Hilarious Business Books

I enjoy going to used book stores and could probably just sit in there day and night, perusing the selections. Recently I was in the “After-Words” book store in Chicago and picked up some interesting books, and saw these used books on the shelf that made me laugh out loud.

The first book is about Jurgen Schrempp, the former CEO of Daimler, who presided over the disastrous acquisition of Chrysler in the United States. Of course the book is the usual puff-piece and it is hilarious given the complete value destruction caused by this merger. Eventually, Daimler basically gave away Chrysler to Cerberus, the private equity firm, which continues to run it into the ground to this day. Even now I can’t imagine how anyone thought the Mercedes / Chrysler merger was a good idea. Don’t forget that Schrempp also presided over the collapse of Fokker, the Dutch airplane maker (remember those WW1 planes?). It is unclear what he ever did to warrant such a book and its existence is pretty ludicrous.

The second book is about John Sculley, who came on in the 80’s and into the early 90’s to Apple, famously bringing his marketing ideas from Pepsi into the computer firm. At the time Apple was having problems and it seemed like some new leadership would help; but in the end he left in a cloud and is now completely and utterly forgotten. Steve Jobs is seen today as a genius, the fore-runner of the iPod and now the iPhone, along with the continually evolving and chic line of Apple computers. This puff piece too is a relic and hilarious – look at John Sculley’s bio on Wikipedia – by the end he is in a 2 man firm that is going nowhere. He is a famous example of the “Peter Principle” where a man who invented the Pepsi Challenge (a very good idea) peaked and then went into a long slow decline.

The fact that these two books are fronting the business section at After-Words either means the clerks have no idea what they are doing or have a supremely intuitive sense of irony.

Cross posted at LITGM

9 thoughts on “Hilarious Business Books”

  1. Hmmm. Schremp pulled down 11 million euro, about $15 million in today’s money, in 2003 and not much less than that every year since. That was more than any other German exec in that year, according to Manager Magazin.
    Doesn’t matter much what happened to Chrysler or Daimler. Schremp’s job is to enrich Schremp, period.
    Wouldn’t you love to be making a fifth of what he makes?

  2. There are lots of people getting rich while failing. The funny part is actually commissioning a puff-piece bio about yourself while doing it. That is something that “dogbert” would do from the dilbert strip.

  3. Steve Jobs hired Scully based solely on Scully’s marketing savvy. At the time, Jobs had no choice because he lacked the maturity to actually run a major corporation. A decade in the wilderness getting kicked around by the market matured him and made him way less arrogant. (I know hard to believe that he could be more arrogant than he is now but he was.)

    Scully simply didn’t understand how to do anything else but marketing. When it came to developing technology, manufacturing or organizing an actual computer company, he was at sea. The company ran for five years on inertia as the central coordination broke down into a series of competing fiefdoms. Scully did everything wrong. He chopped up costing so that one department made money on a transaction while another one payed the cost. He shutdown quality assurance which lead to the Great Quality Implosion of ’96 which would have destroyed an ordinary company. The man was a disaster from top to bottom.

    I think the rule is that if you ran a major company, you must have something important to say. This is something akin to the idea that the son of great king will be a great king himself. Anyone can blunder into the job of running a major corporation. At that point, however, its like being born on 3rd base. If you start at the top, the measure of your accomplish lies in increasing or at least maintaining superior position. If the company takes a nose dive during your tenure. Then you failed and no one wants to read your book.

  4. It’s interesting to see Rick Scott showing up on TV as a prophet of health care reform when he did much the same thing to HCA in the 1990s. The first thing he did when he took over from the Frist family was to shut down the quality improvement project they had sponsored. It was fortunate for me as it sent Paul Batalden to Dartmouth just as I was going there to learn about quality in healthcare.

  5. But how did Scully do for himself? Better than if he’d stayed at Pepsi?

    Sure, he would have done a lot better had Apple performed well under his reign, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the bottom line for Scully is the bottom line for Scully.

    If the only point of a corporation is to make profit, isn’t the only point of being the head of a corporation to make yourself rich?

  6. I’ve been thinking lately of Collins’ Good to Great, which lauds companies that are now collapsing, like Circuit City, Wells Fargo, and Fannie Mae. Maybe these business writers are only guessing. Like Shannon says “If you start at the top, the measure of your accomplish lies in increasing or at least maintaining superior position. If the company takes a nose dive during your tenure. Then you failed and no one wants to read your book.”

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