a title I’ll revisit in the future.

I finally got around to listening to Good Profit by Charles Koch. This should be on every CEO’s reading list.

The Lords of Strategy by Walter Kiechel reads more like history in the first half, so I’m inserting it here. I’m lukewarm with my opinion on this title. It’s not a how-to book. However, if you find yourself in the strategy and planning room, this book will give you a broader perspective about strategy.

On Writing

I understand the writing process enough to know I’m not that great at it. Still, I enjoy reading about the art and science of writing. Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes was funny, witty, and insightful. You’ll find tons of highlights on my Kindle for this title.

A couple years ago, I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63: A Novel–I couldn’t put it down. Accordingly, I’m now a fan of King’s masterpiece On Writing. This was my third listen, and I’ll keep listening to it annually.

Small Business Growth

I’m tired of reading E-Myth-like books on small business growth. Are you?

I still force myself to either read or re-read certain titles so that I can figure out what books to give away to prospects or audience members at live events. Here are a couple more to add to your growing list in this worn-out genre:

I had already read the Blakeman book, but I wanted to read it again to see how much it aligned with Finkel’s book. Lots of overlap.

Other Books

Have you ever read a book that you know you’ll pick up again? That’s the case with William Cohen’s A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management Teacher. This is now the third Cohen book I’ve read because I also read Druker on Marketing–it’s a shame that most marketers will never pick this up. Finally, I read his book The Art of the Strategist too, another book I’ll re-read.

I don’t think I ever finished Talent is Overrated when it came out. I was not disappointed when I read it in 2017.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart. I read it and listened to it too. It’s a book I revisit annually. Every consultant should read this. While you’re at it, read The Halo Effect too.

Principles by Ray Dalio. Is this the best book written in 2017 that nobody read or didn’t finish? Well, I finished it but it took like forever to do so. Good book. I’ll wait a year to determine if it’s a great book. My only qualm is that it’s too long. If you are a CEO or a senior leadership team member, you at least need to read the first few chapters.

I have no earthly idea how I found Steal Like an Artist. All of us are in the creativity business. Read it.

Revisiting the Past

Last year, I made the decision to start reading some of my favorite books from the 1990s. One of those books was Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future by Joel Barker. Wow, that guy was ahead of his time. I was not disappointed with my second reading. Additionally, I’m thankful that both Joel and Mr. Byrne mentioned above accepted my connection requests on LinkedIn.

Sports

I limit myself to one sports book a year, so I’m very picky. If you like this genre, then you will find Dinner with DiMaggio a big hit (sorry for the pun, and I’ll say it 56 more times).

I broke my rule and squeezed in a second sports-related book. I dare you to read or listen to Unscripted by Ernie Johnson without being moved.

Cal Newport

Since I really like this guy’s blog writing and his books, he gets his own category. For both titles, this was my second time around. I’m trying to think who shouldn’t read these books. I’m drawing a blank. Here are the two titles that will not disappoint:

The second book above led me to another decent title–Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

History

I love reading history, but this genre typically includes books that are 500 or more pages. The Whiz Kids mentioned above was longer.

Since I only listened to one book in this category, I have about 3 cued up in my Audible collection that I’ll listen to in early 2018.

Not counting The Whiz Kids, my lone title in history was Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War. Do I recommend it? Every Aussie should know this man, a hero during the First World War. Like so many great men and women we read about from the past, he came from humble beginnings, was driven, and had a way of drawing out the best in other people. Yet, he was a flawed hero. If I ever visit Australia, I want to learn more about him.

Fiction

Remember what I wrote about earlier wanting to quit reading business books? That means reading more fiction and classic literature. I have a long way to go. But I did get a few titles completed:

  • Earlier in the year, I asked my kids about their favorite books when they were young. All of them mentioned The Phantom Tollbooth. Am I officially the only CFO to have read this book? We’ll see. In 2018, I’ll be reading A Wrinkle in Time.
  • Before We Were Yours was another book that was hard to put down. I gave copies to my wife and daughter. Be prepared to experience a mix of emotions ranging from sadness to anger.
  • Bonfire of the Vanities was my first Tom Wolfe book. Loved it. I had heard about the movie and never watched it when it came out. If you like and appreciate good storytelling, Wolfe created a timeless gem.
  • A Man Called Ove was hilarious. I’ve already given copies of this away. Two of my kids loved it.

Ending the Year on a Good Note

The last book I listened to deserves honorable mention. Sarah of E-Myth, move over. Michael Gerber would have made millions consulting the founder of CD Baby, Derek Sivers.

The author tells how he started and then almost crashed his growing business more than once in the fun read, Anything You Want. The audio version is only 90 minutes roughly.

Now It’s Your Turn

I limited my 2017 titles above to the ones I liked the most.

How about you? What did you like? I’m always looking for a good read.

Title Photo Attribution: Jilbert Ebrahimi

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