Tag Archives: Biography

My Forty Years With Ford by Charles Sorensen

Summary

  1. Charles Sorsensen worked with Henry Ford longer than anyone else and in this book recounts how it was to work with Ford and how life at the company evolved over the decades. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Sorensen gained Henry Ford’s respect by translating Ford’s design concepts into wooden parts that could be seen and studied. Advancing rapidly, he was second in command of Piquette production by 1907….Sorensen’s “crowning achievement,” Ford historian Ford R. Bryan wrote in 1993, was the “design of the production layout of the mammoth Willow Run Bomber Plant.” Others have cited as Sorensen’s greatest accomplishment his role in the development of mass production….Six years before we installed it, I experimented with the moving final assembly line which is now the crowning touch of American mass production. Before the eyes of Henry Ford, I worked out on a blackboard the figures that became the basis for his $5 day and the overwhelming proof of the present economic truism that high wages beget lower-priced mass consumption.
  2. During the nearly forty years I worked for Henry Ford, we never had a quarrel. If we disagreed on policy, or anything else, a quiet discussion settled things. I don’t recall ever receiving a direct order, “I want this done” or “Do it this way.” He got what he wanted by hint or suggestion. He seldom made decisions—in fact, when I brought a matter up for his approval, his usual reply was, “What are we waiting for? Go ahead!”
  3. I believe there are three main reasons for my long tenure. One advantage I had over others was that, from my pattern-making days on, I could sense Henry Ford’s ideas and develop them. I didn’t try to change them. This was not subservience. We were pioneering; we didn’t know whether a thing was workable until we tried it. So, Mr. Ford never caught me saying that an idea he had couldn’t be done. If I had the least idea it couldn’t, I always knew that the thing would prove or disprove itself. When designers were given Mr. Ford’s ideas to execute, the usual result was incorporation of some of their ideas, too. But it was part of my patternmaking training to follow through with what was given me. I suppose that was why Mr. Ford turned to me. Another reason for my long tenure was that I minded my own business. Production—whether it was automobiles, tractors, aviation motors, or B-24 bombers—its planning, installation and supervision was a seven-days-a-week job. I had no time for the outside interests of Henry Ford which arose as he grew older. Labor matters were not in my province. I took no part in his crusades like the World War I Peace Ship to “get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas.” I was not involved in his miscast and fortunately unsuccessful candidacy for United States senator. I did not share his racial prejudices or his diet fads, except that by preference I am a teetotaler and nonsmoker. I might scour the country for automobile parts but not for antiques for Greenfield Village. He gave up trying to make a square dancer out of me. By sticking to my job of production and not mixing in outside affairs, the white light of publicity fortunately did not beat down upon me until World War II, when I had been with Mr. Ford for more than thirty-five years. I avoided headlines by preference.
  4. He was unorthodox in thought but puritanical in personal conduct. He had a restless mind but was capable of prolonged, concentrated work. He hated indolence but had to be confronted by a challenging problem before his interest was aroused. He was contemptuous of money-making, of money-makers and profit seekers, yet he made more money and greater profits than those he despised. He defied accepted economic principles, yet he is the foremost exemplar of American free enterprise. He abhorred ostentation and display, yet he reveled in the spotlight of publicity. He was ruthless in getting his own way, yet he had a deep sense of public responsibility. He demanded efficient production, yet made place in his plant for the physically handicapped, reformed criminals, and human misfits in the American industrial system. He couldn’t read a blueprint, yet had greater mechanical ability than those who could. He would have gone nowhere without his associates, we did the work while he took the bows, yet none of us would have gone far without him. He has been described as complex, contradictory, a dreamer, a grown-up boy, an intuitive genius, a dictator, yet essentially he was a very simple man.
  5. In engineering work in the drafting room, it was plain to the men to whom he gave his work that he could not make a sketch or read a blueprint. It was to his everlasting credit that, with his limited formal education, his mind worked like a modern electronic calculating machine and he had the answer to what he wanted. The trick was to fathom the device or machine part that was on his mind and make the object for him to look at. That was where I came in.
  6. Henry Ford was no mystic or genius. He was a responsible person with determination to do his work as he believed it should be done. This sense of responsibility was one of his strongest traits.
  7. This ability to sense signs of the times and to counteract forces that showed danger signals was almost uncanny. I would go to him with problems that looked insurmountable. Nothing appeared to frighten him….There is no doubt that Henry Ford had courage. Probably he will never be glorified for his Peace Ship excursion; but no one can tell me it didn’t take courage to undertake it. It took courage, too, to fight the Selden patent, to hold to his fixed idea of a cheap car, to battle dividend-hungry boards of directors, to build River Rouge plant in the face of stock-holder opposition.
  8. It parallels in a small way, but is only partially accountable for, his long-time habit of stirring up associates to see their reactions under stress. His lasting accomplishments were achieved when facing down opposition, such as when his directors opposed the Model T idea…Constant ferment—keep things stirred up and other people guessing—was the elder Ford’s working formula for progress.
  9. Henry Ford’s greatest failure was in expecting Edsel to be like him. Edsel’s greatest victory, despite all obstacles, was in being himself.
  10. He could not make a speech. His few attempts to talk to a group of people were pitiful.
  11. With the obvious exception of his single-purpose goal of a cheap car for the masses, a set policy was next to impossible with him. It was impossible because by nature he was an experimenter.
  12. When he wanted to size up a man quickly he loaded him with power. If the man took the least advantage of his new position he got some kind of warning, not from Henry Ford but from the least expected quarter. How he accepted the warning was what Henry Ford was watching. If he went to Ford to see if the warning was really coming from him, he would be encouraged to disregard everything. That would throw him off completely, but in a few days he was out, completely mystified over what had really happened.
  13. I learned not to take advantage of Mr. Ford or of his generosity. I could sense what he wanted and I did not need to be told what to do.
  14. Henry Ford was opinionated in matters about which he knew little or nothing. He could be small-minded, suspicious, jealous, and occasionally malicious and lacking in sincerity. He probably hastened the death of his only son.
  15. He came close to wrecking the great organization he had built up. These were his defects. Taken by themselves, they were grave faults, and it might well be wondered how one could retain one’s self-respect and still serve such a man. But when weighed against his good qualities, his sense of responsibility, his exemplary personal life, and his far-reaching accomplishments, these defects become microscopic. It is not for his failings but for his impact upon his time and his momentous part in liberating men from backbreaking toil that he will stand out in the future…It was destined to make motor transport universal, to attain mass production, to demonstrate the superiority of an economy of abundance over one of scarcity, and to begin the elevation of a standard of living to a height never before dreamed of.
  16. Ford was not an expert, and he didn’t rely upon experts, whether they were scientists, engineers, railroad men, economists, educators, business executives, or bankers. He was an individualist who arrived at conclusions—both right and wrong—by independent thought.
  17. One is rigid system, in which rules tend to be paramount; the other is flexible method, in which the objective comes first.
  18. We trained thousands of mechanics that way. When foremen or executive supervisors were needed, they were picked from men who showed ability in operating machines. This was a fundamental principle during the first three periods of Ford Motor Company. Good managers at Ford had to have some of these qualities: (i) Refreshing simplicity. (2) Brains. (3) Education. (4) Special technical ability. (5) Tact. (6) Energy and Grit. (7) Honesty. (8) Judgment. (9) Common sense. (10) Good health.
  19. In today’s industrial organizations a situation rather than the personality is the dominant factor. The situation controls, and the true leader is the one who responds immediately and effectively to the situation. And, since a situation is always primary, authority derives from function rather than position. The responsibility is for and not to.
  20. Too often the concern of corporation executives about their titles—even size and furnishings of their offices—deflects thought and energy from jobs they are supposed to do. That concern may whet ambition—but with a wrong emphasis. In the absence of a flock of titles, such things didn’t worry us at Ford.
  21. Selection is too narrow a word when thinking of building for leadership. Inside any company, some of the ablest men are never selected. They just get a job in the old-fashioned way and emerge on merit. A smart boss watches for them and does something about it as soon as they emerge. Some may have formal education but many do not. It is still the glory of our country that this doesn’t matter. A man is doomed not by being uneducated but by remaining so. Who can tell us what leadership is? It is a radiant quality which some men possess which makes others swing joyously into common action. What they do is wisely conceived and eminently fair. Such leadership, which is above all the characteristic of American production and the function of voluntary effort, springs from mutual understanding. The boss must know the worker and the worker must know the boss. They must respect each other.
  22. Ford knew when to give praise when it was due and when to make fair criticism when that was due. These are two of the strongest attributes of wise leadership, particularly when dealing with the imaginative and creative personalities so much needed in industry.
  23. It isn’t the incompetent who destroy an organization. The incompetent never get into a position to destroy it. It is those who have achieved something and want to rest upon their achievements who are forever clogging things up. To keep an industry thoroughly alive, it should be kept in perpetual ferment.
  24. When one man began to fancy himself an expert, we had to get rid of him. The minute a man thinks himself an expert he gets an expert’s state of mind, and too many things become impossible. The Ford operations and creative work were directed by men who had no previous knowledge of the subject. They did not have a chance to get on really familiar terms with the impossible.
  25. Proved competence in some field plus intellectual curiosity and audacity are to me essential qualities. The trick is to detect them.
  26. As time went on, Wills specialized less in development work and more in metallurgy and tool design.
  27. It was the great common sense that Mr. Ford could apply to new ideas and his ability to simplify seemingly complicated problems that made him the pioneer he was.
  28. To get everything simple took a lot of fussy work.
  29. Many of the world’s greatest mechanical discoveries were accidents in the course of other experimentation. Not so Model T, which ushered in the motor transport age and set off a chain reaction of machine production now known as automation. All of our experimentation at Ford in the early days was toward a fixed and, then, wildly fantastic goal.
  30. It was because of our constant tinkering that we were so right in many of the things we made.
  31. Today, we do not hear so much about “mass production” as we do about “automation.” Both evolve from the same principle: machine-produced interchangeable parts and orderly flow of those parts first to subassembly, then to final assembly. The chief difference is that mechanized assembly is more complete in automation; where men once tended machine tools, the job is now done electronically, with men, fewer of them, keeping watch over the electronics.
  32. Next, he required each bidder to submit prices based on material, labor, and other overhead, and even the amount of profit. Under such a system there was no question about costs being kept down, and the savings were tremendous. Instead of being resented, Diehl was very much respected by suppliers, for although their prices were kept in line they were assured of profit.
  33. Henry Ford had no ideas on mass production. He wanted to build a lot of autos. He was determined but, like everyone else at that time, he didn’t know how. In later years he was glorified as the originator of the mass production idea. Far from it; he just grew into it, like the rest of us. The essential tools and the final assembly line with its many integrated feeders resulted from an organization which was continually experimenting and improvising to get better production…Today historians describe the part the Ford car played in the development of that era and in transforming American life. We see that now. But we didn’t see it then; we weren’t as smart as we have been credited with being. All that we were trying to do was to develop the Ford car. The achievement came first. Then came logical expression of its principles and philosophy. Not until 1922 could Henry Ford explain it cogently: “Every piece of work in the shop moves; it may move on hooks on overhead chains going to assembly in the exact order in which the parts are required; it may travel on a moving platform, or it may go by gravity, but the point is that there is no lifting or trucking of anything other than materials.” It has been said that this system has taken skill out of work. The answer is that by putting higher skill into planning, management, and tool building it is possible for skill to be enjoyed by the many who are not skilled.
  34. Machines do not eliminate jobs; they only make them easier—and create new ones.
  35. The Ford Model T was built so that every man could run it. Ford mass production made it available to everyone. Ford wages enabled everyone to afford it. The Ford $5 day rejected the old theory that labor, like other commodities, must be bought in the cheapest market. It recognized that mass producers are also mass consumers, that they cannot consume unless they are able to buy.
  36. Ever since it was founded, Ford Motor Company had shared some of its prosperity with its people. Employees who had been with the company for three years or longer received 10 per cent of their annual pay, and efficiency bonus checks were handed to executives and branch managers….It was just good, sound business. As Henry Ford said at the time, it was not “charity” but “profit sharing and efficiency engineering.”
  37. Five years later, when the minimum wage had been increased to $6 a day, we knew that our establishment of the $5 minimum for an eight-hour day was one of the best cost-cutting moves we had ever made.
  38. With them, profits came first and set the price accordingly. Ford held that if the price is right the cost will take care of itself. Price first, then cost, was a paradox. It ran counter to prevailing business practice, but Ford made it work.
  39. During World War I, Mr. Ford was contemplating a reduction of $80 a car. Since the company was turning out 500,000 cars a year, it was argued that this would reduce the company’s income by $40,000,000. This calculation had nothing to do with the matter. What was entirely overlooked was the fact, as brought out in the $ 5-day calculations, that the $80 reduction would sell more than 500,000 cars and that the savings from the lower costs of greater production would more than absorb the price cut.
  40. No matter how efficient that manufacturing, coal and iron costs are prime elements in determining the cost of the completed automobile. These fluctuation costs are beyond the control of other auto companies. When Ford built the River Rouge plant he either owned or had lined up enough coal and iron deposits to handle his production. Thus, he controlled sources of his two most important materials.
  41. As a result, Ford Motor Company emerged from World War II to peacetime manufacture of automobiles with five great advantages over its competitors: First, as we have seen, it had its own source of raw materials. Second, it had the world’s greatest, most complete industrial manufacturing plant—the biggest machine shop on earth. Third, the Rouge plant, with assets of $1,500,000,000, was owned outright and was built out of profits and not a cent of borrowed money. Fourth, it had a work force and supervision at the foreman level trained in Ford production methods. Fifth, it had its own steel mill and therefore was unaffected by a steel shortage after the war which crippled the operations of many less fortunate companies. True, its postwar top management was new, but given those five incalculable advantages, how could it fail?
  42. When something new and different is sought, it is useless to copy; start fresh on a new idea. This means fresh minds at work.
  43. These stockholders had originally put up $33,100. Sixteen years later they sold out for more than $105,000,000. Also, in those sixteen years, their total dividends were more than $30,000,000.
  44. The skill in manufacturing the finished article was reflected in the planning. Casual visitors looking at parts being made would be astonished to see how simple it was to make a crankshaft. What they did not see was the time and experience involved in designing and in the organization that was responsible for it.
  45. These superintendents and their assistants were not of the sitdown type. I did not permit the top men to hold down a chair in an office. My formula for them was “You’ve got to get around.” In addition to watching work progress, I insisted that they keep their plants clean. I insisted upon spotlessness and kept an ever-watchful eye on conveniences and facilities that would lighten men’s work loads.
  46. We automobile men didn’t want to run a railroad, but we were driven to it because this appeared the best solution to a vexing problem. By 1920, Ford was producing a million cars a year—more than the railroads could swiftly deliver. The bottleneck was freight shipments…With motor transport on the increase and threatening their revenues, railways had little incentive to help auto manufacturers.
  47. It was apparent that, while the Russians had stolen the Fordson tractor design, they did not have any of our specifications for the material that entered into the various parts. And you can’t find that out merely by pulling the machine apart and studying the pieces…But ever since that day I never felt particular concern about the Russian competition in the Ford product field.
  48. Mr. Ford’s remark to me back in 1912, “Give them any color they want so long as it is black,” epitomized the reasons for Model T’s success and its ultimate decline.
  49. I had been telling him that with his new venture he might control or dominate the motorcar business. We had 50 percent of it in 1924. His reply to control was “Charlie, I don’t want all the business. Twenty-five percent will satisfy me.” Of course, to me that looked like coasting along, but it gave me a hint of why he was not in a hurry to start up; he could get all the business he wanted.
  50. It was not until I pointed out that we might set new standards in building them that I secured Henry Ford’s consent to make 4,000 Pratt & Whitney engines.
  51. First, break the plane’s design into essential units and make a separate production layout for each unit. Next, build as many units as are required, then deliver each unit in its proper sequence to the assembly line to make one whole unit—a finished plane.
  52. “Unless you see a thing, you cannot simplify it. And unless you can simplify it, it’s a good sign you can’t make it.”
  53. It had always been our policy at Ford for everyone to start at the bottom. Kanzler was one of the few exceptions and largely for that reason, I think, Mr. Ford avoided him.
  54. My best friends are my critics. You say, “Why did I not develop a real successor?” Mr. Ford, like many men of his kind, never had a successor, they just can’t acknowledge that such a thing is possible. Was his son even a possible successor? This war program which he, Henry Ford, never entered into, and which he would not take the slightest interest, got me in trouble plenty with him. Can’t you use your imagination a bit? I was the only authority in the Company that Washington recognized. I am the victim of that situation. I got out on my own all right rather than follow his son. That is all. Now, tell me, how could I develop an organization that would live on after I am, or he is, gone? My only ambition was to do exactly that. His grandsons, three of them, coming along, I felt I was living for them. In the bottom of my heart I still feel that way.

What I got out of it

  1. Really interesting to learn more about Henry Ford and the Ford empire, the good and the bad. The courage it took to take Ford to where it got and his great failure in not treating his only as his own person, driving him to illness and fracturing the relationship are worth noting. People are complex and multi-faceted, not all good nor all bad. Ford had some huge negative character flaws, but also some great ones. We should learn from him – both what to do and what to avoid.

The Last Lion by William Manchester

Summary

  1. Manchester describes not only the man, but the times, context, history, background, “gestalt” in which he lived. “This is a biography and not a history, but you are often confused because they are in fact quite different. A biography details the life, context, times, and decisions of a man and is not merely a chronological recounting of the past. As a biographer, we try to re-create an illusion of the man’s life to give people a true sense for who they were and the circumstances they were dealt.”

My favorite Churchill speeches – Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, We Shall Fight on the Beaches, Their Finest Hour

Favorite quotes

  • What is our [Britain’s] War Policy? – I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” Just as Churchill predicted, the road to victory in World War II was long and difficult: France fell to the Nazis in June 1940.
  • On a particular day when the Royal Air Force had amazing results, Winston’s famous line was, “never have so many owed so much to so few.”

Key Takeaways


Vol. 1: 1847-1932 Visions of Glory

  1. Many men have judgment, few have insight. He was an extroverted intuitive and his capacity to inspire and unite was unrivaled. He preferred to work by intuition and impulse rather than analysis. This is what the country needed at this time but it rubbed many people the wrong way. Most men misjudge their importance, Churchill did not. He was indispensable
  2. In the age of the specialist, he was the antithesis. He was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. The defender of freedom, a poet a writer, a statesman, a politician, a biographer, a historian, one who is a force of character and can never be summed up easily. He is one of history‘s great men.  It is pointless to expect consistency and balance in genius.  He was different from other men and had what seemed to be built in shock absorbers that allowed him to continue on through all his defeat and downturns.  It was said that one of the strongest traits was his ability to focus on one thing and doing it exceedingly exceedingly well. That is a trait of genius .
  3. Deep insight and not stability were his forte. He knew the British people had to be united when Hitler came to power.
  4. Although Winston was brave and a strategic mastermind, it was his mastery of the English language which set him apart and helped him shape history.
  5. The book begins with a deep dive of the British empire and how large and dominant it was at its height –  spanning 3x the size of the Roman empire! This unstoppable mindset and the belief that it was the British right to rule is important to understand and cover because it heavily influenced Churchill in many ways 
  6. He spoke to the British people, the world, like nobody before or since. He was raw, real, unabashed
  7. In all his life he showed incredible courage – from his time in the military to his final days as a politician. He was accused of loving war but this was not the case. He felt the heaviness but knew he had to step up or things would get much worse
  8. Winston was as much American as he was British. His mother was from New York and he loved her dearly but she neglected him early on. Later, however, because of her promiscuity and relationships with multiple wealthy and influential men, she was able to open many doors for Winston. His nurse was the most important person in his life until he was 20. He was also beat savagely at his boarding school, was bored in class, and rebelled against authority. His only defense was an unconquerable will and he showed how stubborn and iconoclastic he was early on.  He struggled mightily in school, never achieving good grades and hardly getting into colleges or prestigious schools.  
  9. His father was a prominent politician but played his cards wrong and ended up being kicked out, never to return again. He deeply loved his father and considered him an idol, but his father neglected him and hardly spoke to him because he didn’t achieve in traditional measures. Famous men are typically the product of unhappy childhoods
  10. Churchill had great faith but also believed you have the power to change things. He changed his image to one of an athlete, a bulldog, to display to others his courage and confidence
  11. Churchill is one of the most losing politicians of all time. He switched parties numerous times, rubbed people the wrong way, and was often thought as a charlatan who had a lot of talent and intellect but didn’t know how to harness it 
  12. He always fought for and rooted for the underdog, as he himself was the underdog. He suffered serious bouts of depression and melancholy, was bullied as a kid and never fit in. The most insecure and oppressed people seek external approval and Churchill was no different. He simply wanted people to applaud him and tell him how great his works were, not to offer critical feedback or advice. He always thought that he was destined for greatness and was rather arrogant about it at times. He loved being the center of attention and would often listen to his own speeches and re-read his own work to listen to himself 
  13. It was said that Churchill was a simple man – he simply enjoyed the best of everything 
  14. Churchill never had a feel for the British public. He simply did his own thing. He was born into a society where class differences were prevalent and accepted. It was said that he would’ve been just fine in the feudal society.  His aristocratic heritage was the cause of many blind spots but it was also responsible for his great talents as well. He was never accused for being humble and owned up to that
  15.  Churchill had an incredible memory, able to remember and recite thousands of lines of poetry and what he remembered he hardly forgot.  He was also an incredible writer and made his money as a journalist and author.  Since he was young, the only thing he wanted was become master of the written and spoken word.  He didn’t improvise. He planned and wrote ahead of time and wrote most of his speeches in the bathtub with a cigar. He dictated his speeches to a secretary who typed them up then came the scissors and the glue to rearrange the lines multiple times before the final draft was ready.  The final draft had bigger letters for what he wanted to emphasize spacing between words that he wanted to stress and bolded others what he thought most important 
  16. Churchill was a voracious reader, remembering everything he read and calling the dead authors his friends from whom he often pulled from. He was never a man for small talk
  17.  In his early 20s he got shipped off to India with the British army. It was at this point that he started becoming an auto didactic, reading everything from Aristotle to Plato to Socrates, learning from the lessons of history.  He allowed himself to believe whatever he wanted to believe even if paradoxical or contradictory and let reason take him wherever she might.  It was at this time he decided he wanted to get into parliament, but first he decided he needed to be a famous war hero who displayed courage. He brilliantly manipulated his mother and her lovers so that he could be on the front lines where ever the fiercest battles were 
  18. Churchill had his own path, he fashioned his own life. He didn’t follow anyone 
  19. Churchill went down to South Africa during the Boer War. He was held captive there for some time and showed great courage throughout his time there. Once he came back to Britain, he had earned a lot of political power and recognition. He had parties fighting for him to join their constituencies and the people were excited about him.  He became magnetic around this time and soon a great speaker. He memorized every word he wanted to say, just like his father had.  Nobody put in more work to prepare for his speeches but it was paradoxical that he was also the quickest on his feet. Churchill didn’t care about  approval, he simply wanted attention.  
  20. One of Churchill‘s advantages was his lack of formal education. He questioned everything, thought from first principles, and wasn’t afraid of stating simple truths. These were things which others, who were more buttoned up and had more classical training, did not even consider or were too afraid to even think about 
  21. One must be always ready to change sides, if that is the side of justice.  What is the use of supporting your side only when it’s right? It is exactly at the time when they are wrong, when there is disagreement, that you must step up and speak.  He fought for what he thought was right, not what his party said was right. This made him many enemies on all sides and when he was young, he wasn’t able to handle this solitude too well. He went into deep bouts of depression. He experienced this later on too but managed them and learned how to handle them when he was alone and behind closed doors. He jumped sides early on from a tory to a liberal. One said this was ambition because he could move ahead faster but he retaliated by saying that some men change parties to match their principles whereas others change their principles to match their parties 
  22. Winston as awkward with women. He really only liked talking about himself and abhorred small talk. He eventually became very dependent on his wife but early on he didn’t seem to respect women too much
  23. Traditional religions were losing their grip on the English and they were looking for substitutes. This meant that dogmatic, hardheaded, and simple answers to complex questions attract people because this allows them to have something to hold onto that feels concrete 
  24. By the early 1900s, the British had conquered pretty much everything there was to conquer. This just stifled people’s energy and innovation, making them turn inwards and expecting higher levels of innovation and fulfillment to come from England herself
  25. Men rarely understand the sources of their strength 
  26. His same qualities attracted and repelled – his compulsive and witty conversation offended and attracted
  27. His capacity for work is difficult to even understand but he still had time for polo, leisure, travel, and more. 
  28.  He was in egoist in the true sense of the word – whatever he was focused on was then, by definition, the most important 
  29. England for centuries adopted the grand strategy of allying with the second most powerful country in Europe and that is how they defeated Napoleon, but the strategy was not written down until Churchill came along.  The English Navy also had a mandate that they must be more powerful than the second and third most powerful navies.  
  30. The best admirals do not risk the vessels that they’re given, they win by superior strategy. During World War I, Churchill was the First Admiral and although his thinking and strategies on the war were spot on, he didn’t have authority to fully carry them out. He wanted to open up a second front in the Dardanelles so that they could exploit the Axis Powers unstable ally, Turkey, and gain the upper hand. It didn’t work however because the top brass wasn’t committed and people ended up blaming him for the fiasco and wanted to exclude him from the cabinet after the war. After the war it was determined that if his strategy was followed through correctly and effectively the war could’ve ended several years earlier. He saw that trench warfare was savage and there was no decisive advantage. That’s why he fought so hard for gaining control of the Dardanelles but it didn’t pan out because he didn’t have authority to do things as he saw fit and those in charge we’re stuck in the past and couldn’t change their strategies as the technology changed. Generals tend to fight their last war 
  31. Change is the master key. Particular parts of the mind can be tired by overuse but it can be rested by using other parts of the mind. This is why Churchill loved to draw – it was his escape, a way to recharge
  32. At it’s apex, politics, strategy, economics are all one. 
  33. This understanding of strategy and military maneuvering was second to none.  However, after World War I, he was blamed for many fiascoes and things that he really wasn’t in charge of. During and after the war, Churchill experienced much isolation and criticism. Clementine told him his flaws, how his confrontational nature, need for the limelight, and sharp words earned him many enemies, distancing first rate men and attracting those who were fickle and could turn on him at any time. 
  34. It is amazing what people can justify to themselves by changing their reasoning 
  35. After WWI, the Russian and Bolshevik threat was not wasted on Churchill. He wanted to suppress them militarily but PM Lloyd George was vehemently against it and Winston had learned his lesson that he should not bulldoze his way through life when those who make the ultimate decision are so against it 
  36. One of Churchill’s biggest battles was with Communism. However, he often mistook pink for red and had major battles with the socialist labor unions. He was the Chancellor at this point and doing an excellent job. He was gaining great popularity and people were guessing when he would end up at 10 Downing St. as prime minister but there was hesitation too because he was still independent and not beholden to any one political party 
  37. Churchill was against Gandhi’s freedom of India mostly because it was out of an old school of thought that Britain had to hold onto their colonies or else they would become irrelevant. But, he also argued that the tens of millions of untouchables were in a position worse than slaves and if left alone, the country was and these people would be in a worse position because of all the religious infighting. However, it was also a difficult time to get the British population to really care for it was in the middle of the Great Depression. He was a political pariah through much of this period 
  38. Churchill became one of the world’s highest paid and most prolific writers. He sold books magazines articles and earned a healthy living off these skills 
  39. Churchill was one of the first to see the writing on the wall and understand how dangerous Hitler was and how damaging the treaty of Versailles was.  He recognized some of himself in Hitler even though he understood, before anyone else, the evil vision that Hitler had. Hitler too recognized his greatest foil in Churchill even though Churchill was not in power 

Vol. II: 1932 – 1940 Alone

  1. Churchill loved his baths and was very particular about them. They had to be filled the right amount and at the right temperature before he would jump in. He started every day with breakfast in bed and spent several hours reading editorials and newspapers.
  2. Although he is known for always drinking, he was never drunk and said that he got more out of alcohol than alcohol I’ve gotten out of him 
  3.  Churchill had a faculty for organizing large works, had an uncanny ability to focus on what he was working on in that moment, and did a surprising amount of the first hand reading, writing, and synthesizing of his works 
  4. He would spend between 6-8 preparing for a 40 minute speech and he made it a priority to remove all bureaucratic jargon and include as many visuals and emotional ties as he could.  He was extremely precise with his words and demanded the same of others 
  5. He could recite entire epic poem from memory but had trouble remembering the names of his servants. He treated them quite poorly and would often times act childish and impulsive if they didn’t understand him or do as he wished.  In one quarrel with one of the servants, the servant lashed out and said that Winston was rude first and Churchill replied, “yes I was, but I am a great man!” There was no arguing this as everyone in the house knew he was right.  He was not a man to apologize but he would sit show he was sorry I being appreciative for what you have done for him 
  6. The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him and the easiest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show that distrust 
  7. I would rather be right than consistent 
  8. Other than Churchill, few others saw the writing on the wall and how hungry Germany was to recover their honor at the first possibility. They had hate in their hearts, were embarrassed by the Versailles Treaty and wanted revenge. One of the more shortsighted and devastating decisions was to try to recoup some of the losses from the Great Depression by having the losers of the war pay for it. This germinated hatred and the desire for revenge which culminated in World War II 
  9. No trap is as deadly as the trap you set for yourself. Many other political and astute figures were duped by Hitler. They were drawn in by his magnetism and believed him when he said that all he was looking for was peace 
  10. Political genius lies in seeing over the horizon anticipating a future invisible to others
  11. He was a poor politician by the traditional sense of the word, although he was the most gifted orator of his time. He didn’t have the patience to proceed by traditional parliamentary processes and he didn’t have the skill to manipulate the House 
  12. Although he was a brilliant strategist, he missed how important and decisive submarine and air dominance would come to be. He was far ahead in calling for a rearmament and strengthening of England to offset the not so secret rearmament of Germany 
  13. Stanley Baldwin was the most popular and powerful PM in a long time and he knew that he would lose that if he were to call for a rearmament of England. This might have been the right call even though it was a tough and unpopular decision 
  14. Great wars usually come only when both sides have high confidence in victory 
  15. The blind spot of the time was that everyone preferred peace to war because of the atrocities seen in World War I. However, Hitler managed to  unite and set fire to a huge group of people who felt betrayed, broken, and who wanted revenge. They were willing to fight to regain their honor when nobody else was 
  16. When Hitler invaded the Rhineland, all the officers were terrified because they knew that if France acted they would be crushed. It was later learned that this was when Hitler was most nervous but he saw the risk is worth taking.  According to existing treaties, if France was attacked and they mobilized, Britain would send troops to support but they decided not to. The British decided to call this an assertion of equality rather than an act of war 
  17. Men of genius are able to focus on one thing exclusively more intensely than average man and never tire. Churchill’s focus was now on Hitler at the exclusion of everything else. He did whatever he thought was needed to stop him even before others even recognized the danger he posed
  18. Hitler understood his orderly people and knew he couldn’t usurp the government. So, he went about acquiring power through normal means and moved his way up. He used the secret police and other intimidation methods to get votes but it was done with the intention of looking legitimate in the eyes of the people so that they would accept him 
  19. Churchill understood that short simple words that were commonly understood or more powerful and effective than fancy words. He also believed that the key to a rousing speech was sincerity the speaker had to truly believe and be enthusiastic about what he was talking about and then it would be infectious 
  20. 1937 was a difficult year for Churchill. King Edward abdicated the throne in order to marry Mrs. Simpson and the way that Winston handled the situation and his ties to the king and his constant call for rearmament in order to equal Germany strength left him with no political power and he even contemplated leaving politics altogether
  21. As a political outcast he didn’t have the same constraints and expectations as those who held responsibility and this allowed him to maneuver and track down information on Germany’s position and actions that otherwise may have been difficult or riskier to attain
  22. Really interesting to learn more about the mindset and priorities of people at the time. Appeasement was the route they took because everyone was so shell-shocked and devastated by World War I that everyone was trying to avoid war at all costs and keep the economy strong and growing. Many saw how powerful Hitler and Germany were becoming but we’re reluctant to act on it for fear of war and economic devastation 
  23. Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland was one of those rare historical moments which took on a momentum of its own and exerted its own field of pressure 
  24. Prime minister Chamberlain was ineffective in dealing with Hitler. He didn’t understand how ambitious he was or how vengeful the country was. Churchill, on the other hand did. He and Hitler were very much the same and may be why they understood each other – they were both both artistic, believed in the supremacy of their countries, that they were men destined for greatness, and both used their intuition rather than reason to lead 
  25. In hindsight, the appeasement efforts were pitiful and ineffective but at the time, the public was so distraught by the first world war that they cheered the concessions made to Germany regarding Czechoslovakia.  This Munich Agreement had torn the government in the country apart as people were either applauding Chamberlain and the peace he had manufactured or understood that this was only a temporary solution that Hitler would be back and stronger than ever 
  26. Wise men avoid extravagant predictions
  27. Churchill was a terrific writer and thinker as he was able to assemble droves of information in his head, form it into a prism. and reflect it with blinding leaps of intuition.  His writing and research helped him dive into the past and find patterns that would help him navigate through World War II 
  28. Churchill was willing to change his mind in order to protect his country. Even though he hated the Bolsheviks, he knew that an alliance with Russia was a great idea so that Hitler would have a two front war if it got to that point 
  29. The present is not tidy or understandable and, once it has become the past, if one tries to make it neat, it only becomes implausible  
  30. A fundamental misconception about dictators in this time was that they could be reasoned and negotiated with. They hate compromise and negotiation 
  31. The British ruling class we’re also known as the leisure class and they hated to be in a hurry. They disappeared on the weekends and could not be reached. Hitler, knowing this, took advantage of that by making big moves and key decisions on the weekend when the people with the power and authority to make decisions weren’t around. He used velocity to his advantage 

Vol. 3: 1940-1945 Defender of the Realm

  1. Britain finally declared war on Germany and soon after Churchill joined the Admiralty. Someone who worked closely with him recounts how big of a difference his presence made to all levels, both civilian and military
  2. Churchill likes risks and always sought ways to bring the war to the enemy
  3. The English navy taught their cadeets that the greatest sin was to lose their ships and therefore, when war came, they were very conservative and risk averse
  4. Churchill was known for his incredible work ethic and crazy hours but he still needed to sleep about 8 hours within a 24 hour period, they were just more erratic than most
  5. Hitler famously used velocity to his advantage with the blitzkrieg. However, he also importantly avoided going strength to strength and always sought weaknesses that could be exploited. Hitler had hardly traveled abroad but he had an intuitive sense for finding people’s and country’s weaknesses and exploiting them.
  6. A couple days after Germany attacked the lowlands and France, Neville Chamberlain resigned so that Churchill could form a national government. Churchill felt like his whole life was leading up to this point, that he was walking with destiny
  7. Churchill never delegated any PM decisions because he wanted to be number one but also because he wanted to know everything, allowing him to form the hologram in his head. He saw bigger picture than anyone but also got into the weeds. He issued ear plugs for soldiers because it was so loud on the frontlines, he used WWI memorabilia if it was still functional, asked what would happen to the animals at the zoo if it was bombed, etc.
  8. Getting America involved in the war was one of Churchill’s most important objectives. He worked FDR and Harry Hopkins, charming both of them and eventually getting America to agree to the lend lease program. Churchill knew he had convinced them when Hopkins rose during a dinner with Churchill and quoted from the Book of Ruth: “Whither thou goest I will go, and whither thou lodgest I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God,” he declared, dramatically adding, “even to the end.” Churchill wept openly.
  9. The furnace of war had smelted out all the base metals from him. – Chamberlain on Churchill
  10. While he could be rough, he had a deeply empathetic streak. He also saw things simply, which is why the masses loved him
  11. He kept a box with organized folders out of which he ran the country and the war
  12. He required each command he gave to be answered in writing because this ensured that nothing was confused or misunderstood
  13. He was a man of action who didn’t care much for fancy social theories. He cared about what worked. However, he was very well read as he believed this was a very effective form of action
  14. Every report had to be summarized in less than one page before he would look at and sign off on it
  15. He was hard on others but he was even harder on himself
  16. Churchill didn’t go to church often and when asked about this, he said he wasn’t a pillar of the church, but a buttress – supporting from the outside rather than the inside
  17. He was of the belief that in peace times, be good to all, but during times of war, only show absolute fury
  18. He digested history to the point that he could recount every detail. He made them his personal memories and it informed his life and decisions
  19. Napoleon urged his men to never form a static picture of what he thought the enemy might do. Maginot clearly didn’t heed this sage advice. He and Petain concluded that the Germans would never come through the Ardennes because it was too thick of a forest. This was clearly a huge blind spot
  20. On a particular day when the Royal Air Force had amazing results, Winston’s famous line was, “never have so many owed so much to so few.”
  21. Winston was very thoughtful and deliberate about he he communicated with the masses, making sure that steps were taken so that they knew how hard the army, navy, and military were fighting on their behalf, stoking their patriotism, bravery, and courage
  22. Something Germany didn’t understand was the tenacity of the British. Parliament voted 341-4 to fight on and avoid a peace treaty. In a divided government, this is an incredible show of unity
  23. Eventually a ministry of information was created to help combat Germany’s propaganda. Churchill called this department a “stand alone and off-the-shelf unit”
  24. Churchill abides by the law of flexibility and opportunism – allowing himself to react and make decisions as situations unfold – rather than sticking to rigid grand plans
  25. Churchill was a great painter and understood that war, like painting, is a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts 
  26. Niels Bohr had a rule that things were either explained clearly or accurately, but they could not be both
  27. If there is only one option on the table, it is not an option
  28. Churchill had an encyclopedic knowledge of warfare and came to many of the same conclusions that von Clausewitz did – confuse and deceive the enemy, add idiosyncratic elements to your charges, capture armies and not real estate, and more

What I got out of it

  1. Like great biographers do, Manchester gives an intense look into the context, time, environment, in which Churchill live. Loved hearing about his quirks, his “gyroscope” which kept him on the right track regardless of the public’s mood, his oratorical skills, and so much more

The Yankee of the Yards: The Biography of Gustavus Franklin Swift by Louis F Swift

Summary

  1. “Rare indeed is the man who attains preeminence with the steady, irresistible thrust – who leaves in those who started with him a sense that his success was inevitable, that one could no more have stopped him than an Alpine glacier or a Sierra cascade. This is the story of Gustavus Swift. His abilities and the world’s changing needs came together to produce a career as exceptional as it is interesting.”

Key Takeaways

  1. A Better Mousetrap
    1. His long suit was keeping expenses down. Next in his interest came developing byproducts – which is another form of the same thing. Low expenses and maximum return from every pound of live animal are what made Swift a leader in the new industry of which he was a founder – meatpacking and distribution. He recognized early on that waste and accomplishment are incompatible. 
    2. He turned small and uneconomic units into a large, centralized, very efficient unit which bought, transported, slaughtered, refrigerated, and brought to market high quality beef to dense urban centers. He eliminated middlemen, only shipped parts of the animal that were needed, which eliminated markups, wasted shipping/feeding costs and more. He made money out of what age old customs said to throw away. The butchers were glad to have this rubbish carted off, for disposing of it was difficult. The savings were so great that the beef was sold below locally slaughtered beef although it was higher quality and it still left a handsome margin. His competitors were slow to catch on so used this time to sprint ahead while he had the field to himself. Every cent his business yielded went back into it again 
      1. Reminds me of Sam Zemmuray, the banana king, who took bananas that people thought were useless as they were too ripe and sold them locally. Alchemy – turning other people’s rubbish into gold. 
    3. No enterprise can grow soundly and survive the lean days which always come unless it blocks off every possible source of waste. Byproducts revenue is what developed his business. Before he had finished sign the process, he was using everything from the animal to produce a profit. 
    4. He was never satisfied with his business. He knew he could get more if he could crowd his prices below the rest of the field without sacrificing profit. Out of this continual pushing for sales by cutting his costs, he built his own business to a place of preeminence. There were no little cracks in the walls which permitted anything to get away undetected. It is the leaks which ruin more basically sound businesses than any other cause 
    5. Ability by itself could not have done what he did. His thoroughness was the source of his magic – working dissatisfaction with half measures. Father could not be happy if anything which he was connected functioned short of 100%. Basically of course he comprehended a fundamental commercial truth: if everything is done right if errors are held below the errors of competitors and if a business service and economic end then it must prosper. He schooled himself to do everything absolutely right and to expect the same of everyone else. Perhaps the one point where he laid the most emphasis on having everything done absolutely right was in cleanliness. He insisted on it because he liked it and because it cut down spoilage materially. He looked in the corners, under benches, and in the least well lit parts of for dirt. Sarcasm was his working tool for getting things corrected. He was much more concerned about maintaining a right method than about adopting a new one. Therein he showed that common sense which distinguished his ways of working from those of so many men of greater brilliance. Once he had a good method established he never allowed anyone, himself included, to overlook it. He was ready to supplant it at any time if a better method came his way. But he avoided that common failing of being so busy with new hatched plans that he overlooked the old, tested, profitable methods. 
    6. He had to overcome the sin of newness but his system was a marker improvement over the old order. 
      1. It is said people are afraid of change, and this is partially true, but what people are truly afraid of is uncertainty, losing and being in a worse spot than before. If you have a change which leaves everyone better off, people will flock to you. Nobody was ever afraid of a promotion because it included change. 
    7. He never believed in holding on to a thing because selling it might bring a loss. Meat is perishable and he believed that the best way to make money is to keep turning over goods and capital. He developed s technique  which kept his goods moving at a rate far faster than was needed to avoid spoilage. But he also warned his people not to overload a customer. Never try to sell a customer more of anything than he can get rid of quickly. Try to sell him what he needs and then he’ll come back. He’ll be a better customer in the end. Similarly he held that smaller customers should not be discriminated against. Maybe some day they’ll be a big customer
    8. He used a beautiful, clean, service oriented store to sell more meat. If a customer had their mind set, they sold only that. But if a customer was undecided they would push the meat they wanted to sell. He would sell more with nice displays and by having everything cut up, people would buy more 
  2. Role as a teacher
    1. Whenever he found a good man, he would raise his wages. These men will save us far more than they cost. 
    2. He no interest or time in discussing profitable branches. “I want to talk about the ones that are losing. I have no time for the others.”
    3. He cared about every detail and was always teaching. His aim was not to make a man feel bad but to avoid the possibility of repeating any similar loss
    4. I don’t have to go out and hire very many managers. I can raise better than I can hire. It is noteworthy that 20 odd years after his death, most of the men in positions of high responsibility are men who were trained directly under the founder. These men understand loyalty and that they have an obligation to the company, just like the company has to him 
    5. He believed in helping those who helped themselves 
    6. Loyal support from the head of a business makes loyal men beneath the head. Swift fully backed men he trusted and if he didn’t believe in a man enough to back him, he’d want nothing to do with them. 
    7. If he is the right kind of man, he is better off for being corrected. This man is worth the effort. Otherwise, leave it alone
    8. We have a policy to never put outsiders over old employees if the job can possibly be filled from within 
    9. One secret of his success in training men was the way he dealt with them. He knew all about practically every detail in the business, the standards to which every operation must be held. His microscopic eye for detail never overlooked any really significant points, even though he might not concern himself too immediately with them. At the same time, he would seldom overrule an individual he had confidence in if they made a deliberate junction. He preferred to let the man incur a loss to prove to his own satisfaction what would always have remained a doubt if he had simply been told to follow the boss’s instruction
    10. Even more than in developing executives – Swift’s knack of dealing with human being appeared in his work with the rank and file. It is more difficult to get a reasonable degree of work out of the 97% of employees who never develop the capacity for authority and who never can 
      1. A focus on the bottom of the roster is paramount to high performing teams 
    11. One of the cardinal principles which enabled him to raise better men than he could hire was his sparing use of compliments. You promote the able and willing and unless they do something spectacular, you don’t spoil them
  3. Touching the medium – an eye for detail
    1. Whenever he visited a branch house or plant, he went without warning. Generally he came in the back way and got his eyes full of what was going on, before ever he looked up the men in charge. 
    2. Father’s knowledge of every part of the business and his attention to the most minute details was one of the secrets of his operating success. While the microscopic eye was for scrutinizing little things, he had the telescopic eye for surveying big things. And he never put on the wrong lens!
    3. Swift became a devotee of weekly reports when the company became too big for him to have his finger on every aspect of it. You’ve got to know how you stand every week. If you wait a month, you might be broke. Above all else his favorite statistical diet was the reports of weak departments. His whole being enjoyed the sheer difficulty of going into a seat of trouble, diffing out the facts, aligning them, and putting things right. Swift believed in frequent reminders and in prompt corrective measures. 
    4. Knowledge of every detail of the business was the taproot of his way of managing. His technical knowledge was exhaustive, perhaps as great as that of any man the packing industry has known even to this day. His grasp of the facts of distribution, of transporting the products, of the current standing of company finances – in everything from buying cattle and icing cars all the ah through where he would get another ten millions of capital and how he would use it – made him completely the master. One reason for his mastery of the facts was the time he devoted to business, st the office, at the plants, at home. He worked hard, harder than he asked anyone else to work. The men who worked with him liked his pushing. 
    5. He grew at a rate considerably faster than a conservative man would have thought either possible or safe but his decisions were based on a meticulous knowledge of his own affairs and if the whole industry. 
    6. He did not want his information or opinions second hand. 
    7. Always he held his affairs ahead of his finances and his plans ahead of his affairs. One reason, the principal reason he managed to carry the thing off, was that he knew his business and held to it exclusively. He had no interests outside live stock, packing, and closely related enterprises. A secondary reason why he succeeded where most men must have failed was that he knew the measure of everyone from whom he borrowed money in any considerable amount. While a dreamer and a visionary, he based his dreams and his visions of expansion very much on the practical facts of life. 
      1. Circle of competency
  4. One thing he insisted on absolutely was honesty 
    1. Absolute honesty like his is exceptional. Not only did he know that he was honest in all of his dealings, everyone who dealt with him experienced his honesty and felt perfect assurance in its unvarying characteristic. The extent to which some people with whom he did business relied on his honesty and fairness is almost unbelievable. 
    2. He always regarded his credit as his greatest asset. He always had the money when a loan came due and usually asked for a renewal on the spot. In the downturn of 1893, Swift’s employees knew the business needed cash to survive as they couldn’t get it from banks. Hundreds of employees voluntarily lent the company their savings to keep it alive. That is the confidence and loyalty Swift inspired in his men. 
    3. He always tried to find out the right way to do a thing, and then he followed out his right procedure unfailingly. If a thing’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right. This was his maxim – not just in business, but in life.
    4. He never changed his price unless conditions changed. He stood by his word 
    5. There’s no use handling poor stuff or dealing with the wrong sort of people. There are enough people who want good stuff and who will deal honestly, to give us all the business we can handle. This was his guiding principle in picking men or livestock 
    6. Swift always gave his competitor a chance to join him. If you handle my beef, we’ll be partners. If you won’t, I’ll put it in against you. This was the squares kind of competition. And if it came to competition, my father always won. He had the mighty advantage of economics on his side. 
    7. Swift’s reputation was such that many a man gave yo his own established business to come to us, with full confidence that he was bettering himself 
    8. One thing he insisted on was absolute honesty. We want character to go with our goods. And sixteen ounces is a Swift pound. I don’t know how many times he said this to me; it must’ve been in the hundreds 
  5. Other
    1. If it had failed to come through the times of trouble, the verdict must be that it had grown too fast 
    2. He had trained himself never to forget anything until he had seen it to a successful conclusion 
    3. You don’t make a profit on shortages was another maxim of his
    4. He would quickly take a chance to lose a lot of money if that was the key to getting a big trade quickly. 
    5. He saved every minute he could and in this way saved more time than most men have altogether. He let not a minute nor an idea go to waste. He had no patience for anyone or anything which wasted his time. He heartily disliked any duplication of work for appearances’ sake. Using time to good advantage involves principally setting standards of what is worth taking time for and what is not – then holding up these self-imposed regulations. 
    6. To get the company up and running he had to work nonstop. Even after all was taken care of, he lived with it. And that is what wore him out. His son was able to change his working habits so that he was able to decouple and gain perspective
    7. He hated the excuse “it’s not my department” – he wanted everyone of his men to think of himself as a Swift man rather than as a lard department man or whatever his job 
    8. This business will be far bigger after I’m gone – that’s what I’m building for 
    9. The best a man ever did shouldn’t be his yardstick for the rest of his life. The department head or superintendent who used that forbidden yardstick was not worth keeping. Your standards must always be changing, evolving, adapting. 
    10. He was very interested in his employees personal affairs as he realized that a man’s personal habits had a great deal to do with his ability and also that they shed light on what might be expected of the individual
    11. He wished his people to own stock. He was a pioneer in bringing this about in a big way. His was the first large concern to encourage its employees to become substantial stockholders. Partners are usually the cleanest to make money for the firm and the concern which has many stockholders is more stable than the company which is closely held
    12. Use tact when you can but fight when you have to. He always preferred going around a difficulty to going through it. She never threw a challenge into the other fellows territory until he had made up his mind that arbitration or compromise would not settle for trouble
    13. He had absolute faith in his ultimate success. He was afraid of nothing. Even when he was still working out the kinks in refrigerated cars and would lose tons of beef, he’d be optimistic and tell everyone “it will be alright.” “We don’t quite know how to do it right. We’ll get it though. We’ll learn.”

What I got out of it

  1. He had a better business model. His method of slaughtering in one place and selling the meat thousands of miles away saved him costs in many ways. He’d be able to sell it at half of what the local butchers were and still make a healthy profit. He would save on shipping and feeding costs since he’d be shipping lighter and wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the animals fat and happy for the long trips. His innovation in refrigeration especially and constant improvement allowed him to come to dominate the industry in a relatively short period of time. He was a teacher, tough on his people, knew every detail, and worked extremely hard 

Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business by Mark Robichaux

Summary
  1. Malone is considered the grandfather of the cable industry but many also saw him as a rapacious, Machiavellian bully. He skated close to securities laws violations and extracted a price for the progress he offered, much like industrial powers Andrew Carnegie or JP Morgan before him. He had the power to decide which cable networks survived, he defied regulators, and he crushed competitors. And all of this he did brazenly.
Key Takeaways
  1. Instead of taking a cushy job, Malone chose hardship and a pay cut to join TCI, an obscure company that had lurched from crisis to crisis for the preceding 20 years. Bob Magness, a former cottonseed salesman and cattle rancher used a wobbly foundation of brinkmanship, bald faced gambles, and abundant debt to build TCI into the fourth largest cable provider in the US. Malone had picked TCI because Magness, fatigued and running out of luck, was ready to relinquish power and let a new man run the entire show – and because, if Malone could make it work, he might become extremely wealthy. TCI, which had become a publicly owned company in 1970, might be a diamond in the rough. “I can’t pay you very much, but you’ve got a great future here if you can create it,” Magness told Malone. Malone was more of a treasurer than the president his first few years at TCI – fending off lenders, raising money, talking to analysts, and more.
  2. Malone started at TCI and helped make it a powerhouse through acquisitions and financial engineering. The structures of the dals were exotic, and his financial alchemy often befuddled Wall St. and investors. The flurry of complex mergers, acquisitions, stock dividends and spin-offs clouded the picture of the company’s true performance, which was phenomenal by one measure that counts in almost all business: shareholder value. A single share of TCI, purchased at the 1974 low of 75 cents was worth $4,184 by the end of 1997 – a 5578 fold increase. His shareholders got very rich alongside Malone. For Malone, it was a noble, if not moral achievement, the fruit of his enormous capacity to deduce and strategize
  3. Magness was a master at reading people – he got Malone on board by playing to his desire for control over his future and freedom to lead. His wife was also an astute business partner, cotton raiser and learned to listen rather than talk – reading what a person wanted in every negotiation
  4. Learned of cable antenna TV (CATV) and started it in Memphis, Texas. If pulled off, he would be able to charge his neighbors a monthly fee for the television service – which he would get free of charge, basically pirating the programming from the TV stations themselves without paying a cent. He directed the construction, climbing the poles himself to string wire, while Betsy deciphered the finances and took service calls at the kitchen table. He invested everything he had, and still he had to go into debt. He sold this operation a few years later at a handsome profit. Tax laws made it attractive to reinvest as cable operators could gradually write off the cost of their systems over a number of years, allowing them to reduce the leftover profits they reported as earnings and thereby sheltering a healthy cash flow from taxation. And once they had written off most of the value of a cable system’s assets, they could sell it to a new owner, who could begin the tax-eluding depreciation cycle all over again.
    1. Don’t need to be a genius if you can see and place yourself ahead of a wave
  5. Magness never wrote a memo but the headquarters in Bozeman were Spartan and this frugality never left Magness or Malone. By the mid-1960s, Bob Magness had realized the potential of community antenna to fill a vast need; he likened cable to the oil rush days in his native Oklahoma and Texas. It was genius, really, to anyone who took the time to figure it out. Cable TV systems generated bundles of cash from installation charges and monthly service fees. Most of the money was plowed back into the companies, with hardly anything going to pay dividends to shareholders. This high cash flow could service an immense amount of debt, which was used to buy more systems. The companies paid hardly any taxes because of the high depreciation on the equipment – the average cable system enjoyed a profit margin of 57%, far better than most businesses. Because of this structure, and the tax incentives, TCI had to keep expanding, no matter what, buying up new cable companies to start the write-off process anew and build cash flows. To fund TCI’s expansion, Malone courted companies with capital to invest and an abiding interest in cable – but no expertise. Malone used different classes of shares with differing voting rights. A standing joke around TCI was that if TCI ever did report a large profit, Malone would fire the accountants. Malone had to “teach” the street what was really important – there is a big difference between creating wealth and reporting income. A focus on cash flow rather than reported income was hard for most to accept and was controversial for decades but those who invested alongside Malone would come to benefit greatly. He always pushed a long-term mindset and time horizon.
  6. The next step from owning cable that delivered the programming, was to own a piece of the cable channels themselves, thereby sharing in a whole extra upside. This way, TCI could own both the pipe and the water flowing through it. Vertical integrating of companies would become an awesomely powerful and controversial tool in building TCI. TCI came to own parts of BET, MTV, the Discovery Channel, and many more
  7. Malone was able to be patient when things got too expensive, building up cash reserves, making smaller acquisitions, and waiting for prices to normalize after the buying frenzy dried up.
  8. Malone’s father was gone a lot, had very high expectations for John and John wanted to prove himself and gain his acceptance. He did this in school (especially math), through track and field, and other entrepreneurial adventures. His father always recommended “guessing at the answers” before he saw them. Guess before you figure them out helped him develop an intuition and make split second decisions and was an important weapon of his – allowing him to “see” the answers before others did.
  9. Malone worked for Bell Labs out of school and focused on economic modeling and proposed that AT&T to shift its debt-to-equity ratio, taking on more debt and buying back its own stock in the market
  10. When Malone moved to McKinsey, he started by interviewing everyone from the senior ranks to the new hires. What works? What doesn’t? How would you fix it? Over time, Malone found that if he interviewed 30 people or so and listened intently, themes would emerge. The best ideas were sometimes hidden, or they were lost on senior executives. By laying the patterns bare, studying in detail the disparate parts – not unlike disassembling a radio – he learned how big corporations don’t work. It was not rocket science, Malone realized, you simply take the best ideas from anyone who has them, polish tem, and serve them up to the chairperson. His mind was like a spread of glue – it held fast any concept or pattern it encountered.
  11. Main rule he ruled at McKinsey: listen intently
  12. Always ask the question, “if not..?”
  13. Loyalty is more important than anything else
  14. Malone’s strategy was simple: get bigger
  15. Malone, like Magness, didn’t believe in memos. No paper passed from his desk to his underlings. No executive sought to curry favor or engage in the sort of Kremlinesque politics that caused ulcers in so many midlevel executives. Communication was direct, effective, and efficient. Every Monday morning, Malone sat with his closest executives at a broad round table, to figure out a way to squeeze more out of TCIs growing cable kingdom.
  16. The TCI men were cable cowboys. Though the term was repeated in derision by the bankers and politicians who coined it, the TCI team wore the nickname like a badge
  17. Malone liked to use naval metaphors, such as bulkheads, to describe the setup. Large ships are designed to withstand battle damage because they have watertight bulkheads, separate and self-contained compartments that can be sealed off to prevent an injured vessel from capsizing. You can take a torpedo in any one part and still stay afloat. With each new system he bought the debt was secured by a TCI subsidiary, not by the parent company. So, if the cable system defaulted on a loan, only one subsidiary would be threatened. Another way Malone eased risk was to spread it out among an ever-broadening array of partners, thereby protecting TCI and enhancing its influence in the industry at the same time. Aside from the cable systems that were wholly owned by TCI, the company was a minority partners in more than 35 cable companies, all of which got the same price breaks in programming that TCI got – which amounted to as much as a 30% discount.
  18. Importance of courage
    1. In the early days, TCI was struggling financially and Malone met with the main lenders to ask them to bring down the interest rates because of the healthy cash flows. They countered instead by proposing to raise the rates and Malone told them they could have the keys and raise if the interest rates if they thought they could run the company better than he. They backed down and gave TCI some room to breathe
    2. Malone avoided acquiring at sky high prices during bubbles but once it burst, scooped in with a vengeance. Malone relished the role of bargain hunter amid the spoils of bad deals made by his competitors. Was able to wait without tiring of waiting
    3. Later on, Malone and Magness cut several deals that allowed executives to own cable systems privately, then eventually turn them over to TCI. For Malone, it was a way not only of compensating his top employees as the values grew but, more importantly, to teach them. “Guys will understand a cable system a hell of a lot better if they have skin in the game.” Critics may have judged the deal as enriching insiders, but Malone paid little attention. Malone’s attitude was: you don’t like the way we reward management? Don’t buy the stock
    4. By 1986, TCI was beginning to run the way Malone had wanted it to run – highly decentralized. He had cut the company into 6 separate operating divisions, each nearly autonomous, with its own accounting and engineering departments. When you’ve got it running right, when you’ve got it decentralized, when you’ve got it structured properly, it’s like flying the most powerful fighter jet in the world
    5. One of the hallmarks of Malone’s management style was to leave the founder in charge. If you buy a property and find a manager motivated by ownership in the company, keep him or her in power and trust him or her implicitly
    6. Forget about earnings: what you really want is appreciating assets. You want to own as much of that asset as you can; then you want to finance it as efficiently as possible. And above all else, make sure that the deals you do avoid as much in taxes as legally possible. And then some.
    7. Never sacrifice convictions  at whims of others, no matter what the price
    8. Instead of high salaries, paid in equity which helped align incentives
    9. The idea, Malone liked to think, was to collaborate with your enemies – especially your enemies – to avoid the large and costly fight of real competition. It’s like mutually assured destruction: both sides could really hurt the other if they did something really stupid. We have to treat each other with civility to avoid all-out nuclear war.
  19. Redstone’s motto: content is king
  20. Tough times in the industry created incredibly tight bonds among the people at TCI
  21. Cable franchise essentially a legal right to a local monopoly
  22. The Cable Communications Act of 1984, the first national legislation establishing government authority over cable TV, ushered in a new era of growth, opening up financial markets, programming ideas, and billions of dollars in untapped revenue to cable. The law also kept the giant phone companies at bay, forbidding them from owning cable systems in their service areas. Incredible bidding wars ensued between cable operators and telcos. While cable had a fatter pipe, phone companies could offer cable firms badly needed capital and world-class expertise in switched, two-way communications. The first big move by a Bell came just two weeks after Malone made his 500-channel pledge. Both cable and telcos wanted to deploy similar technology but over separate sets of wires: cable companies over their thick coaxial cable lines and telcos over their twisted-pair copper networks. Coaxial cables offered orders of magnitude more data to be sent than the high speed lines of phone companies.
  23. “Malone is the kind of guy you want to run through walls for”
  24. “I’d gladly give my life to save his” – Ted Turner
  25. Used scale, penetration to get discounts and ownership of channels. The more horses Malone bet on, the likelier his chances of winning – BET, MTV, QVC, CVN. By 1988, TCI generated $850m in cash. Though it had no earnings, it had more cash flow than ABC, CBS, and NBC combined.
  26. Malone’s incredible commitment and focus had a massive strain on his family life. He also made enemies because he was seen as a bully, as taking a disproportionate share of the wealth he created, was unrepentant and unabashed about his and TCI’s clout
  27. Set up Liberty to prevent regulation, anti-trust, but also to make him very rich as he had 20% ownership. Used tracking stocks often – an interest in the earnings of the company but don’t own the underlying assets.
  28. After the 1992 regulation, Malone came up with the “500 channel” vision and interactive TV
  29. Maine and his boat were Malone’s retreat. Escape is necessary. Getting away gives you a new perspective and makes you more human. When you’re running a large corporation, you’re not able to show your human side all that much. It’s just not productive.
  30. Don’t chase too many rabbits simultaneously – know your main goals and focus on them intently until you reach them or find a more important goal to focus on
  31. Malone believes his greatest weakness was allowing his loyalty to get ahead of performance.
  32. One of the TCI insider’s favorite analogies for TCI’s problems was that TCI was a gas station company acting like a pipeline company. Pipelines deliver fuel in bulk. But gas stations sell it to retail customers, a far more service-oriented business. Customer service would win the day, and no one could argue that TCI didn’t need to pay more attention to its customers. Running a pipeline business is a pretty easy business – you just turn on a pump. Running gas stations is a really hard business. Hindrey wanted to put marketing and purchasing decisions back in the hands of local operators. You market from the bottom up, and not from the top down. What works in Bozeman doesn’t work in Birmingham. He also demanded to see copies of customer complaints for weeks at a time
  33. In June 1997, Bill Gates became cable’s savior in one simple, decisive move: he had shocked Wall St. by having Microsoft invest $1b in cash in Comcast at the behest of Brian Roberts. Until then, cable had been left for dead; the reregulation effort had crimped cash flow, the industry faced huge investment to go fully interactive, and cable stocks were near all-time lows. Suddenly everyone wanted to know the answer to the question: just what does Bill Gates know that we don’t? Gates had bought on the cheap and though he would be involved in the coming years, Malone and others were careful not to let Microsoft get too ingrained by having their software become the default on cable top boxes.
  34. Malone had a “3-D chess” type of mind – truly has the hologram in the head
  35. If you can get scale economics, you can get the costs down. If you get the costs down, you get the scale economics. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you get the scale economics you can develop applications that are really important to a lot of people. If you can get applications that are important to people, you get people to buy the boxes, and you’ll get more scale economics
  36. Malone almost always reached out directly to deal. He would pick up the phone and reach out to the other side and look for the common ground where he could put together a mutually agreeable deal – win/win
  37. Malone Family Foundation – to promote the secondary and liberal arts education of the most able young men and women of our society and train such individuals as future leaders of society; acquire and preserve land and open space, preserving forever Nature’s natural and pristine beauty
  38. Malone was a man who was fiercely proud of what he had accomplished. A man who believed that wealth creation was a noble, moral achievement and believed the definition was not freedom from obligation, but freedom to choose which of those obligations to take on, which roles to play in business and in life.
  39. TCI made wealth not by pretending to be the best cable operator but through investments and complex financial engineering.
  40. Once TCI was sold to AT&T, Malone wanted to created separate stocks for the stable, dividend paying business and the more growth-oriented businesses. He wanted, as Jack Welch had done at GE, to create autonomous units with a total delegation of operational parameters within budgeting controls. If you do these things, you’ll have a great company and you will maximize shareholder value. Malone had pulled off one of the largest sales in the history of telecommunications and the IRS had to treat it as a tax-free stock merger. Basically, Malone had exchanged his personals take of $1.7b in TCI and Liberty for $2.4b in AT&T and Liberty stock. Malone always paid as little in taxes and as late as possible. It is my job to save as much of shareholder’s money as I can
  41. Later, Malone got into raising cattle. He loved the inherent efficiencies in hybrid vigor, the known improvements in growth or yield in one generation of hybrids over their parents. The idea is to have a 1,000 pound cow producing a 550 pound calf at weaning. She is more efficient. The smaller the cow, the less grass she eats. If you get a 2,000 pound cow producing a 300 pound weaning calf, you are doing it the wrong way. He also bought a ton of land and the basic idea was to own land in pretty places that haven’t been ruined yet and to not develop it. The elements of success in cable could also be applied to buying land: scale, timing, and efficiency. Almost all of the land and ranch purchases by Malone had a single element in common: conservation easements, which allow landowners to take charitable tax deductions if they opt to never develop a property.
What I got out of it
  1. The innovation, courage, focus, and hard work Malone exhibits in building up his empire was fun to read about. How he was able to stay ahead of the game, know what the important things were and focus heavily on those, and waiting for the right time to pounce are all admirable. His hard-nosed, no bs fashion earned him many enemies and run-ins with government regulation

Tiger Woods by Armen Keteyian, Jeff Benedict

Summary
  1. A deep look into Tiger’s history, family, career and lifestyle, helping us understand how someone can become so dominant in their sport and some of the costs it takes to get there
Key Takeaways
  1. Tiger’s parents guarded him fiercely when he was young. Tiger spent more time alone practicing or watching TV than playing with others. Family and golf was everything. He was always painfully shy, very secretive and protective of his privacy but his whole demeanor and confidence changed when he got a club in his hands
  2. Tiger’s nickname came from one of Earl’s friends in the army
  3. Tiger values privacy and loyalty more than anything
  4. Tiger’s father had abused and cheated on his wife. Tiger’s mom was strict and threatened to beat him if he ever hurt her reputation as a mother. She told him to go for the throat in competition or else people will come back and “beat his ass”. It was education before play and was told to always respect his elders
  5. Earl was married with three children when he went on tour in Thailand and met Koditta. After Tiger, Koditta could not have any other kids and committed herself fully to teaching and caring for her son. By then Tiger was 2, he was already practicing at least 2 hours per day. He was on talk shows and did interviews since this tender age. Earl helped his son get every advantage a country club kid gets and more – private lessons, custom made clubs, sports psychologists without having to pay for it because of Tiger’s skill. Earl even used psychological warfare training he learned in the military on Tiger to prepare him for anything he might face on the course
  6. Tiger had arguably the best amateur career in history and became a pro after his sophomore year at Stanford when he won his third US Open amateur championship. His start as a pro was no different, winning 2 if his first 7 tournaments
  7. Tiger was thrust on the national stage at such a young age but still had to mature and learn a lot emotionally. While Tiger found more balance after his first couple years on the tour, it shows how athletic success often overshadows character flaws
  8. What drives tiger? Never being satisfied. This brings restlessness and total perfection. He wanted total control over every area of his life
  9. Tiger had just won the Masters but wasn’t satisfied. He saw videos of his swing and wanted to completely revamp it. It would take him nearly two years to master the new swing and win again. Nobody else has taken a step down from the top to fix their swing in what would be best for the long term like Tiger did in this situation. He lost some length but gained a lot more control and repeatability.
  10. Nobody had his ability to execute difficult shots and to deal with he mental side of the game like he did
  11. Tiger developed a love for the ocean and scuba diving and learned how to control his breathing and heart rate through stressful dives which translated to his golf game
  12. When Tiger got famous he got even meaner. Power corrupts. He started spending a lot of time in Vegas and with Charles Barkley and Michel Jordan. Jordan, maybe the only other athlete who could compare to Tiger’s dominance and fame, exerted a lot of influence over the younger Tiger. Tiger was gambling more, became rude with the press and became more entitled and a bigger jerk
  13. Tiger hit a drought from 2002-2004 and fired most of his crew who had been with him for years. Hank Haney was his new coach and Elin was now in his life
  14. His emotional detachment was part of his formula for success.  No matter how well he played, there was always better. Tiger was able to compartmentalize life like nobody else and somehow managed to play his best golf while the rest of his life was falling apart. He needed adrenaline and an outlet and found this through golf, navy seals training and women
  15. An affair was covered up in 2007 but in 2009 the story finally broke and all of Tiger’s infidelities became world known. Tiger stepped away from golf for nearly 2 years got treatment for sex addiction and to try to repair things with his wife but eventually she determined that she wanted a divorce
  16. Today, Tiger is back on tour but not nearly the force he once was. He is also in chronic pain as he has worn out his back and his knees. Although he hasn’t been able to reach the same level as before, this process humanized him and allowed him to enjoy the game and relate to fans like never before
What I got out of it
  1. Had heard about Tiger’s dedication to golf before but this book made me appreciate it at an even deeper level. He was raised to be the best ever and was wholly consumed. It helped him reach his goal but it also distorted his personality and sense of reality. Book ends on a positive note with Tiger becoming more human and relatable after the scandal, although he may never reach his dominant self again due to age, injury, and maybe a change of mindset/priorities

The Farmer From Merna: A Biography of George J. Mecherle and a History of the State Farm Insurance Companies of Bloomington, Illinois by Karl Schriftgeisser

Summary

  1. The life of George Mecherle and his founding of State Farm Insurance

Key Takeaways

  1. Mecherle’s ancestors were German farmers and immigrated to America, eventually settling down in Bloomington, IN. The rule of George’s household was integrity. It was their duty to become trusted members of the community. George showed early signs of being sharp, independent, a leader, a potential baseball star, a “doer” in whatever he was responsible for
  2. George was not content to do things one way just because that was the way his father, or anybody else, did them. He was always studying and reading about what the other fellows had done
  3. Left a couple jobs just because he didn’t like how his bosses ran the business. He wanted to use skills, his farmer mindset, and his connections to form a statewide auto insurance to the farmers of the state of Illinois, at rates which they could afford. He worked tirelessly to bring his farmers the lowest rates that could possibly be justified. George became so obsessed with his idea that he eventually became a “pest”, wanting to discuss all aspects of insurance with anybody that would hear him out.
  4. There were three provisions that were fundamental foundation-stones of State Farm which were diametrically opposed to the standard methods of automobile insurance: the clauses setting up the membership fee, the premium deposit, and the six-month term of insurance. The membership fee exempted people from further membership fees for similar vehicles. The premium deposit got the customers to lower their risk profile as they had some skin in the game. The six-month term of insurance allowed State Farm to adjust rates as needed, this allowed them to be more adaptive than other insurance companies who only adjusted annually
  5. Insurance was the third largest industry in the US in 1921
  6. He had, and this was what counted most of all, the faith and encouragement of his wife
  7. Mecherle had the ingenious idea of installing a theft and movable object collision clause which said that the policyholder would pay for anything less than $10 and State Farm would pay for anything above $10. It was his theory that if a farmer had to pay for minor repairs he would be more careful with his automobile. It also would save the company from a flood of petty claims each time a member scraped a fender or dented a mudguard
  8. From the very beginning, the agency force was the heart of the company. People who are “more than order takers, for the selling of our insurance requires a man of ability to create a demand, sell the insurance, take the application, and complete the whole deal in one call if he hopes to make a success of this business. These men seem to be a rare article.”
  9. In the early days, George sent out a list of 14 questions which helped him determine pretty accurately how the idea was being received around the state
    1. Don’t you think our proposition the best insurance plan for farmers that you have seen?
    2. What did your board of directors think of it?
    3. Would you like to save your friends and the members of your Farm Mutual Ins. Co. some money?
    4. Would you like to make some money for yourself
    5. Are your Farm Mutual members satisfied with Old Line or Reciprocal rates and their method of settling claims?
    6. Would you endorse our proposition if you found, after a thorough investigation, that it was worth of your endorsement?
    7. Will you write to Mr. SB Mason for his opinion of our proposition?
    8. Will you write for information concerning us?
    9. Will you write to Prairie Farm about our proposition?
    10. Did you see our advertisement in the April 29th issue of the Prairie Farm?
    11. How does the fact that Mr. JW Coale wrote 32 applications in two and one half days appeal to you?
    12. How much time could you devote to selling our insurance?
    13. If you had the time to devote to our proposition, could you do as well or better than Mr. Coale?
    14. How soon would you like to have our Special man spend a few days with you to explain the plan to your neighbors?
  10. Great companies always look different
    1. “During the years of its growth to the commanding position of the largest automobile insurance company in the US, the secret of State Farm’s success was a continual source of puzzlement to the insurance fraternity. The incontrovertible figures of its annual statements proved that it was a financial success, and the findings of the examiners for the insurance departments of the various states in which it was licensed to operate revealed no flaws in its method of doing business. But questions were forever being asked. What was the secret formula that allowed this company, almost alone of all automobile insurance companies, to undersell the market and still show such amazingly large figures on the right side of the ledgers? How did it actually work? One obvious answer to the first question was the organizational genius of the “super-salesman” who was at the head of all its operations. In George Mecherle, who had come to the business at a time in life when most men have long since reached the peak of their ability, State Farm owned a chief executive of exceptional talents. He had been at the forefront of every progressive move the company had made, and as the years went by he had chosen those capable associates who had worked so well under his all-seeing direction. Especially in the early years was it true in his case, as Emerson said in a rather larger conception that, “an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” But there was really more to it than that. There was, for one thing, the philosophy underlying the institution that was his lengthened shadow. State Farm was different than anything that had preceded it but, paradoxically, there was little that was original in its plan.”
    2. No companies previously had attempted to establish a basis for selective risks, based on geography, age, etc. By taking this information into account, State Farm was able to operate for nearly 40% less than its stock competitors. They charged its members every six-months which was easier for most people at that time to financially handle than the lump sum annual payment other companies required. They also required a smaller unearned premium reserve. And an inadequate, or excessive rate, could be corrected at the end of six months rather than waiting until the end of the year.
    3. Another feature that contributed to operational economy was the issuing of policies by the home office rather than by the agent in the field. Relieved of this clerical work, or of the expensive necessity of hiring someone to do the work for him, the agent could concentrate on selling. Since his income depended on sales, he could afford to work for less than the agent who had to keep an office force.
    4. State Farm policies, once written, were not rewritten and replaced each policy term. This greatly saved expense, work, and time. The same policy remained outstanding until the policyholder bought a new car – and, in those days of agricultural uncertainty, the farmer did not turn in his old Ford or Chevrolet for a new car each year, by any means – or made a major move or change of coverage. This feature was borrowed from the standard practice of life and accident companies; but it had never previously been tried out in automobile insurance companies before
    5. Also borrowed – this time from mail order houses – was another feature, one never before used in automobile insurance but one that had been found efficient in the operation of many accident and health and several life companies. This was the system of billing and collecting renewal premiums by the home office, or by branch offices after they were established. This relieved the agent of the task of collecting renewals, and thus obviated the necessity of compensating him for such collections. This, of course, resulted in a material saving in expense for State Farm, which was passed on to the policyholders. Agents were, however, paid fees and expenses for adjusting losses. This, at first, was on a per diem and mileage basis, but later was changed to a percentage of the premiums, largely for ease of administration.
    6. All premiums had to be paid in cash in advance, avoiding the expenses of establishing a credit system
    7. The most novel feature of the State Farm plan was the lifetime membership fee system. Any person who joined State Farm did so for life, or at least for as long a part of his life as he remained a “good risk.” His membership did not cease even if he should allow a policy to lapse for some time. State Farm’s advantage was that it charged the member the cost of solicitation and the sale of the insurance policy only once. Since State Farm renewal policies contained no provision for new business costs, this factor alone provided a large part of the price advantage which State Farm enjoyed over its competitors. This membership fee, it is interesting to note, was not a premium. It was, instead, an admission and inspection fee. It was not returnable. For this reason, no unearned premium reserve was set up on it. This allowed the company to not be burdened with reserves, typically a big issue for new businesses. But, in this case, new business was paid for by the new clients. The phenomenal growth rate of State Farm could not have been realized without this innovation, and yet the very plan that made this growth possible also provided a price advantage to create this growth
    8. The 80-20 plan was adopted from other insurance companies, where the policyholder assumes 20% of the risk and the insurance company 80%. The sound psychology of this lay in the fact that it gave the policyholder an interest in keeping his losses to a minimum
    9. Mecherle devised a system of classing all automobiles by list price into seven classes, from A to G, rather than having hundreds of different rates for each car. This system was easy to understand and to apply. In the first agent’s manual – a masterpiece of simplicity there was an uncomplicated formula by which anyone could readily determine the amount of insurance that could be written on any car, whether new or old.
    10. Another saving for the policyholder came about through lower average losses resulting from the careful selection of business. The restriction of those eligible to membership in State Farm, and such clauses as the drunken driver clause, not only appealed to farmers, with their more rigid code of morals, but also saved the company money.
    11. There existed no contractual obligation on the part of the company to pay any dividend to the policyholder at the end of the term. This system had the merit of favoring the continuing policyholders and discouraging lapses, much after the system of surrender charges generally in use in life insurance companies
    12. All of these economies, acting together, enabled State Farm to do business in the early days for nearly 40% less than the stock companies!
  11. Created an internal publication to get new policies and any other information across to the nation-wide network of agents and offices. It was directed mostly to the agents and sent them the company message, the news of what the various state agencies were doing, the pertinent facts, figures, and news of the entire organization. It was also a medium for the expression of George Mecherle’s messages – his inspiring talks.
  12. The goal had always been to build an honest insurance company, one focused on service and square dealing, giving to each member equal and just consideration; and to build the organization grounded on the principles of true equality and right-dealing as between men
  13. Even through the Great Depression State Farm continued to grow, thriving in tough times. “We have truly learned that what we really keep is what we give and that the returns are immediate. Therefore, under this new philosophy, the standard of success will eventually be the measure of service given.
  14. The service fee bonus gave each agent an opportunity to participate in that underwriting profit in his respective state in an amount not exceeding 25% of his annual service fee compensation, provided his own business was also profitable. It not only augmented the agents’ income but also provided an incentive for each agent to use care in the selection of drivers to be insured and to render efficient claim service. In placing a bonus fee along with the service fee it makes every agent careful of his record; if an agent secures unprofitable business it puts him on the spot as far as the rest of the agents in that state are concerned
  15. Mecherle was adept at picking high level employees. He demanded and got the same loyalty to the company which he himself gave. He established an esprit de corps that was remarkable and that left its imprint on the organization long after it had grown beyond his wildest imaginings. Most of the roots of the company came back to loyalty – loyalty to State Farm and loyalty to the “Chief”. In the eyes of most people the man and the institution were inseparable
  16. The paternalism of George Mecherle evolved into a scientifically controlled welfare program that approached its human problems on five fronts: physical welfare; financial welfare; morale of the workers; training and education of those who chose to make State Farm a career; other problems not connected with the others
  17. State Farm was the height of enlightened industrialism. The steadiness of employment, the lack of “unrest” among the employees, is traceable in good measure to this system. In a larger city, with more diversified amusements and cultural interests, it might not be as necessary to all concerned as it is in the flat prairie city of Bloomington where, without this self-interested setup, boredom could well result
  18. If needed to shrink, they would wait for employees to retire and then not replace them. “We have a responsibility to our present force. We wouldn’t do anything that would break that loyalty. The big factor in productivity is morale.
    1. Left a red rose on the desk of all employees on their birthdays
    2. Handed out pins denoting length of service in ceremonious presentations. Today, there are also cash bonuses for five-year periods, ranging from five to thirty years’ service
    3. Held “Coke parties” on each floor whenever an employee passes a ten-year service milestone, and all employees who have been with the company for fifteen or more years are honored annually at a special dinner party
  19. “As we have become more independent, we are becoming more conservatively minded. This – I am satisfied – is natural, and comes from maturity. It should be our greatest desire to build for permanency on a sound business policy rather than to attempt too great a volume from this time on.”
    1. Permanency through honesty 
  20. “Our plan is very simple when boiled down to its essence. It will consist primarily in establishing a contact and working agreement between local banks and our agents, so that the bank will finance the purchase of automobiles for deserving policyholders and will accept our policy, with proper safeguards on the loan. Such a plan, when carried to its utmost possibilities, will open the door to a vast new field of business, in view of the fact that two out of three sales of new and used cars are one deferred payment basis. Furthermore, we will be able to retain many policies which we are now losing when the policyholder trades in his old car one new one and finances the deal.
  21. As State Farm was not a factory, they could not be “converted” during WWII. Others said that they should focus on other lines but Mecherle turned a deaf ear. State Farm might lose as much as half its business, he stated firmly, but it would come out of the war as clean as a hound’s tooth and without resorting to diversification. This long-term mindset would pay off only years later when massive pent up demand for new cars, repairs, insurance, and more would be let loose once the war was over
  22. One of the keys to the growth was the fact that since establishment, State Farm paid losses promptly and satisfactorily. In the long run, Mecherle felt, this may have been the greatest factor – this and the confidence of the agency force in the company management
  23. When George was beginning to step away from the business he asked, “The only thing I insist upon is that you do not depart from the membership plan, the continuous policy, the six-month’s premium, and the happiness of our agency force. Those are fundamental. Beyond them there are no restrictions. So, go to it.” He would step away from the business, allowing the new generation to lead but still kept every detail of the business at his fingertips. He kept the facts and figures of State Farm up to the very last minute in his worn loose-leaf books. He knew what was going on in every department. In spite of the growth of State Farm, he still kept his interest in the individual welfare of the staff, and knew the names and personal histories of an incredibly large number of them.
  24. The secret to his success – “A man has to live and sleep with his business if he wants to make a go of it. You have to take it home with you at night, so you can lie there in the darkness and figure out what you can do to improve it. In fact, you have to become sort of a ‘nut’ about it, so that you become so enthused that you will bore your friends talking about it. You have to become a one-man crusade.”
  25. Good character above all else
  26. “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” – Emerson
  27. The greatest troubles we have are what we bring on ourselves
  28. Remember this: every man who accomplishes anything worthwhile in this life will leave behind him many temples still unfinished when he departs this life
  29. From his associates on every level he demanded three things: willingness to work hard, faith in the organization, loyalty to the “spirit” of State Farm. Few were those who did not give him all three in good measure. In return he gave to his associates what he demanded from them. He was no swivel-chair commander, but the hardest worker of them all. His faith in the high purposes of State Farm as an organization dedicated to the service of its members was all-absorbing. And his loyalty to the men and women who were loyal to him and his ideals was legendary
  30. “Things do not happen – they are brought about by careful planning, diligence, application, and direction. The tiny seed planted in the year 1922, which has been nurtured by the sunlight of agency devotion and sustained by the life-giving waters of policyholder persistency, has grown in root and branch – spreading a mantle of service and protection throughout the nation – until today the ripened fruit of its many branches is falling as a benediction into the lives, homes, and hearts of our people.”

What I got out of it

  1. Slow book at times but learned a lot about the George Mecherle and the “honest-first” business he created. There are timeless business and overall life principles that we could all learn from and incorporate into our jobs and lives

Boyd: The Figher Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

Summary
  1. “Boyd has had a bigger impact on fighter tactics, aircraft design, and theory of air force combat than any man in history but he was also court marshaled and investigated dozens of times for leaks to the public, stealing computer time to work on his theories, and more. He was cantankerous, loud, and offensive and made a lot of enemies but it was all in the pursuit of his theories which positively impacted how the US military trained and fought.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Boyd was a rare combination of skills and talents and became known as 40 second Boyd because of his ability to beat anyone in air to air combat simulation.
  2. He was the first to codify air to air combat. He was only a junior in the army when he changed how the Army and Navy at large trained fighter pilots. Much of Boyd’s work is classified so his contributions were almost unknown to the outside world during his lifetime. Even then, except for the Marine Corps, most divisions of the military didn’t give Boyd proper credit for his contributions because of how much of a ruckus he caused
  3. He was in search of truth and a pure man but he was also larger than life, rude, cared little for his appearance
  4. Boyd was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1927 and his father died when he was only three years old. His mother worked very hard to keep the family afloat and she taught her kids the principles of frugality and hard work that would stay with Boyd forever. The mother severed ties with religion, friends, and family if she thought it would hurt her children. Also, Boyd’s sister contracted polio and the family became a sort of pariah because at the time people didn’t know what caused polio. Although John was somewhat socially awkward, his mom instilled in him that if you work hard and had integrity, you would win in the end
  5. As a child, Boyd had incredible focus and was a championship swimmer in Pennsylvania
  6. Boyd questioned the limit of everything and often found that it was always greater than what people told him
  7. Boyd had little tolerance or patience for those who didn’t understand what he was working towards but for those who did, he would go into great detail to make sure they understood
  8. After Boyd graduated from flight school, he was asked to stay on as an instructor which is one of the most prestigious job requests that a pilot can get
  9. After several years at Flight Weapons School, Boyd wanted to get his undergraduate engineering degree and got it from Georgia Tech. It was here that he was able to intertwine thermodynamics with his aerial studies. It was the trade off between potential and kinetic energy that tied them together and the beauty and simplicity of the idea made his hair stand on end when it clicked for him. Like entropy, a plane could have energy that was unavailable for work because of his position, speed, or strength of opponent. This was his excess power theory, which eventually became known as the Energy Maneuverability Theory. At its most basic, this determines the specific energy rate of an aircraft – how fast can you speed up or slow down compared to your opponent. Using specific energy makes this ratio universal across planes because, simply put, it is energy divided by weight of aircraft
  10. Boyd’s EM did 4 things for aviation
    1. It allowed for a quantitative basis for teaching aerial tactics
    2. It forever changed the way aircraft are flown in combat
    3. It provided a scientific basis for how the maneuverability of an aircraft could be evaluated. It allowed for a comparison of aircrafts and how to negate or minimize the advantages when flying against a superior jet
    4. It became a fundamental tool when designing fighter aircraft
  11. Boyd was able to see a page of numbers and visualize how they would affect his airplane, flight, tactics, and more. He had the hologram in the head
  12. Boyd hated optimization. Instead, he iterated on his thoughts and processes, letting them grow in a very Darwinian, organic way rather than trying to have a set plan or perfect solution to work towards
  13. By getting his engineering degree and deeply understanding thermodynamics, Boyd was able to see and understand the pros and cons of fighter jets’ designs, often better than the designers themselves
  14. To say he was a perfectionist is an understatement of epic proportion
  15. When Boyd determined that somebody had an “obstruction” (didn’t agree with him or didn’t give him the respect he felt he deserved), he took it upon himself to show them why he was thought of as one of the best fighter pilots, instructors, and most knowledgeable person on jets
  16. Boyd’s temperament and harsh way of dealing with people came back to bite him as he was continually passed over for promotions
  17. Trade-offs are the heart and soul of jet fighter design. Discipline and understanding the mission at hand are key too
  18. Boyd’s incredible intensity and passion for his work of course hurt his family situation and many of his kids ended up distanced from him. He neglected and ignored his family to the point that sometimes they didn’t talk for years
  19. Ambiguity, although difficult for people to deal with, tends to reflect reality better than black and white thinking and allows for new thoughts and spontaneity to arise and help evolve an idea or situation
  20. Another of Boyd’s great contributions was Patterns of Conflict. This piece studies the emotional, moral, and behavioral aspects of people during war and is helpful to compare different strategies, technologies, and techniques to one another
  21. The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was another big contribution but what most people don’t understand or what they oversimplify is the fact that you always have to have one foot in reality in order to update your ideas and understanding of the situation. Otherwise, you’re orienting and acting with outdated and wrong information
  22. General Mattis developed a reputation as a genius simply by not saying much
  23. The Pentagon is not set up to protect America, it is set up to buy weapons
  24. Boyd cared far more for his ideas being spread, adopted, and practiced than for getting any credit or payment for them
  25. Boyd’s theories were all over the Gulf War and had a meaningful impact on how quickly and dramatically America overcame the local opposition
  26. Boyd experienced some severe health scares and later developed an all consuming depression. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of but it was real and it deeply frightened him. Boyd later developed aggressive cancer which was the cause of his death
  27. if you’re fighting for the right thing there’s always a way to win
What I got out of it
  1. A great biography on a man I didn’t know anything about. He had a deep desire to learn and search for truth but his rude, in your face manner earned him many enemies and opposition to his ideas. Energy Maneuverability, Patterns of Conflict, OODA Loop were his main contributions

East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler

Summary
  1. The life and story of Amelia Earhart
Key Takeaways
  1. The author spends a lot of time describing Amelia’s ancestors, their settlement in Kansas which was a hotbed for abolishment and pro-slavery tension and how this affected her desire for equality in opportunity
  2. Amelia was smart, healthy and independent from a very early age – singing herself to sleep by age 2. She was adventurous and would always love exploring and trying new things. Because of the restrictions placed on girls, her and her friends would often pretend to be boys and roughhouse with the  boys near them
  3. Her father, Edwin, eventually became an alcoholic and forced the family to move several times. He saw reality not as it was but how he wanted it to be and this often put him and his family in a difficult position. Amelia also had to take care of her mother for a while because of poor health. She didn’t have much time to simply be a teenager
  4. Amelia volunteered to help serve the wounded in Canada during WWI and this got her exposure to airplanes and flying. Her obsession grew with every air meet and once she moved out to California, her passion was stoked. She learned from some great teachers but she was able to recognize their flaws and limitations and either find someone else to learn from or went her own way. She soon became quite well known for her stunts and other flight tricks.
  5. Pasadena, Glendale and LA became the hotbed for everything related to avionics
  6. She went to Columbia but experienced some financial difficulty and health issues and at 28 was further away from a career than she was at 21
  7. A relative of steel baron Henry Phipps wanted to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic after Lindbergh accomplished the feat in 1927 but determined it was too risky. Instead, she wanted to choose an able women she thought could do it. She wanted someone young, educated, attractive and who had some flight experience. They chose Amelia
  8. Amelia was always a fan of poetry and had a tendency to retreat into it when uncomfortable or difficult situations arose
  9. Amelia received much attention and recognition after completing her first cross-Atlantic flight on the Friendship as a passenger. She gained incredible notoriety and was able to work at the Cosmopolitan magazine, fly and continue her social work
  10. Several years later she would fly transatlantic solo and be the first person to have flown over twice
  11. She married George Putnam of the famous publishing house. Though she was married, she made it clear that her career and ambitions would come first
  12. She used her name wealth and notoriety to get into many different new projects from helping start an airline (what would eventually become Northeastern Airlines) to designing her own line of flying clothes which were prominently displayed at Marshall Field’s stores
  13. Amelia got involved with Purdue to inspire women and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics
  14. Will Rogers, probably the most popular man in America, did more than anybody except Lindbergh to popularize flying
  15. Amelia began her round the world flight just before her 40th birthday. The trip was quite smooth until her leg from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island. The US Navy, her suspected lover Gene Vidal and her husband didn’t give up looking for her for nearly a year. Incredible conspiracy stories arose from the Japanese having captured and tortured her, to her being a spy for the Navy to study Japanese defenses and more but eventually it was agreed that she had crashed and her plan had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific in 1937
  16. Amelia was an inspiration in her generation and has been since her death. She set her mind and made her goals happen in a time when many of these goals were deemed inappropriate for women to pursue
What I got out of it
  1. Good biography on Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments – first solo female flight across the Atlantic, many other flight records and many successful ventures in business and academia

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz

Summary
  1. Trump’s philosophy on negotiation, business and more as well as some of his background and early life
Key Takeaways
  1. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks
  2. Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be too imaginative or entrepreneurial jd you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops
  3. It never stops and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I try to learn from the past, but I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the pr sent. That’s where the fun it. And if it can’t be fun, what’s the point?
  4. Sometimes it pays to be a little wild
  5. I don’t hold it against people that have opposed me. I’m just looking to hire the best talent, whenever I can find it
  6. I hate la suits and depositions but the fact is that if you’re right, you’ve got to take a stand, or people will walk all over you
  7. Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – less is more
  8. I always take calls from my kids, no matter what I’m doing
  9. I understand the game and while I don’t like to play it, there is no graceful way out
  10. I’m not too big on parties because I can’t stand small talk. Unfortunately they’re a part of doing business so I find myself going to more than I’d like and then trying hard to leave early
  11. I like to keep as many options open as I can
  12. Ivana is one of the most organized people I know…she’s almost as competitive as I am…I wouldn’t bet against her
  13. I’m loyal to people who’ve done good work for me
  14. It just goes to show that it pays to move quickly and decisively when the time is right
  15. That experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you’re generally better sticking with what you know. And the third is that sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make
  16. My philosophy is to always hire the best from the best
  17. If the city won’t approve something I think makes sense economically, I’ll just wait for the next administration and try again
  18. Small details make all the difference in the look and ambiance of a building
  19. My style of deal making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought but in most cases I still end up with what I want
  20. More than anything else, I think Deal making is an ability you’re born with. It’s in the genes. I don’t say that egotistically. It’s not about being brilliant. It does take a certain intelligence, but mostly it’s about instincts. Most people who do have the instincts will never recognize that they do because they don’t have the courage or good fortune to discover their potential
  21. Trump Cards – deal making tips
    1. Think big – most people think small because most people are afraid of Success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning. And that gives people like me a great advantage. One of the keys to thinking big is total focus. I think of it almost as a controlled neurosis, which is a quality I’ve noticed in many highly successful entrepreneurs. They’re obsessive, they’re driven, they’re single minded and sometimes they’re almost maniacal, but it’s all channeled into their work. Where other people are paralyzed by neurosis, the people in talking about are actually helped by it. I don’t say this trait leads to a happier life, or a better life, but it’s great when it comes to getting what you want
    2. Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself – people think I’m a gambler. I’ve never gambled in my life. I happen to be very conservative in business I always go into the deal anticipating the worst. If you plan for the worst – if you can live with the worst – the good will always take care of itself. You can’t be too greedy
    3. Maximize your options – never get too attached to one deal or one approach. Even if deals are made, I always come up with at least half a dozen approaches to making it work because anything can happen
    4. Know your market – I do my own surveys and draw my own conclusions. I don’t hurt many number crunchers. I’m a great believer in asking everyone for an opinion before I make a decision. I ask and I ask and I ask until I begin to get a gut feeling about something. And that’s when I make a decision. Another group I don’t trust is critics as very few of them have any feeling for what the public wants
    5. Use your leverage – the worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood and then you’re dead. The best thing you can do is deal from strength and leverage is the biggest strength you can have. Leverage is having something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply can’t do without. It often takes salesmanship and imagination to come up with leverage
    6. Enhance your location – more than purely location, a great deal enhanced by promotion and marketing is the key
    7. Get the word out – hiring outside consultants is never as good as doing it yourself. Be straight with reporters, have bravado and play to peoples fantasies
    8. Fight back – if you believe in something deeply and people are obstructing you unjustly, fight back
    9. Deliver the goods – you can’t con people, at least not for long. At some point you must deliver the goods
    10. Contain the costs – every dollar counts
    11. Have fun
  22. Father was a real estate developer as well and built low income and rent controlled housing in NY
  23. Almost boasts about the fact that he gave a teacher a black eye when he was in the second grade
  24. Learned to “finesse and manage” the drill instructor at the military academy
    1. Maybe shows some of the early innate manipulation or as Scott Adams says, hypnotic, powers that Trumpe exhibits
  25. His father was a great negotiator because he knew the price of everything and was always fair and reliable
  26. Clean and well maintained apartments are always worth the investment
  27. Finds ways to cleverly deal with people and situations – manager Irving great but stole so paid him a low salary and expected him to steal
    1. Seems like a temporary strategy which will only destroy cukture and hurt in the end
  28. You can’t show fear. You have to stand your ground and whatever happens happens
  29. The simplest approach is often the most effective
  30. Early on I didn’t have much but what I did have was the willingness to go after things that people even in a better position wouldn’t consider seeking. I also couldn’t sell people early on on my experience or accomplishments so I sold them on my energy and enthusiasm
  31. In the end, we won by wearing everyone else down. We never gave up and the opposition slowly began to melt away
  32. The city’s desperate circumstances became my biggest weapon. I could act when others weren’t willing and help the city get back on its feet
  33. If you’re going to make a deal of any significance, you have to go to the top
  34. New manager at Grand Hyatt got Trump and his wife to leave them alone by being overly friendly and solicitous, asking for their opinion on every mundane decision
  35. Much more often than you’d think, sheer persistence is the difference between success and failure
  36. Regardless of industry, you want your customers to feel special
  37. I understand now that certain events can take on symbolic importance
  38. Controversy sells
  39. When you set the highest standards, they’re expensive to maintain
  40. Good way to end a partnership on a classy note – “as with most things in life, time calls for change and it jd best to accept that fact. Nevertheless, I shall always be proud of my involvement in the creation of Trump Tower and finely remember how we worked to bring it about.”
  41. I think it better to pay more for a sure thing
  42. There is always a buyer for the best
  43. I have a very simple rule when it comes to management: hire the best people from your competitors, pay them more than they were earning and give them bonuses and incentives based on their performance. That’s how you build a first class operation
  44. You don’t act on an impulse, even a charitable one, without considering the downside
  45. In any partnership, you’re only as strong as your weakest link
  46. Committees and high priced consultants can’t hold a candle to a group of guys with reasonable amount of common sense and their own money on the line
  47. My attitude is that you do your best and if it doesn’t work, you move onto the next thing
  48. You’re not measured by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish
  49. What I admire most are people who put themselves directly on the line
What I got out of it
  1. Some revealing insights from Trump how he thinks about business, life, competition. Some I thought were helpful but the vast majority show what I think is a “win/lose mindset” which isn’t sustainable

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark

Summary
  1. Duncan Clark describes the history of Jack Ma, his personality, how and why he founded Alibaba (after a couple failed start-up attempts), his vision for the future and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Jack founded Aibaba in Hangzhou in 1999
  2. Alibaba looks to exploit the inefficiencies created by a government who exerts as much control as China does without pissing them off
  3. Alibaba’s strengths lie in ecommerce, logistics and finance
  4. Consumer discretionary spending is only about one third of GDP versus close to two thirds of GDP in the US. Latent spending power and high savings rates and lack of things to spend money on are the main causes for this discrepancy
  5. Alibaba is even China’s largest retailer
  6. Taobao is like a bazaar with 9m merchants and alibaba has no inventory and TMall is like a glitzy shopping mall. Major brands like Amazon Costco apple Zara and Moore are all on T-Mall
  7. About 10% of retail spending in China is done online compared to 7% in the US. China has been able to leap frog the brick-and-mortar retail business model which is much less efficient and expensive than e-commerce
  8. Nature abhors a vacuum and in China the Internet is filling in for eight created by an official state owned enterprises and government regulations
  9. Alibaba accounts for 40% of grocery sales in China and even does next day delivery of refrigerated items. It stands at only 10% in the US
  10. The rate of e-commerce packages is growing like crazy and has years of high-growth ahead with less than one package per customer per month being delivered on average today
  11.  JD.com it’s taking a different approach than Alibaba in that it is investing directly in logistics and becoming acid heavy versus acid light. JD wants to control the process from order to delivery end to end and I think a good analogy is Apple and other closed and companies that want to control quality throughout
  12. Alibaba‘s finance edge comes from Ali pay which is Alibaba is equivalent of PayPal  Ali pay handles more than $750 billion every year. Always pay is no longer own by Alibaba but is controlled by jack and has become the defect of method of transactions for an increasingly digital China. Alibaba can also serve as a savings account and often gives better rates than the banks. Because Alibaba had so much data on its customers it can better underwrite the credit risk of people who invest and pay through their platforms
  13. Jack is it your typical corporate titan and is quite humble and talks his intellect and ability down often. He said that the most influential role model in his life was Forrest Gump
  14. Jack’s presentation and oratorical skills are superb mainly because he focuses on messages he is deeply fluid in and suddenly changes his emphasis or message depending on the crowd and their expectations. Jack is quite funny and empathetic and the nature of his speeches tend to reach a broader audience due to his fluent English and Mandarin
  15. Jack’s mantra his customers first employee second and shareholders third. Another popular “often heard from Jack is 102 years with the point of trying to survive through out three different centuries
  16. Corruption and counterfeit goods are some of Alibaba’s major obstacles but they are taking certain precautions to begin limiting the amount
  17. When Jack was a boy he would relish the opportunity to practice his English often waking up before dawn riding his bike for 40 minutes to the nearest big hotel just to talk to English speaking tourists. Jack for friended on Australian family who he visited one day and on this visit he saw that what he had been taught that China was the richest country on earth was in fact falls and this taught him that he had to think for himself make his own decisions and use his brain to truly determine what was true and what he believed in
  18. Jack twice failed the college entrance exam and eventually on his third time got a good enough score to go to a fourth grade university in his hometown. Today he speaks of these failures as a badge of honor
  19. After university Jack became an English teacher but soon started his first company called hope which helped local companies find foreign customers. Jack has the uncanny ability to sell his vision and get people excited and to buy in completely
  20. Wong Joe were Alibaba is headquartered has been a prime an important trading hub for over 1000 years connecting the northern and southern China
  21. Jack was first exposed to computers and the Internet in the mid 90s when he travel to the US. From this exposure he started china pages which was the Chinese equivalent of yellow pages. China pages failed after a couple years and from the adventure Jack went on to work for the government for sometime before founding Alibaba
  22. Alibaba was chosen as the name of his company because it is a universal name that everyone can pronounce and most people know the story behind Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. This has saved a lot of money on marketing and advertising as the image of open Sesame and everything else that comes with the name is tied in to most people’s memories already
  23. Jack decided to distance himself from other Chinese portals such as Sina so who and that is by focusing on shrimp or small businesses
  24. Alibaba got first major investment from Goldman Sachs – $5m for 50%. A few weeks later soft bank invested $20m for 30%
  25. Jack decided to start hiring people who were a notch below the top of the class because he found they were better at handling adversity than the people at the very top of the class
  26. Today is brutal. Tomorrow is more brutal. But the day after that is beautiful. However, most people die tomorrow night
  27. The bursting of the Internet bubble was actually good for alibaba as this meant their competitors would not be receiving money and they had a lot in the bank from soft bank
  28. Author makes an interesting connection between the 2002 SARS outbreak and a massive ramp up in broadband usage, texting and increased investor appetite in china tech
  29. Taobao was alibaba’s response to eBay and was able to fend off the global powerhouse by better understanding the local market – free registration, busier home pages, free listings, ability to negotiate, online payment with Alipay, complacency and arrogance
  30. If you simply use money to solve problems, there’d be no need for businessmen. Businessmen are able to solve problems with few resources and leverage them to great benefit. eBay simply tried throwing money at china to regain their dominance and at this point Jack knew he had them. They first didn’t treat them like a rival at all and then took them too seriously. They showed their hand and didn’t change strategies at all
  31. There is a lot of controversy over the transfer of and financial to Jack’s personal account where he had total control of the company. Defenders say that without doing this day would never have gained financial approval from the Chinese government but other say this is not the case
  32. Shortly after the IPO Alibaba I got into some controversy what the government over baked goods which still is lingering over the company today
  33. Alibaba is beginning to expand into cloud computing, healthcare, entertainment and other markets where retail is inefficient and ecommerce under-penetrated
What I got out of it
  1. Does an excellent job providing some history of Jack and the company as well as some of the cultural differences between Chinese and American entrepreneurs and their relationship with their respective governments. Jack’s vision, persistence and charm were all really interesting and inspiring to read about