Iconic Brands: The Books That Mean Business

From Nike, LEGO and Sony to Volkswagen, Nokia and Adidas, there are so many companies – iconic brands – that we know and love, and whose products are a part of our everyday lives. But how much do we really know about the companies we sometimes adore? For those who may be interested in looking under the hood and trying to understand what makes these companies work (and in GE’s case, what caused the downfall), here’s a selection of incisive, entertaining and well-written books that you don’t want to miss.

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight

‘In 1962, fresh out of business school, Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the boot of his Plymouth, Knight grossed $8,000 in his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In an age of start-ups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all start-ups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognisable symbols in the world today. But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always remained a mystery. Now, for the first time, he tells his story. Candid, humble, wry and gutsy, he begins with his crossroads moment when he decided to start his own business. He details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream – along with his early triumphs. Above all, he recalls how his first band of partners and employees soon became a tight-knit band of brothers. Together, harnessing the transcendent power of a shared mission, and a deep belief in the spirit of sport, they built a brand that changed everything. A memoir rich with insight, humour and hard-won wisdom, this book is also studded with lessons – about building something from scratch, overcoming adversity, and ultimately leaving your mark on the world,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘It is a tale of dogged perseverance – and Phil alludes to it often in the book. And it’s not a dry business book either. As an autobiographical memoir, Phil opens up with extraordinary candour about his personal life as well. And it will be hard to be dry-eyed at the end of the book. And the quality of writing – the style and the narrative flow – is absolutely top-notch. It has all the flair and cultivated skill of a well-published author. The language is alternately poetic or dramatic as the narrative calls for. Not a dull moment,’ says Prime Investor. ‘Shoe Dog, Phil Knight’s memoir about creating Nike, is a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. In the pages of Shoe Dog, however, Knight opens up in a way few CEOs are willing to do. He’s incredibly tough on himself and his failings. He doesn’t fit the mould of the bold, dashing entrepreneur. He’s shy, introverted, and often insecure [and] he tells his story as honestly as he can. It’s an amazing tale. It’s real,’ says Bill Gates.

Get your copy of Shoe Dog on Amazon

The LEGO Story: How a Little Toy Sparked the World’s Imagination, by Jens Andersen

‘The definitive history of LEGO, based on unprecedented access to the company’s archives and rare interviews with the founding family who still owns the company. It’s estimated that each year between eighty and ninety million children around the globe are given a box of LEGO, while up to ten million adults buy sets for themselves. Yet LEGO is much more than a dizzying number of plastic bricks that can be put together and combined in countless ways. LEGO is also a vision of the significance of what play can mean for humanity. This book tells the extraordinary story of a global company and a Danish family who for ninety years have defended children’s right to play, and who believe grown-ups, too, should make the time to nurture their inner child,’ says the publisher’s note.

The LEGO Story is built on Jens Andersen’s unique access to LEGO’s own archives, as well as on Andersen’s extensive conversations with Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, former president and CEO of the LEGO group and grandson of its founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen. A riveting cultural history of changing generations’ views of childhood and the importance of play, The LEGO Story also a fascinating case study of how innovation and creativity helped leaders transform LEGO from a small carpentry business into the world’s largest producer of play materials and one of the most beloved brands in the world. Richly illustrated with never-before-seen photos from the family’s private archive, this is the ultimate book for fans of LEGO, revealing everything you ever wanted to know about the brand,’ it adds.

‘Biographer Andersen turns to the legacy of LEGO in this charming outing. He does a great job showing the company’s lasting power through 90 years of change, and the archival photos are a treat. This will delight business history buffs,’ says Publishers Weekly.

Get your copy of The LEGO Story on Amazon

Sony: the Private Life, by John Nathan

‘Named one of the best business books of the year by Fortune and Newsweek, Sony is the intimate biography of one of the world’s leading electronics giants as well as one of the most fascinating and complex of all corporate stories. Drawing on his unmatched expertise in Japanese culture and on unique, unlimited access to Sony’s inner sanctum, John Nathan traces Sony’s evolution from its inauspicious beginnings amid Tokyo’s bomb-scarred ruins to its current worldwide success. Richly detailed and revealing, the book examines both the outward successes and, as never before, the mysterious inner workings that have always characterized this company’s top ranks. The result is a different kind of business book, showing how personal relationships shaped one of the century’s great global corporations,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Readers should be thankful that the most thorough history of Sony yet written comes from a writer steeped in Japanese culture rather than in business. Nathan, a professor of Japanese cultural studies at UC-Santa Barbara, gives a human dimension to the Japanese electronics giant, especially to its cofounders, Masaru Ibuka (the dreamer) and Akio Morita (the pragmatist). By mixing interviews with Sony executives with his own insights, Nathan provides readers with a thorough and entertaining history of the company that rose out of the ashes of WWII to embody Japan’s postwar resurrection,’ says Publishers Weekly. ‘The book is a good read for those interested in the motivation, corporate vision, and decision-making processes of three key leaders of Sony – a corporation that is at core Japanese with a strong American component,’ says Foreign Affairs. ‘Insightful, probing, and extremely well-written; in the genre of business and company profiles, this is as good as it gets,’ adds Kirkus.

Get your copy of Sony: The Private Life on Amazon

Faster, Higher, Farther: The Inside Story of the Volkswagen Scandal, by Jack Ewing

‘A shocking exposé of Volkswagen’s fraud by the New York Times reporter who covered the scandal. When news of Volkswagen’s clean diesel fraud first broke in September 2015, it sent shockwaves around the world. Overnight, the company long associated with quality, reliability and trust became a universal symbol of greed and deception. Consumers were outraged, investors panicked, the company embarrassed and facing bankruptcy. As lawsuits and criminal investigations piled up, by early 2017 VW had settled with regulators and car-owners for $20 billion, with additional fines and claims still looming. In Faster, Higher, Farther, Jack Ewing rips the lid off the scandal. He describes VW’s rise from ‘the people’s car’ during the Nazi era to one of Germany’s most prestigious and important global brands, touted for being ‘green.’ He paints vivid portraits of Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piëch and chief executive Martin Winterkorn, arguing that their unremitting ambition drove employees, working feverishly in pursuit of impossible sales targets, to illegal methods,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘With unprecedented access to key players and a ringside seat during the course of the legal proceedings, Faster, Higher, Farther reveals how the succeed-at-all-costs culture prevalent in modern boardrooms led to one of corporate history’s farthest-reaching cases of fraud, with potentially devastating consequences. As the future of one of the world’s biggest companies remains uncertain, this is the extraordinary story of Volkswagen’s downfall,’ it adds.

‘The story told by Jack Ewing in Faster, Higher, Farther is a rich history of a company whose cars, for better and worse, have touched millions of lives, a character study of a brilliant but deeply flawed leader, and a case study in how a corporate culture can turn toxic. Ewing also tells the tangled, intertwined history of Porsche and Volkswagen, and the families who ruled the companies,’ says The New York Times. ‘Ewing creates a compelling narrative out of corporate history, tracing Volkswagen’s growth from 1937 to the present to show the evolution of a strikingly top-down, hierarchical culture. Interest in this now-faded scandal may be confined to a niche audience, but readers who pick up the book will be glad they did,’ adds Publishers Weekly.

Get your copy of Faster, Higher, Farther on Amazon

Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead through Colossal Change, by Risto Siilasmaa

‘In 2008, Nokia owned half of the global smart phone market. By 2012, four years after Apple introduced the iPhone, the company synonymous with mobile phones had lost more than 90 percent of its value and was rumoured to be on the brink of bankruptcy. That’s when Risto Siilasmaa took the helm and put his concept of ‘paranoid optimism’ to the test. Nothing less than the existence of this 150-year-old company was at stake. In Transforming Nokia, Siilasmaa tells the gripping inside story of Nokia’s near-death experience and its astonishing recovery. Why couldn’t Nokia compete against Apple and Android? The answer was every leader nightmare: Nokia was a victim of its own success. Leaders had become complacent and resistant to change, and the innovative and risk-taking culture that had once propelled Nokia to greatness was all but gone,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Siilasmaa explains how he and his team tapped the power of paranoid optimism to revive and reinvent the struggling company, and he reveals how anyone can use his methods to rise above any business challenge, in any industry. Bold and often unconventional, his battle-tested strategies include: building and Banking on trust-based relationships at every level of your company, seeking out bad news, embracing emotions, and learning to be brave enough to dream big. Nokia is now among the top players in the global digital communications infrastructure market. The value of its business increased more than 20 times between 2012 and 2016. Tellingly, fewer than one percent of the company’s current 100,000 employees carried a Nokia badge in 2012,’ it adds.

‘Nokia’s recent transformation is one of the most dramatic corporate makeovers in modern history. Written like a thriller, Risto’s story takes us through the events that took place behind the scenes. His thoughtful reflections provide tangible lessons for any leader,’ says Rich Lesser, CEO, Boston Consulting Group. ‘Transforming Nokia is a must-read for business leaders as it serves as both a warning and a practical playbook on how to identify and act on threats and opportunities. Risto provides an honest and mesmerizing first-person view of the dramatic collapse and rebirth of an iconic company. Buy copies for your executives and board members to kickstart the discipline of being paranoid optimists,’ says Charlene Li, author of Groundswell, The Disruption Mindset and Open Leadership. ‘In Transforming Nokia, Risto Siilasmaa vividly recounts how he and his team took an iconic company on the brink of collapse and brought it back to be a global leader in a new industry. It’s a remarkable tale, rich with hard-won, practical insights on crisis management, restoring trust, the centrality of culture – and the power of paranoid optimism,’ adds Dominic Barton, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Co.

Get your copy of Transforming Nokia on Amazon

Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport, by Barbara Smit

‘The fascinating story of the enemy brothers behind Adidas and Puma, whose rivalry shaped the modern sports business. Adidas and Puma are two of the biggest global brands in sports, paying stars, clubs, and competitions to show off their labels in stadiums and across magazine pages. In Sneaker Wars, journalist Barbara Smit reveals the dramatic, character-driven story of these two power-houses. Started in their mother’s laundry room in Germany, Adi and Rudi Dassler’s shoe business was an instant success, their spikes worn by Jesse Owens in the Berlin Olympics. But a vicious feud soon pulled them apart: by the end of World War II, the brothers split the company, dividing their family and hometown,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Adidas and Puma revolutionized the world of sport, their rivalry introducing behind-the-scenes deals and multimillion-dollar contracts. From Pelé to Joe Namath, Walt Frazier to Boris Becker, Muhammad Ali to David Beckham, they all contribute to the roller-coaster rise, near collapse, and revival of the two brands. A page-turning narrative, Sneaker Wars is a riveting blend of family drama, business, sports, and history,’ it adds.

‘The story behind two of the world’s most well-known sneaker brands is a rich, engrossing family saga, with a vicious feud between two brothers played out in Barbara Smits’ new book Sneaker Wars. The author, an international business journalist, spent five years researching Sneaker Wars. She blends history and sports, business and family, along with the famous athletes who were pursued all around the world to wear and endorse the shoes,’ says The Seattle Times. ‘Smit’s essential point is that the feud between the Puma and Adidas branches of the family, which lasted for several generations, gave rise to payoffs and endorsements and the fact that modern sports, both professional and amateur, are now drenched in money. The last part of Sneaker Wars is a recounting of the financial troubles suffered by both Adidas and Puma, troubles due in part to their own insularity but also due to Nike, which took over markets almost at will,’ adds The New York Times.

Get your copy of Sneaker Wars on Amazon

That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea, by Marc Randolph

‘Now with over 182 million subscribers, Netflix’s triumph feels inevitable but the twenty-first century’s most disruptive start-up began with few believers and calamity at every turn. Marc Randolph’s transformational journey exemplifies how anyone with grit and determination can change the world – even with an idea that many think will never work. What emerges, however, isn’t just the inside story of one of the world’s most iconic companies. Full of counter-intuitive concepts and written in binge-worthy prose, it answers some of our most fundamental questions about taking that leap of faith in life: How do you begin? How do you weather disappointment and failure? What is success? From idea generation to team building to knowing when it’s time to let go, That Will Never Work is not only the ultimate follow-your-dreams parable but also one of the most dramatic and insightful entrepreneurial stories of our time,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Randolph, co-founder of Netflix, makes an engaging book debut with a candid memoir recounting the history of the company as it evolved from dream to concept to shared reality. An entertaining chronicle of creativity, luck, and unflagging perseverance,’ says Kirkus. ‘A charming first-person account of the early days of one of the most successful tech startups ever. Netflix’s improbable history, as Randolph says, demonstrates that an old Hollywood saw applies to business startups as much as to forthcoming movies: When it comes to predicting success, nobody knows anything,’ adds The Wall Street Journal.  

Get your copy of That Will Never Work on Amazon

Lights Out: Pride, Delusion, and the Fall of General Electric, by Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann

‘How could General Electric, perhaps America’s most iconic corporation, suffer such a swift and sudden fall from grace? This is the definitive history of General Electric’s epic decline, as told by the two Wall Street Journal reporters who covered its fall. Since its founding in 1892, GE has been more than just a corporation. For generations, it was job security, a solidly safe investment, and an elite business education for top managers. GE electrified America, powering everything from lightbulbs to turbines, and became fully integrated into the American societal mindset as few companies ever had. And after two decades of leadership under legendary CEO Jack Welch, GE entered the twenty-first century as America’s most valuable corporation. Yet, fewer than two decades later, the GE of old was gone. ​Lights Out examines how Welch’s handpicked successor, Jeff Immelt, tried to fix flaws in Welch’s profit machine, while stumbling headlong into mistakes of his own. In the end, GE’s traditional win-at-all-costs driven culture seemed to lose its direction, which ultimately caused the company’s decline on both a personal and organizational scale. Lights Out details how one of America’s all-time great companies has been reduced to a cautionary tale for our times,’ says the publisher’s note.

Lights Out is a hard-nosed, well-written analysis of what went wrong at GE,’ says the Financial Times. ‘The book is a very good reminder that even the greatest companies in the world can unravel very quickly if things go wrong,’ says Value and Opportunity. ‘A venerable American company struggles for survival and eventually crashes, in this exciting offering from Wall Street Journal reporters Gryta and Mann. Possessing all the suspense of a true-crime account, Gryta and Mann’s riveting look at GE’s previous two decades underlines the harsh facts of survival in 21st-century business,’ adds Publishers Weekly.

Get your copy of Lights Out on Amazon

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