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Paths to Power: How Insiders and Outsiders Shaped American Business Leadership Hardcover – January 4, 2007
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"Paths to Power offers a useful way to think about how much economic mobility there really is in America and how it has evolved." -- The Washington Post, February 18, 2007
From the Back Cover
—David Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and author, Eyewitness to Power
“Paths to Power is a major study, both penetrating and wide-ranging, of the forces that create effective leadership in the business world today. It is especially impressive in its analysis of the central roles of religion, race, and gender, and other factors in producing top leadership in the twentieth century.”
—James MacGregor Burns, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, Williams College
“Paths to Power makes fascinating reading for all who have been to the top, those who are aspiring to reach the top, and all MBA students who are about to begin their careers to reach the top.”
--Thomas Phillips, former Chairman and CEO, Raytheon Company
Top Customer Reviews
Rather than limiting their attention to a set number of exemplary leaders - in chronological order -- and then devoting a separate chapter to each, taking a linear approach to the material, the co-authors chose to examine the evolution of 20th century business leadership in terms of the ten decades, assigning to each following the first chapter an appropriate component (birthplace, nationality, religion, education, class, gender and race, etc.) while frequently cross-referencing throughout the entire century. For example, they juxtapose comparable individuals such as James Stillman's presidency of National City Bank (1891-1909) and Sanford "Sandy" Weill's of Citigroup (that National City Bank eventually became) a century later.
Mayo, Nohria, and Singleton's role In Paths to Power is more that of cultural anthropologists than as biographers or even business historians. They create a social and economic context within a 100-year framework as they examine what separated outsiders from insiders in business leadership in the 20th century. In the city where I live, we have a number of outdoor markets at which slices of fresh fruit are offered as samples of the produce available. In that same spirit, I frequently include brief excerpts from a book to help those who red my review to get a "taste." Here is a representative selection from the material that Mayo, Nohria, and Singleton provide.
On birthplace: "As a starting point in our examination of twentieth-century leader backgrounds, we thus come away with the decisive conclusion that even in the United States, the great land of opportunity, not every birthplace was created equal...While mobility between regions tended to increase later in the century, people with more prosperous family origins - origins that typically stemmed from birth in a similarly prosperous region of the country -retained an advantage when entering business in a new area. The distinguishing features of each of the country's major regions, both as sources of and sites for leaders, will constitute an important backdrop for further discussions about leader characteristics." (Page 54)
On education: "Yale's popularity among business leaders like the Weyerhaeusers vaulted it to a preeminent position in the early part of the century: it was the most popular school for all of our leaders prior to 1950, educating thirty-two of them (about 15 percent of all that era's college graduates). With twenty-seven leaders, Harvard came next, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ranked a distant third with fourteen graduates. Yale was a perfect fit for the era of the dominant Protestant establishment, to which the Weyerhaeusers, steadfast Presbyterians, belonged. Yale was seen as a bastion of conservative, faith-oriented values during this period, in contrast to the more intellectual and individualistic attitudes at Harvard. (Page 124)
On class: "With nearly 30 percent of the leaders consistently coming from relatively poor backgrounds and, because of their success, passing on wealthy or at least quite comfortably middle-class upbringings to their own children, genuine upward mobility is undoubtedly represented by almost one in three of these leaders. Still, countermeasures such as the GI Bill and trends toward professional management, rather than improving the chances of those from poorer backgrounds, appear to have only held the line against an inexorable advantage of those with advantages." (Page 184)
In his Foreword, Useem explains this book's unique importance. "Studies of the social origins of America's business elite have been a long-standing research tradition, dating to such classics as W. Lloyd Warner and James Abe glen's Big Business Leaders in America and Mabel Newcomer's The Big Business Executive, both published in 1955. We have not had the benefit of a truly comprehensive portrait since those works of more than fifty years ago; now Mayo, Nohria, and Singleton have not only updated the picture but also produced the definitive portrait of our time."
Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out the aforementioned In Their Time as well as Stuart Crainer's The Management Century and Stewart H. Holbrook's The Age of the Moguls: The Story of the Robber Barons and the Great Tycoons. (Obtaining a copy of it is well worth the effort.) In it, Holbrook examines a number of "lords of capital" who, in his words, "made `deals' purchased immunity, and did other things which in 1860, or 1880, or even 1900, were considered no more than `smart' by their fellow Americans, but which today would give pause to the most conscientiously dishonest promoter.... They were a motley crew, yet taken together they fashioned a savage and gaudy age as distinctively purple as that of imperial Rome, and infinitely more entertaining." The group Holbrook considers is divided into three categories: promoters, bankers, and industrialists, with merchants in the latter group. They include Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, Charlie Gates, Thomas William Lawson, Henry H. Rogers, Henry Morrison Flagler, and Samuel Insull; Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Cyrus McCormick, Philip D. Armour, Henry Clay Frick, Henry Ford, and the Du Ponts; also the Guggenheims, Andrew W. Mellon, James J. Hill, Edward Henry Harriman, Henry Villard, the first two Vanderbilts, and the Astors. Some of these names remain familiar in our own time; others do not. All were "tough-minded fellows, who fought their way encased in rhinoceros hides and filled the air with their mad bellowings and the cries of the wounded." A colorful lot indeed.
Holbrook's account of 19th century robber barons and great tycoons "sets the table" for the "feast" of information and analysis that Anthony Mayo and Nitin Nohria with Laura Singleton so skillfully provide.
What I don't like and don't agree with is that finding the path to power and getting to the inner circle is purely a matter of things the individual cant control --what social class their father was in, whether they went to an ivy league school, their race, religion, gender etc.
While there is probably truth in the authors argument, and facts carefully selected to support a conclusion jumped too early, I think the net effect will be discouraging for many people, or push them into a state of profound resignation.
There is another book by Robert Caro,called Path to Power about Lyndon Johnson, who grew up as a dirt poor boy from the Hill Country of Texas, without education, and who the patrician Kennedy, Harvard educated boys hated --who beat the odds, through ambition, super human effort, and maniacal drive to not only become Senator but President of the United States
For example, there is a story in the book about LBJ hearing FRD was landing at in a sea port in Texas, rushed to the dock and strong armed his way into the photograph so he could be seen as an insider, not an outsider
Another example that stands in stark contrast to the authors dismaying conclusion is that of Steve Jobs, who grew up as an adopted son, in a 1/2 Jewish lower middle class family, who dropped out of Reed College, studied with a guru in India in bare feet. It was not caste and calling but the guru urging that he give up the idea of being a zen master, and become a business man.
Like Johnson, Mr. Jobs, beat the odds through super human drive, game changing ideas, and passion for great design. As we all know he started apple in his garage, returned to the company after being fired and eventually become the most influential business man on earth in the 20th century.
I believe that this book could have been one chapter in a longer book, that was more encouraging and useful to people, especially young people Robert Hargrove