This is a collection of books that we routinely recommend to friends, colleagues, and the executives of our portfolio companies.
Everything is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer – Duncan Watts
Drawing on the latest scientific research, along with a wealth of historical and contemporary examples, Watts shows how common sense reasoning and history conspire to mislead us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do; and in turn, why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems so often go awry.
Into Thin Air – John Krakauer The personal account of a deadly disaster at Mt. Everest in which experts who knew better still made tragically wrong decisions. There are some valuable lessons to be learned here about the perils of making decisions under pressure without adequate reflection on the possible outcomes.
The Goal – Eliyahu Goldratt
This gripping novel – featuring a harried plant manager working ever more desperately to save his plant and his marriage – is more than compulsive reading. It contains a serious message for all managers in industry and explains the ideas which underline the Theory of Constraints (TOC) developed by Eli Goldratt. This book is a staple of many MBA programs and is as relevant today as ever. It is also a great primer on the basics of manufacturing.
The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
Little changes can have big effects. When small numbers of people start behaving differently, that behavior can ripple outward until a critical mass is reached. Ideas, products, messages and behaviors “spread just like viruses do.” Great entrepreneurial companies experience one or more tipping points in their life cycles and think often about creative ways to bring them on.
Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
We can make better instant judgments by training our mind and senses to focus on the most relevant facts—and that less input (as long as it’s the right input) is better than more. This book relates directly to successful investing, since after all the hard analysis and due diligence is completed, the real decision comes down to a judgment “in the gut” that calls forth all the lessons learned over many years of investing.
Against the Gods – The Remarkable Story of Risk – Peter Bernstein
A comprehensive history of man’s efforts to understand risk and probability, beginning with early gamblers in ancient Greece, continuing through the 17th-century French mathematicians Pascal and Fermat and up to modern chaos theory. Along the way he demonstrates that understanding risk underlies everything from game theory to bridge-building to winemaking. A great read for entrepreneurs who have to think constantly about managing risk in their own businesses.
The Black Swan – Nassim Taleb
Examines the influence of highly improbable and unpredictable events that have massive impact. The problem is that we place too much weight on the odds that past events will repeat when most of the really big events are rare and unpredictable. Trying to extract general truths to explain them may be emotionally satisfying, but it’s practically useless. This book will make you think about risk differently, and it impacted BPV’s view of success and failure and the elements of chance that lead to both. In the end, it argues for humility when enjoying success and perspective when dealing with failure.
Talent is Overrated – Geoff Colvin
Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades. The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness. This book helps explain why, as investors, we have such a bias towards entrepreneurs who have both substantial domain expertise and years of experience building companies in their industry.
LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT
Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for and Answer – Michael Roberto
The key to making successful strategic business decisions lies in how you design the decision-making process itself. Entrepreneurs will benefit from Professor Roberto’s analysis regarding how leaders can best understand both the data and biases that underlie key decisions.
Know What You Don’t Know – Michael Roberto
Go beyond mere “problem solving” to uncover and address emerging problems while they’re still manageable–before they mushroom into disaster. Many of the surprises that distract and sometimes derail entrepreneurs can be avoided or dealt with early if they know how to look for them ahead of time.
Walk the Walk – Alan Deutschman
What happens in those unusual cases of true leaders – in business, education, the military, and nonprofits – who always “walked the walk”, especially when times got tough. We have seen time and again the value of entrepreneurs who roll up their sleeves and execute alongside their employees. The best companies have employees who will give their all to make the company successful, and the key to that kind of devotion is a leader who walks the walk.
Built to Last – Jim Collins
A central myth, according to the authors, is that visionary companies start with a great product and are pushed into the future by charismatic leaders. Much more important, is flexibility and an atmosphere in which bright people were not afraid to “try a lot of stuff and keep what works.” We like this book even more than “Good to Great”.
The Loyalty Effect – Fred Reicheld
Major companies replace half their customers in five years, half their employees in four and a half and their investors in less than one – but traditional accounting measures fail to capture the impact. Fascinating research and real world examples of the economic impact of holding on to your customers for the long run.
Execution – Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan
Disciplines like strategy, leadership development, and innovation are the sexier aspects of being at the helm of a successful business, but the ultimate difference between a company and its competitors is the ability to execute. The right strategy, the best product, creating “economic moats” – all of those matter. But the truth is most entrepreneurs succeed relative to their competition due to superior execution. This book is also a favorite of Tom James, the CEO of Raymond James and member of the BPV Advisory Board.
Who: The A Method for Hiring – Geoff Smart & Randy Street
Smart and Street, who have helped some of the top players in the private equity world recruit senior managers for their portfolio companies, have broadened the how-to-hire process from interviews to a 360-degree perspective on recruiting A players. The authors boil down their recommendations into a 4-step process, from scorecard and source to select and sell. Every entrepreneur would benefit from reading this book and understanding how to make superior hiring decisions, as the true cost of bad hiring decisions is even greater than you think.
Power Score: Your Formula for Leadership Success – Geoff Smart, Randy Street & Alan Foster
Data from 15,000 management interviews over twenty years indicate that successful leaders get three things right, which can when combined into a “Power Score” and compared with the best proven leaders in the authors’ ghSMART database. The formula is simple, but very few leaders operate at consistently high levels in all three area. This book describes how to continuously improve in each area and offers several helpful real world examples of how great leaders do it. Backed up by a lot of great data and research, the process can’t help but enhance leadership success if executed faithfully.
Reckless Endangerment – Gretchen Morgenson & Joshua Rosner
Morgenson and Rosner draw back the curtain on Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance giant that grew, with the support of the Clinton administration, through the 1990s, becoming a major opponent of government oversight even as it was benefiting from public subsidies. They expose the role played not only by Fannie Mae executives but also by enablers at Countrywide Financial, Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, HUD, Congress, the FDIC, and the biggest players on Wall Street, to show how greed, aggression, and fear led countless officials to ignore warning signs of an imminent disaster.
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression – A. Shlaes
This breezy narrative comes from the pen of a veteran journalist and economics reporter. “A fresh appraisal of what the New Deal did and did not accomplish,” and “a thoughtful, even-tempered corrective to too often unbalanced celebrations of FDR and his administration’s path-breaking policies.” Shlaes brings to the tale an emphasis on economic realities and consequences, especially when seen from the perspective of monetarist theory, and a focus on particular individuals and events, both celebrated and forgotten (at least relatively so). Thus the spotlight plays not only on Andrew Mellon, Wendell Wilkie and Rexford Tugwell but also on Father Divine and the Schechter brothers—kosher butcher wholesalers prosecuted by the federal National Recovery Administration for selling “sick chickens.”
Startup – Jerry Kaplan
A real David and Goliath tale and the story of why things go right or wrong, how competition can kill you, and how financing really works within a small startup. One of the few classics on venture investing written from an entrepreneur’s point of view. It has a West Coast flavor to it but still very relevant.
Barbarians at the Gate – Bryan Burroughs & John Helyar
Two versions of the fierce competition for the largest buyout ever consummated, a landmark in business history and a story of avarice on an epic scale. This is a story from the big buyout world, a distant cousin of venture investing, but nonetheless one of the most entertaining books ever written on the private equity world.
The House of Morgan – Ron Chernow
Portrays the influence that the Morgan banks have had on the history of the Western economy since the late 18th century. The epic story of the development of the American industrial experience is inextricably related to the history of the Morgan banks.
Titan – Ron Chernow
Captures a pivotal moment in American history – the dramatic post-Civil War shift from small business to the rise of giant corporations that irrevocably transformed the nation. A finely nuanced portrait of a fascinating, complex man, synthesizing his public and private lives and disclosing numerous family scandals, tragedies, and misfortunes that have never before come to light.
Devil Take the Hindmost – Edward Chancellor
An entertaining albeit sobering look at the history of speculative manias and the mass delusion that surrounds them. As an investor, it easy to get caught up in bubbles and manias, even when you are looking out for them. Are things really different this time?
The Money Machine: How KKR Manufactured Power&Profits – Sarah Bartlett
Chronicles the rise and tactics of KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company), which came close to making “leveraged buyout” a household term. A fascinating read on financial history and the misuse of power. There aren’t many good books out there on how the private equity world really works, but this is one of them.
Entrepreneurship and Multinationals – Global Business and the Making of the Modern World – Geoffrey Jones
Why, after the Industrial Revolution began in the West, did the Rest struggle to catch up? Professor Geoffrey Jones argues that entrepreneurs are the missing gap in the analysis of what creates a prosperous modern economy. Since 1850 those countries with the most friendly environments for entrepreneurs have innovated and prospered.
STRATEGY AND OTHER
The Extra 2% – Jonah Keri
What happens when three financial industry whiz kids and certified baseball nuts take over an ailing major league franchise and implement the same strategies that fueled their success on Wall Street? In the case of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, an American League championship happens—the culmination of one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history.
Competitive Advantage – Michael Porter
By many accounts, the most influential management book of the past quarter century. Porter offers a veritable goldmine of analytical concepts and tools to help companies get a much clearer grasp of how they can create and sustain competitive advantage. Every entrepreneur and investor should analyze their business using the Porter framework and better understand where both their opportunities and vulnerabilities lie.
Good to Great – Jim Collins
Making the transition from good to great doesn’t require a high-profile CEO, the latest technology, innovative change management, or even a fine-tuned business strategy. At the heart of those rare and truly great companies was a corporate culture that rigorously found and promoted disciplined people to think and act in a disciplined manner. Yet another testament to the power of great managers and superior execution.
Margin of Safety – Seth Klarman
One of the most difficult-to-track-down finance books ever written, since it is no longer in print. Aside from a clear explanation of value investing, Klarman provides practical advice from how to evaluate businesses to where to find excellent investment opportunities for value investors. Klarman’s discussion of how to think about value and trying to invest where there is a “margin of safety” is in our view as applicable to growth equity investors in private companies as it is to public company investing.
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
A convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, “some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.” Like “The Black Swan”, this book puts success in perspective and explains how macro-factors are often even more important than the quality of the people involved. We seek to invest in great people, but we also understand that the best combination for an investor is great people taking advantage of great opportunity, whether or not they are responsible for it.
Pioneering Portfolio Management – David Swensen
The results of David Swensen’s investment strategy for the Yale University endowment have remained as impressive as ever. Swensen was one of the earliest advocates for endowments making substantial commitments to alternative assets, including private equity and venture capital. This is a great overview of how he thinks about both the opportunities and the risks inherent in alternative investments.
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law – C. Bagley & C. Dauchy
This standard-setting book is an essential resource for anyone looking to understand the legal challenges faced by entrepreneurs. The information you need to avoid potentially costly missteps, from leaving your current job to taking your company public.
A Land Remembered – Patrick Ramsey
Winner of the Florida Historical Society Tebeau Prize as the Most Outstanding Florida Historical Novel, this is the story of three generations of the MacIveys, a Florida family who battle the hardships of the frontier to rise from a dirt-poor Cracker life to the wealth and standing of real estate tycoons. The sweeping story that emerges is a rich, rugged Florida history featuring a memorable cast of crusty, indomitable Crackers battling wild animals, rustlers, Confederate deserters, mosquitoes, starvation, hurricanes, and freezes to carve a kingdom out of a swamp.
The Founder’s Dilemmas – Noam Wasserman
Often downplayed in the excitement of starting up a new business venture is one of the most important decisions entrepreneurs will face: should they go it alone, or bring in cofounders, hires, and investors to help build the business? More than just financial rewards are at stake. Friendships and relationships can suffer. Bad decisions at the inception of a promising venture lay the foundations for its eventual ruin. Drawing on a decade of research, Wasserman highlights the need at each step to strike a careful balance between controlling the startup and attracting the best resources to grow it, and demonstrates why the easy short-term choice is often the most perilous in the long term.
Three Simple Steps – Trevor Blake
Founder of BPV portfolio company QOL Medical, Trevor Blake studied the lives of successful men and women who preceded him, and developed three simple rules that helped him first to escape poverty, then to achieve a life of adventures, and then to achieve financial independence. Written in a straightforward and no-nonsense style, Three Simple Steps shows you how to take back control of your destiny and reshape your mind for increased creativity, serenity and achievement. A a practical guide to real-life achievement by a pragmatic businessman who attributes his incredible successes to these very simple ideas.
How Money Walks – Travis H. Brown
Between 1995 and 2010, millions of Americans moved between the states, taking with them over $2 trillion in adjusted gross incomes – equivalent to the GDP of California, the ninth largest in the world. Why? Which states benefited and which states suffered? And why does it matter? Using official statistics from the IRS, How Money Walks explores the hows, whys, and impact of this massive movement of American working wealth. Why does this matter? Because the robust presence of working wealth is the leading indicator of economic health.