Just in time for summer — it’s in: ExecutiveBiz’s annual, CEO Summer Reading List. This year, we’re jump-starting our list of book recommendations from some of the area’s top CEOs with a question: Why read books, anyway? Especially when you can get practically everything in quick hits, on the web, your BlackBerry, and iPhone. We brought that question recently to John Hillen, president and CEO of Global Defense Technology and Systems, Inc. Check out his take below. Then settle back and enjoy this year’s list of book picks by some of the area’s top CEOs.
John Hillen, President and CEO, Global Defense Technology & Systems, Inc:
“Good CEOs are generally bent on staying current or even ahead of the major dynamics that are shaping their marketspace. I recently heard a talk from a Fortune 50 CEO that sprinkled in quotes from the three or four best-selling or “hot” books about the future. So, with most CEO’s given over (and rightly so) to continuous learning and self-improvement, you’re likely to find the “it” books on their bedside table. And, let’s be honest, CEOs like to look like they are on top of things so you see them with those kinds of “it” books whether they like them or not or even read them or not. When was the last time you saw a CEO on a plane with an Agatha Christie novel?
“In any case, on that score of recently published books, I’d highly recommend After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street and Washington by Nicole Gelinas. Not only looks at the events that precipitated the recent financial crisis with very keen insight, but shows why some of the proposed regulatory cures may lead to a worse disease than that which they aim to cure.
“But, at the end of the day, I’m actually struck by how much has already been learned over the past three millennia or so, and the conversation about those things across the ages from the best minds that ever walked the planet. CEOs should take advantage of that wisdom – not just what’s new. When I moderate Aspen Institute leadership seminars for business leaders, we read Plato, Locke, Rousseau, Martin Luther King, Virginia Woolf, and others to talk about their conversation across the ages about the nature of a good society/organization and the role of the leader within it. That fundamental question is a CEO competency. So, for my money, put down the latest business bestseller of repackaged leadership clichés and pick up Marcus Aurelius’s, Meditations – you’ll thank yourself in the long run.”
Peter Altabef, former Perot Systems CEO, who now heads Dell Services:
Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet by Joseph Menn. “Joe [Joseph Menn] was at a recent Cybersecurity Summit in Dallas attended by both government and private industry leaders from 40 countries, including Howard Schmidt (White House Cybersecurity Coordinator), and people attending the conference were discussing his book,” says Altabef, who’s now made it a summer reading priority.
Norm Augustine, former CEO, Lockheed Martin:
The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman
“As a train buff who has ‘ridden the rails’ through much of the world, this looked too good to side-track,” says Augustine, of this tour of the world’s most dangerous means of transportation, including trucks in Afghanistan, buses in South America, and trains in India.
The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939 to 1945 by Sir John C. Masterman
“An older book that I never got around to reading in spite of my fascination with history,” says Augustine. Written during the final year of the war, the book offers an intimate look at World War Two spying through the eyes English double agents.
Greg Baroni, chairman and CEO, Attain:
Juran’s Quality Handbook: The Complete Guide to Performance Excellence. “I look forward to reading the sixth edition of Juran’s Quality Handbook, due out in June,” says Baroni. “An essential reference in quality management for more than 50 years, this book discusses techniques for transforming the way you think and work to attain superior and sustainable business results.”
Mac Curtis, President & CEO, Vangent:
Fool’s Gold by Gillian Tett. “It’s an exposé on a small group of bankers at J.P. Morgan who concocted the credit derivatives scheme, beginning in the late 1990s, that became a critical tie between financial products and the housing boom and the creation of CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) that drove the recent bust to recession,” says Curtis.
Bill Mixon, President & CEO, USIS:
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. “History does not crawl, it jumps.” Such is the premise of Taleb’s take on history, and how our brains mistakenly let narrative, rather than statistical uncertainty, guide our course.
The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege and How We Can Be Safe Again by Tom Ridge. He was the first secretary of homeland security. Now, Tom Ridge looks back on the agency’s creation and early history. What we’re left with is DHS as a work in progress — a must-read for anyone with a stake in national security issues.
Stan Sloane, President & CEO, SRA:
Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War by Michael Shaara. “Gettysburg was a momentous historical event and very relevant to thinking about leadership,” says Sloane. The book tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of five central participants: the Union’s Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and General John Buford, plus the Confederacy’s generals, James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee, and Lewis Armistead.
Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome by John Man. “Attila is remembered mostly for his brutality, but he faced some serious internal leadership challenges, and it’s interesting to think about his decision making process and strategy,” says Sloane.
Brad Antle, Bradford Strategic Consulting Group:
Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System, by Andrew Ross Sorkin. An in-depth narrative that chronicles the epic financial crisis of 2008.
The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror, by John Kiriakou. The author, a retired CIA agent, tells his story on the frontlines of the war on terror.
Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal
Responsibility, by David Walker. A trenchant analysis of the even greater crisis that awaits following the recent financial meltdown.