From Lutz to Twain: A Summer's Reading ListBy Dale Buss August 31, 2011
Even overwrought players in an industry coping with supply shortages and yet facing the possibility of a double-dip recession can occasionally relax. And President Obama isnt the only executive who can enjoy a summer reading list, as he did while on vacation this month at Marthas Vineyard. So as they wrap up their summer vacations on the beach, in the mountains or just kicked back on their patios, and contemplate plunging back into a second-half U.S. market full of uncertainties, many auto-industry executives are working their way through their own list of tomes, paper or digital.
And they arent all reading Bob Lutzs autobiographical treatise or the somewhat newer Once Upon a Car, which contains the most famous epithet ever hurled by Ford CMO Jim Farley. These readers have been enjoying fare as eclectic -- and non-industry-related -- as Keith Richards and icons of the National Football League. Heres a look at what a handful of executives and managers, plucked from around the American auto industry, have been picking up this summer -- or wishing they had -- and why:
Nothing sat targeted on top of the reading list of the vice president of the Chevrolet division this summer, he said, partly because books have had an extraordinary amount of competition lately from the press of real-time information. I dont think Ive been in a period for quite some time where there has been so much necessary top-of-mind information, he said. Every day you switch on the TV or open the newspaper, and its pretty amazing. So Ive been in a summer of surprise. Im not sure I could have written a book this exciting.
My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy, is on the top of the summer reading list of the manager of corporate communications for Mercedes-Benz USA. Hes one of my favorite authors, for the sheer love of words, Boland said.
The marketing vice president for Mercedes-Benz USA is burning through Colonel Roosevelt, part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning series by Edmund Morris about the 26th U.S. president.
The vice president of marketing for BMW of North America is going classic this summer with two books that he downloaded to his iPad: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, and Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville. The latter, of course, is the quintessential outsiders view of democracy in America, and during these times, its good to be able to go back to the early days of our democracy. Things have gotten a little bit slighted over the years. Its a wonderful, beautiful work. I had read parts of it, but I havent given it much thought for several years. Every American who can, should read it. The same with Huck Finn. Its controversial in its language, and there is a debate about how it should be read in schools, or edited, but Twain is the quintessential American author. Added Creed: Id like to read Tom Sawyer too.
Dava Sobel is a science writer, author of The Planets and other celebrated works. So the global product-communications manager for Ford is reading one of her best, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. Its an older book, he said, about solving one of the biggest problems of that age.
Neil De Koker
James Patterson novels are his favorite for relaxation. But the president and CEO of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association is always reading business-related books that people send me, most recently including the new American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China, by Michael Dunne. This is part of my business, and I like to understand other peoples perspectives, De Koker said.
Mark Del Rosso
Actually, the chief operating officer of Audi of America got way ahead of the summer-reading urge by polishing off The Speed of Trust, by Stephen R.M. Covey, a couple of years ago. But hes still talking about it this summer because Del Rosso and his boss, CEO Johan de Nysschen, declared the tome suggested reading for the companys staff and even supplied each of them with a copy of the book. He likes Coveys premise that developing a culture of trust in those who work for and with you dramatically increases a companys ability to get things done as well as profitability. When he joined the company in 2008, Del Rosso recalled, a serious trust gap between Audi and its stakeholders was the single biggest issue holding us back. Coveys book prescribes a number of culture-changing recommendations, aimed at building trust, that the company under Del Rosso has tried to follow recently.
Turns out that Fords marketing manager for global cars and crossovers has a neighbor in Pleasant Ridge, Mich., Charlie LeDuff, whos a spitfire, controversial, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. So Echlin has just picked up LeDuffs 2004 book, Work and Other Sins. Its a great book, all about the meat-and-potatoes people of New York City, Brooklyn and the surrounding burroughs, Echlin said. And hes an enigma of a human being.
I dont have time to read a book this summer, said the head of Chrysler brand advertising. Sadly, Im a Barnes & Noble junkie, and I cant tell you the number of books stacked up next to my bed, with the best of intentions. I mean, Eat, Pray, Love is there and its already been out in a movie for a while now ... Im knee deep into my backlog.
Work teams have been responsible for some of the biggest or most interesting achievements of modern America, including Apple products, the Manhattan project and the elections of presidents, so Chryslers vice president of network development and fleets has been reading Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.
He would like to emphasize the fact that he just finished Malcolm Gladwells Outliers, a non-fiction classic that is popular with all sorts of business types. But the general manager of retail sales for Audi of America admitted that hes actually catching up on Harry Potter books. My girlfriend is a very big fan. And she reads plenty of stuff I want her to read, so Im making it up to her.
I read for complete escapism, said Fords manager of crossover-vehicle communications. So she recently finished Now You See Her, the latest novel by prolific thriller writer James Patterson (and Michael Ledwidge).
Normally a voracious reader and who, while at MIT, participated in the writing of the landmark book The Machine that Changed the World, the president of Hyundai of America said that he hasnt read anything this summer. Instead, hes hooked on an online knockoff of Scrabble called Words with Friends, with games ongoing with as many as a dozen different people at any given time.
This summer, the vice president of U.S. sales for Kia isnt interested in anything automotive-related. I read a lot of motivational stuff though organizational and structural stuff. So, for example, hes reading for the second time the book by Ron Wolf, the general manager who constructed the success of the Green Bay Packers in the Nineties, The Packer Way: Nine Stepping Stones to Building a Winning Organization. There are a lot of parallels between building a sports organization and a successful [business] organization, Loveless explained. And you can read it in a day or two on the beach.
Fords group marketing manager for large cars and utilities has been poring through The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey out of maternal obligation. Im reading it before I make my son read it for his [school-required] reading. I like to read it so we can discuss it. Hes also got Freakonomics [by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner] but Ive already read that one.
If you like dogs and cars, you should read The Art of Racing in the Rain, said American Hondas manager of product planning. Garth Stein wrote the novel from the perspective of a yellow Labrador retriever whose owner is an aspiring race-car driver.
The marketing-communications manager for American Honda is one of many in the industry wholl admit to reading Lutzs book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counter: The Battle for the Soul of American Business. Just because hes outlandish and crazy, I still want to see what he says, Martin said. Ive heard him give so many speeches, and hes always completely out there. And now his hands arent tied about what he can say about GM.
The general manager of Smart USA is a veteran 5K runner. As part of her self-fortification for eventually running a half-marathon, she has launched into reading Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall, a barefoot runner. People told me its a good book but that you have to get past the first 25 pages, Matura said. Im only five pages in. Its one of those things. The crazy thing is, the next time I pick I up, Ill be finished with the book.
Fords social-media manager is typically steeped in information about the here and now, so to relax this summer he has taken to reading The Private Patient, the latest in the Adam Dalgleish mystery series by English author P.D. James.
Life, the autobiography by Keith Richards, the hard-bitten drummer of the Rolling Stones, was the favorite summer read of Cooper-Standards vice president of commercial and technical business. It was a great read, he said. It surprised me.
Surprised by its applicability, the Ford group marketing manager is reading and re-reading 2008s Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices and Priorities of a Winning Life, by Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League. My nine-year-old son got to go to a book-signing party at Borders, and Tony signed it, but my son is a little young to read it, Parker explained. So I picked it up and thought it would be a good read. Now, a full third of the book is highlighted or underlined. I carry it with me on business trips. Theres a lot to go back to. Its a different way of looking at leadership and trying to put more into future leadership of the company.
This summer, there are no pretensions to literary high-mindedness on the part of Fords crossover-marketing manager, or even blather about reading a book per se. Peterson is simply too excited about the start of the new pro-football season this fall to read about anything but newspaper, magazine and online stories regarding his beloved Green Bay Packers. The team is Super Bowl champions but never was given its due in terms of public adoration after the game, in the view of Peterson, because of the ensuing NFL labor dispute. At the top of my [reading] stack is anything to do with the Packers, said the Wauwatosa, Wis., native. We got ripped off for six months of gloating, he said.
For Fords head of U.S. industry analysis, the Bible is always ready to be opened. I read it over and over again, he said. He didnt have any plans to pick up a new book this summer.
The wife of the president of Labor and Economics Associates recommended the Inspector Rebus detective-mystery novels such as A Question of Blood, published last October. I just started into them, Schwartz said.
Mary Beth Stanek
She has been reading lots of post mortems of the 2008 financial crash and Wall Street, but the favorite recent read by General Motors director of federal environmental and engineering-regulation affairs has been Better: A Surgeons Notes About Performance, a 2007 book by Atul Gawande. Its about processes and things working and how to make things better, Stanek said. When you read a book like that coming from a surgeons view, and someone whos a sound, smart person -- its fascinating.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, is the favorite summer-vacation read of the corporate communications manager for Audi of America. The latest book by the acclaimed author of Seabiscuit is a biography of World War II hero and Olympic sprinter Louis Zamperini.
The general manager of the Lexus Division of Toyota Motor Sales USA said that, If I had all the time in the world to read, thats what Id do. So what is he reading in the time he has? Onward, a really interesting read by Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks and author previously of Pour Your Heart Into It. Also, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, which was recommended by a dealer. And, of course, McDonalds: Behind the Arches, a 1995 book by John F. Love about how great a job they do of creating consistency in a franchise operation. At some point, Templin said, hell also read Lutzs book just because hes an important figure in the industry.