Saturday, November 15, 2008

No nepotism required

Hey! Google Alerts emailed me an unexpected link to my nephew, Nick. Nick took a course in Peru last summer and he brought back a thoughtful, honest, and engrossing story about the trip titled An Open Window--and I'm very happy to report that I can say that as a reader and editor, not just as an uncle. You can read about what he discovered on a bus trip through wheat fields high in the Andes here.

By the way, Nick's an English major, who is graduating from VCU next month. I'd guess that my brother is ready to give up his long-term lease on the kid and given this sample of Nick's work, I think any magazine would be lucky to take over payments.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An Insider's Guide to Deal Making

I've been immersed in M&A for much of 2008 - not making deals, but helping edit two books about them. One of them has been released, and thanks to the economics of e-books and the beneficence of Booz & Company and strategy+business, you can download it for free!

The CFO as Deal Maker: Thought Leaders on M&A Success is a unique collection of interviews with 15 CFOs of major companies in diverse industries. These are M&A insiders who been involved in some of the biggest deals in recent years: Jose Antonio Alvarez, who helped Spain's Banco Santander grab a piece of the $98.5 billion acquisition of ABN Amro; Mutlaq H. Al-Morished, who engineered Saudi Basic Industries' $11.6 billion acquisition of GE's plastics division; and, Aditya Mittal, who managed Mittal Steel's $38 billion acquisition of Arcelor. Add in the interviews with the CFOs at Johnson & Johnson, Telefonica, E.ON, Henkel, BASF, etc., and you've got an M&A dream team.

These interviews are impressive not just for the credibility and experience of the subjects, but also for their content. Each subject was interviewed by a team composed of Booz & Company M&A experts and a professional journalist. The result is a set of very tight and pithy interviews that are filled with practical, actionable ideas. Admittedly, having been involved with the project, I'm prejudiced, but it won't cost you anything to see if I'm just blowing smoke.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Managers as directors

I've long been curious about the parallels between managing business projects and directing movies and plays. It seems like the work has many similarities: ad hoc teams; one-off goals; short-term timelines; fixed budgets; nebulous decision rights and chains of command. I've even got preliminary notes for a management book based on the study of highly successful directors -- Hitchcock, Lean, Capra, Spielberg -- gathering dust in my file drawer.

So, I enjoyed reading the new paperback edition of Notes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director's Chair (Walker & Company) by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich. Written for stage directors, it's a slim book of brief lessons (most are just a paragraph or two), many of which are applicable to anyone responsible for leading a project or people. Here's a couple:

7. Learn to love a play you don't particularly like. You may be asked -- or may choose -- to direct a play that, for any number of reasons, you don't think is very good. In such cases it is better to focus and build on the play's virtues than attempt to repair its inherent problems.

65. Never, NEVER bully...either by shouting or sarcasm or, worst of all, imitation. It will get a laugh and make an enemy. Using imitation to show an actor what he's doing wrong is allowable when all else has failed; but do it, if you have to do it at all, privately.

73. Know your actors. Some like a lot of attention; others want to be left alone. Some like written notes; some spoken. Get to know them. It doesn't have to take long. It's a good investment that will pay enormous benefits later.