Tedlow provides a brilliant analysis of each of his subjects in combination with a wealth of biographical information which creates an appropriate context for his discussion of Carnegie, Eastman, Ford, Watson (Sr.), Revson, Walton, and Noyce. He organizes his material within three Parts: The Rise to Global Economic Power, The Heart of the American Century, and Our Own Times. So what we have here, in a single volume, are eight mini-biographies, critical analysis of the "giants," and an equally valuable analysis of the evolution of American business history during the last 150 years. Although not always in agreement with Tedlow, I especially appreciate sharing his own opinions. He cites a wealth of primary sources and on occasion expresses his own disagreements with others such as Joseph Frazier Wall, author of arguably the definitive biography of Andrew Carnegie. Tedlow has consummate writing skills. His narrative has Snap! Crackle! and Pop! Throughout the book, he offers hundreds of revealing anecdotes, direct quotations, relevant examples to illustrate and support key points, and -- much appreciated -- a playful sense of humor. Tedlow really is an entertaining raconteur as well as a distinguished business scholar.
This is one of the most entertaining as well as most informative business books I have read in recent years. Those who share my high regard for it are urged to check out Crainer's The Management Century, Thought Leaders edited by Kurtzman, Wren and Greenwood's Management Innovators, Leibovich's The New Imperialists, and Landrum's Profiles of Genius.
on February 25, 2002
In Giants of Enterprise, Harvard professor Richard Tedlow examines seven business titans: Henry Ford, Thomas Watson, Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman, Charles Revson, Robert Noyce, and Sam Walton. He analyzes their business acumen, their management style, their interpersonal style, and the business environment in which they operated.
Henry Ford and Thomas Watson, Sr., of IBM, are examples of domineering, manipulative men who built extraordinary business empires in spite of their abrasive personalities. The were not leaders in the classical definition of James MacGregor Burns because they systematically crushed individuality in their employees rather than cultivate it. They drove a lot of good people away, and stunted the growth of many more.
Still, their businesses experienced exceptional periods of prosperity, and they have lasted for several generations.
Two of the seven titans valued people. Eastman and Noyce were leaders. Eastman empowered people. He told chemist Charles Mees, "your job is the future of photography." Eastman hired women and Irish people-these were enlightened practices in the late 1800s. He questioned his own management expertise, and sought advice from professionals.
Noyce is known for his slogan, "Go off and do something wonderful." His employees had it printed on tee shirts. Noyce had an ability to create in people a "euphoric sense of possibility," and he nurtured talent when he found it.
Giants of Enterprise provides informative short biographies of each of the seven business icons. It is valuable reading for both the student of leadership and the practicing executive. For the student, it shows that organizations are often held together by forces other than leadership. The opportunity to be part of something successful will hold many people in place in spite of intense personal pain inflicted by the boss.
For the executive, it illustrates the need to install checks and balances on one's self. Ford and Watson both weakened their businesses by indulging their personal biases in public and by suffocating creativity in others. They surrounded themselves with yes-men, and they diminished their business enterprises as a result.
Studying the lives of these seven men provides useful insights into the relationship of leadership and business success. It is a fact of our times that business is increasingly turning to leadership as a source of competitive advantage, and this book is helpful in that effort.
Dr. Tedlow examines what he calls inflection points. These are moments in history that some rare people recognize as moments in history while they are happening. The book is worth reading for what it says on this topic alone. In addition, he examines the destructive effect vast money and power can have on the human spirit. He refers to this as deranging one's perspective on life. The term is a useful addition to leadership vocabulary.
There are hundreds of books about famous executives. This book is an excellent introduction to executives as a key element in business development. It is readable, interesting, and it does not require the reader to have a detailed knowledge of business or leadership principles.
It is an excellent introduction to executive leadership styles and to business history.
on December 9, 2001
My reading about business is usually limited to the business section of the daily paper, but when I read that Business Week Magazine has named Giants of Enterprise as one of the top ten books about business for this year, I was intrigued enough to have a look at it. Once I began reading, I didn't want to stop! Tedlow's prose is engaging and elegant; he obviously knows his subject thoroughly. As I read about these immensely complicated men, I was amazed by the audacity, creativity, and cunning they showed in their dealings with the world of business. Equally interesting are the glimpses into the personal lives of such figures as Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman, and Henry Ford. This book is about American history as well as the history of business; it has also made me realize that there is such a thing as the psychology of business, although in this field, it is probably as tricky to analyze and try to predict outcomes as it is in the field of economics. I thank Prof. Tedlow for hours of reading pleasure, and for elucidating of many aspects of business that were previously opaque to me. Finally - I thank him for enriching my vocabulary with what he rightly refers to as an "infelicitous" phrase: Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal!
on September 10, 2014
I was introduced to this book via an article in Investor's Business Daily. It's refreshing to read this kind of history without all of the modern-day revisionist editorializing about "robber barons" or the evil wealthy "one percent". On a personal level, some of the men described in this book were far from moral perfection (especially Henry Ford), but all were years ahead of their time in their respective businesses. The Modern Industrial Era of 20th century America would not have been possible without the efforts of these gentlemen. No view of American history can be complete without understanding who these people were, what they accomplished and what motivated them.
on September 7, 2013
I was surprised to find that this book is as much about the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the seven "giants of enterprise" as it is about their business methods. The book contains a great deal of interesting information and the author takes issue with a number of previous interpretations of the work of these individuals, but I did not come away with any clear overall argument regarding entrepreneurship or the evolution of big business in the U.S.
on April 4, 2013
I was hoping for another set of biographies of these great men. I've read aout them all before, so I really hoped this book had something else. And it did.
More than pointing out the accomplishments of these men and how they did it (which is what most people look for, but unfortunately won't find in any book as these men were great because they were born great), this book analyses the psychological aspect and personalities of these Barons of Industry.
Granted, you won't find secret formulas here. But you will be surprised by how these great men of business were transformed by their accomplishments to the point that, some of them, were unrecognizable years later. A very entertaining read, with the possible exception of the last part dealing with Intel's Noyce, which gets too technical for my taste.
on January 1, 2011
It has been almost a year since I first read Richard Tedlow's "Giants of Enterprise" and I still haven't got over the hangover. Several times I revisited the book for some specific incident or information like to check George Eastman's early experiments and I ended up spending the next half an hour reading much more. It is a kind of stuff I had never read before. The book opened a door of a totally new discipline for me - that of "business history".
What is "Giants of Enterprise" about? The book contains biographies of seven innovators who built large enterprises in America from railroads to microprocessors: Andrew Carnegie (Steel), George Eastman (Kodak), Henry Ford, Thomas Watson Sr (IBM), Charles Revson (Revlon), Sam Walton (WalMart), Robert Noyce (Intel). In my opinion to say that the book is a bunch of biographies doesn't do justice to it.
Here are three things that I find unique about this book:
* Role of influencers: For each of the innovators, Tedlow identifies one or two key influencers in their life and shows how a few individuals influence formative minds. If your boss fires you, chances are high you will hate him. And if you don't, it is almost certain you won't continue to adore him. Well, even after John Patterson fired Thomas Watson Sr. from National Cash Register, Watson continued to adore his ex-boss. Watson's son wrote, "Oddly, dad never complained of this treatment and revered Mr. Patterson until the day he died." Watson told his son one day, "Nearly everything I know about building a business comes from Mr. Patterson". As Tedlow writes - "Both men dominated their organizations. Both were big spenders on themselves and on the others. Both demanded, explicitly or implicitly, complete allegiance to their views. Both were, in a sense, totalitarians." Tedlow shows how Tom Scott played a similar role for Andrew Carnegie.
* Psychology of turning points: One of the specialties of Tedlow is to identify one or two key turning points in one's life and analyze them psychologically. For example, one such point Tedlow presents is the day Henry Ford announced on January 5, 1914, "The smallest amount to be received by a man 22 years old and upwards will $5 per day..." According to Tedlow, this was the point where Ford's modesty became a thing of the past. He developed an insatiable appetite for headlines. To borrow Warren Buffett's terminology, Henry Ford forgot about his "circle of competence". And Tedlow concludes that from this point onwards it was all downhill for Ford. You may or may not agree with Tedlow. But I enjoyed his analysis.
* Anatomy of innovation: If a general reading about an innovation, say through wikipedia, can be compared to watching a dressed up man, then reading this book is like seeing the man in an operating theatre and a surgeon showing you the details from inside. Not everybody may like it. But for me, it is a like having a "flight simulator" to play with. If you want to know exactly at what point Eastman might have got curious about photography or how much money was he already making from his photography business before he quit his banking job or when did he realize that patents are not enough and he needed to create a brand (like Kodak) you can find it in the book with all the gory details.
"Chance favors prepared mind" is my favorite law of innovation. I found this book to be the best so far that gives a glimpse of what "chance", "a prepared mind" and "favors" mean. Tedlow shows again and again that "success" is like any other addiction. One doesn't know where to stop.
Personally "History" had lost to "Science" as a cool subject by a wide margin when I was in school. After reading Tedlow, it rekindled my interest in history. Thanks to Tedlow I entered the world of Alfred Chandler (Scale & Scope), Thomas McCraw (Prophet of innovation), Gita Piramal (Business Legends) and Ramchandra Guha (India after Gandhi).
on December 18, 2001
There were two aspects which drew me to this book. The first was my thirty year background in business and psychology, and the second was the story on Andrew Carnegie. My family roots on my father's side can be traced back, through the centuries, to the Carnegie family, although in later years the spelling of the family name was slightly altered in my country. The stories presented in this book have at least one common factor: all the entrepreneurs listed had a tremendous self-belief and were not afraid of straying from the conventional and "doing their own thing," long before doing so was the fashionable thing to do. They also possessed an extraordinary intellect for business, were highly creative and did not punch a time clock. They clearly did not believe in the philosophy which said, "I'm out of here at five o'clock."
Business is a world one generally loves with a passion or hates with the same vehement emotion. "Giants of Enterprise" takes the reader behind the scenes to the core of these fine men and presents a better understanding of "what made them tick." It is a book which touches on history, philosophy and psychology. These successful entrepreneurs were driven by amazing vigor and passion for their work. When I decided to pursue a career in business, it was predominately a "man's world." The female gender had not yet made it's mark upon the business world. Times have since changed. However, the inspiration and success of these great men laid the foundation and opened the doors for future generations. We can learn well from their determination, commitment and success. This is a fascinating book to read and certainly an inspirational one.
on December 10, 2001
Richard Tedlow gives a behind the scenes view of the success of seven of the biggest business names of our times. Building on the transcendent achievements of these great men, Tedlow translates their strategies into tangible business lessons. Wrapped in entertaining and insightful prose, Tedlow shows us how these men became legends, from overcoming impossible odds to developing business strategies that forever changed industry.
on March 3, 2016
Worth reading if you are an entrepreneur. Tedlow provides some great insights into the mindsets of some of the great American entrepreneurs, and how they navigated their worlds.
I think the criticisms of the book miss the point: The book is not a simple "history"--this happened, then that happened, etc. Instead, the book seeks to dissect the way these people approached the world, and responded to the opportunities and problems of their time.