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Billion-Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years Hardcover – September 11, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover; 1St Edition edition (September 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591842190
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591842194
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Carroll (Big Blues) and Mui (Unleashing the Killer App) collaborate to perform an autopsy on some of the most spectacular business failures and corporate disasters in recent times, hunting down the fatal strategies responsible. The authors examine more than 750 inexcusable corporate collapses, neatly cataloguing them into eight common failure patterns: doomed practices, including the Illusion of Synergies, as illustrated by the ruinous merger attempts by Sears and Dean Witter; Faulty Financial Engineering, as conducted by Tyco and Revco; Staying the (Misguided) Course Too Long, a sin committed by Kodak, which missed the boat on digital photography; and Consolidation Blues, as depicted by U.S. Airways, which crashed as a consequence of buying up too many companies too quickly. While there are assuredly lessons in defeat and the authors' detailed analysis and bracing honesty is welcome, readers hoping for a more encouraging or inspirational business book might find Carroll and Mui's avalanche of disastrous failures, avoidable bankruptcies and destruction of shareholder value a depressing—if highly instructive—read. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

With lessons learned from extensive research into 750 major bankruptcies between 1981 and 2006, including Enron, Conseco, Texaco, Kmart, and Refco, authors Carroll and Mui set out to help corporate management avoid failure from bad strategies. Almost one-half of the failures could have been avoided if the companies had been aware of strategy pitfalls or had become cautious in the face of clear warning signs. The authors describe seven basic strategic failures, including estimating synergy from mergers, which proves to be exaggerated; aggressive use of accounting or financing mechanisms; staying the course in spite of a clear business threat; and riding the wrong technology, which fails. We also learn about the psychological implications of management banding together when something is wrong rather than individuals standing up for what is right and the important benefits of introducing a devil’s advocate into a strategy’s deliberative process. This well-researched book provides valuable insight for corporate executives and investors. --Mary Whaley

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 48 customer reviews
The authors provide great insights with case examples, not theory.
Paul Nowacki
The organization of the book lends itself well to being easily remembered, and the interesting stories makes it a great read.
Andrew Singer
I highly recommend Billion-Dollar Lessons as one of the better business books I've read in some time.
G. Gleason

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Leslie D. Ball on September 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best business books that I have ever read. While I knew parts of many stories in the book, I never realized WHY certain events happened. When I have read about big corporate blunders in the past I always asked "Why did this happen?" The authors answer that question and put the huge blunders into several categories that are easy to understand and relate to.

I liked the "Tough Questions" found at the end of each chapter. If business executives pay attention to just those questions, then they won't be involved in one of these huge mistakes.

I also want to say that when I sat down to read it, I expected to read for 30 minutes and put it down. This was a page turner and I didn't stop reading until I finished.

Great book! Well written! Needed by the Business Community!
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Two of the business thinkers I admire most are Jim Collins and Jason Jennings. Collins has written two books in which he explains how certain companies are built to last and how other companies have been able to make a "leap" from good to great. Jennings has written several books in which he explains what all high-performance companies share in common, with two of their attributes being that (a) they have a bold, compelling vision but also "nail the fundamentals, and (b) produce more and better with fewer resources and do it faster. There are important lessons to be learned from business success but, as Paul Carroll and Chunka Mui explain in their book, there are valuable lessons to be learned from business failures. For example, rather than because of lack of execution, poor timing, or bad luck, "many of the of the really big failures stemmed from bad strategies. Once launched, the strategies were doomed to fail, and these failures probably could not have been prevented by even spotless execution - unless the implementers were licensed to kill the strategy itself." That said, are doomed strategies avoidable or are fatal flaws only recognizable in hindsight? To answer this question, Carroll and Mui embarked on rigorous research the "billion-dollar lessons" they learned are provided in this volume.

Among their most interesting revelations is that failures tended to be associated with one of seven types of strategy. "Failures could certainly happen for other reasons, but if a company followed one of these strategies it is far more likely to fail." Here's where it gets really interesting.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dallon Christensen on October 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Let's face it - there are business failures, and then there are BUSINESS FAILURES. Paul Carroll and Chunka Mui have written a well-researched and, dare I say it for a business book, entertaining account of some of the biggest business failures in business history. "Billion Dollar Lessons" provides chilling lessons for those of us looking for how NOT to grow our businesses.

Carroll, a former writer for the Wall Street Journal, and Mui, a fellow at Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, dive deep into some of the biggest business failures of the last 50 years. This is no small feat, because there are a number of failures from which to choose. According to the book's research, 250 companies have taken asset write-offs of over $350 billion (yes, billion is with a "b") over the last 25 years. "Billion Dollar Lessons" demonstrates several themes that drive many of the largest business failures documented in the book, including the following.

* Poor understanding of adjacent markets - Avon believed that since it had a "culture of caring", it could expand from its traditional market of cosmetics into operating nursing homes.
* Failure to adequately plan for major changes to the business model - Kodak was fully aware of digital imaging's threat to its business in 1981, yet it could not change its mindset away from reliance on traditional film processing.
* Not forecasting the problems that can come from consolidation efforts - Carroll and Mui show how many businesses justify rollup strategies with grand forecasts of synergies from cross-selling or back-office integration. However, these businesses do not plan for the problems that arise with integrating different businesses.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. Gleason on October 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Among business books Billion-Dollar Lessons is a very well written and accessible view of some important business history. The authors manage to cover a lot of territory, in an engaging way, relying on clear language and a minimum of 'business speak'. They also bring organization to the what they've learned without having to construct a grand theory. This is refreshing, especially from consultant authors. It is possible to learn from business history without trying to reduce the lessons to universal truths.

I particularly liked several things about this book. First, there are actually a number of examples I'm not already familiar with. Second, the examples are presented crisply, incorporating interesting anecdotes that may not add to the point but engage the reader. Third, the extensive references and citations distinguish the authors' contributions from the work and insights of others and highlight the degree of research undertaken. Finally, there are few references to the brilliant consulting work of the authors themselves.

There isn't much I didn't like but a few observations. I think calling all of these failures 'inexcusable' goes over the top. Some of them probably are but many reflect mistakes of judgment or execution that, while unfortunate, are inevitable. Second, the discussion of how to avoid similar failures introduce some themes that would benefit (probably in a separate book) from deeper analysis. I can summarize this thought by saying - why don't people in businesses do the things the authors suggest?

I highly recommend Billion-Dollar Lessons as one of the better business books I've read in some time.
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