I am an avid eclectic reader.
I could hardly stop listening; the author grabbed my attention and held it all the way to the end of the book. It is amazing how much information Daniel Schulman has been able to gather about the Koch family, from public records, newspaper reports and court documents. The family refused to be interviewed for the book. Schulman starts with Fred Koch who was born in 1900 and grew up in Quanah, Texas, son of a Dutch immigrant. His father was a printer who brought a printing press to Quanah and established a newspaper. Fred worked at various jobs and worked his way through school. He graduated for M.I.T. in engineering. He invested three hundred dollars and started a company providing the needs of oil refineries. He built this into a multi-million dollar company. He married a Kansas City debutant Mary Robinson. They had four sons Frederick, Charles, twins David and William. Fred worked the boys hard and had the boys compete against each other. They attended boarding schools and M.I.T. except Frederick who attended Harvard with a degree in the arts. Fred was a founding member of the John Birch Society. He taught Charles his political view point but Charles eventually became a member of Libertarian party. Frederick never worked in the company business and had very little to do with the family. He lived in New York City or London restoring old historical buildings, and is a collector and patron of the arts. Charles, David and Bill worked in the company until Bill broke away and brought many lawsuits against the family. Bill built his own engineering company which is now a multi-billion dollar business. Charles and David took the business over from the father and built it into a multi-billion dollar business. Schulman had done a good job assembling everything known about the Koch’s into a single straight forward, understandable account. The author leaves out no confirmable damming detail particularly about the Koch Industries indifference to environmental and safety matters. The Koch’s Libertarian belief about small or no government appeared to have made them think they did not have to adhere to laws that interfered with their business. After they lost the lawsuits from the EPA they did change the way they ran the company and started to adhere to all laws. Schulman interviewed employees to gather information about Charles’s “Market Based Management” system. The author points out that the Koch’s donate not only to the Republican Party but also to selected Democrats as well. The brothers individually and with the Family Foundation donate heavily to the arts and medical research. I felt the author presented a well balanced, well researched report about the Koch family. Allen O’Reilly did a good job narrating the book.
Mayer took over the job of C.E.O. of the troubled Yahoo Company, in a male-dominated industry while pregnant. Nicholas Carlson’s book set out to reveal the controversy about Mayer because she was upsetting the women’s issues industrial complex. Some people upset because she took maternity leave right after accepting the job of C.E.O. and the other people upset because she only took two weeks leave.
The book is really two books in one, as a good portion of the book is the history of Yahoo. It’s history of brand neglect and mismanagement. The remainder is about Mayer. There is little documentation in the book regarding Mayer as it appears Carlson reported a lot of the gossip. I got the feeling from the book that Carlson reported a lot of the sexist gossip such as the name of the designer of the clothes Mayer wore etc.
Carlson demonstrates that Mayer is worth paying attention to for reasons that transcend gender. He states that Mayer is a complex personality who defies most stereotypes. Carlson states that Mayer early in her career understood personal branding and developed hers early in her career. She is a geek that doesn’t look the part. Carlson argues Mayer earned her shot at running Yahoo through years of innovative thinking in an industry that prides itself in novel ideas.
Mayer was born in Wisconsin and joined Google right out of Stanford University graduate Computer Science Program. She ultimately became one of Google’s most influential executives. As with any fast raising career person she generated jealousy and resentment from some of her co-workers. Just like many other in her field she put in the hard work, long hours and creative abilities to raise though the ranks of a company.
The question isn’t whether Mayer can save Yahoo; it’s whether Yahoo can be saved at all. For the past two years Mayer has attempted to focus on making the company’s workforce more productive and on making applications for Mobil phones with some success. She has managed to prevent mass layoffs. But Yahoo is a deeply troubled company. Carlson says she is having trouble replacing a few critical key people and without doing so she will not success. Carlson states that even if Yahoo fails Mayer is a star to watch. She has an incredible work ethic, genius sense of what makes an Internet product useable and she was worldwide frame, and charisma to success in the business world. Kitt Vandenheuvel narrated the book.
I must admit that over the years I find myself shopping at Amazon more and more. At first it was just to find a hard to find book. The first time I used Amazon was in the early 1990s I was mad because I had been to a number of books store, chain and independent, and was treated rudely as if it was too much trouble to try to find what I wanted. I contacted Amazon after not finding what I was looking for on their list and what a surprise the person was so polite and helpful and in two days called me back after finding the book and shipped it to me right away. That customer experience made me an Amazon fan. I read this book to discover more about Amazon’s founder. I had recently read biographies on Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Steve Jobs. I did note in reading these books all of them had things in common such as total focus on their goal, not afraid to fail, ruthless with competitors and workers as well as problems with dealing with people. The beginning of the book Brad Stone covers the early life of Jeff Bezos and was complimentary but as the book progressed stone seem to concentrate on the negative factors. I found the fact that Bezos thought in the long term and worked for long term goals for the company refreshing, I have found too many companies planning does not go past the next quarter. I can attest to the fact the company is customer oriented. I noted that Bezos only had a one hour visit with the author about the book but did give him access to Amazon staff. I thought it interesting that Bezos asked Stone how he was going to deal with the “narrative fallacy” in writing the book. This theory was first proposed in 2007 by epistemologist Namin Nicholas Taleb in his book “The Black Swan”. The theory says humans use narrative to turn complex realities into soothing but oversimplified stories. In other words people have to find a rational explanation for something that appears inexplicable rather than trying to accept that things happen for an entirely random reason. Stone goes step by step showing how Amazon grew from a low margin book retailer into a technology company that provides basic computer infrastructure such as storage, and computing power to other companies, a book publisher and e-book reader manufacturer, reseller of many items and to streaming videos. I was surprised to learn that Amazon also owns Zappos and Goodreads. I knew they owned a company I use a lot, Audible. It will be interesting to read another book about Bezos in about 20 years or so. Peter Larkin did a good job narrating the story.