‘Charisma permits the believer to put his or her reason on the shelf and follow the leader.’

September 25, 2021 at 2:51 pm (Book review, books, Family)

The statement above is immediately followed by this one:

It is inspiring, seductive, and dangerous.

In his new book The Emergence of Charismatic Business Leadership, Richard S. Tedlow, author of Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American, enlarges on these aspects of charisma by examining how it functions – or functioned – in various titans of the business world.

Divided into three parts, the book opens with a description of the unprecedented outpouring of grief attendant upon the death of Steve Jobs. Jobs is, almost inevitably, a central figure in this narrative. The book begins with a chapter on Jobs’s own beginnings; Part One then goes on to make some general observations about charisma, focusing on business leaders in the post-World-War-Two era. This time period, Richard asserts, tended to produce business leaders notably lacking in this elusive yet magnetic quality. He offers as an example Harlow H. Curtice of General Motors. (Who? Well, that would be the point.)

Part Two offers profiles of other charismatic business people such as Lee Iacocca, Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay Cosmetics) and Sam Walton. I particularly appreciated Richard’s explanation of the source of Walton’s appeal. It’s not what you’d expect, but powerful nonetheless.

Part Three begins with the story of Steve Jobs’s years in the wilderness, as it were, following his (forced) resignation from Apple in 1985. Profiles of Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey follow. Then, the inevitable “Steve Jobs: Triumph at Apple.”

I’m a great advocate of tight structure in both fiction and nonfiction, and I especially appreciate the way Richard structures his book. The life journey of Steve Jobs separates neatly into three parts; those parts can be likened to a tripod which elegantly supports the entire content of the narrative. The moment of Jobs’s passing is almost like a scripted climax: having attained the pinnacle of success, he left us.

I read, a while back, in an article about Edward Abbey, that since his premature demise, he is nicely morphing into a legend of the environmental movement. The same, with regard to the business world, can be said of Steve Jobs.

I want to mention briefly a point Richard makes about Oprah Winfrey; namely, that her success is in part due to the things she did not do:

She did not take her company public. She did not create her own book imprint. She did not license her name to any merchandise. She did not act in a public way that might call her authenticity into question. She did not fall prey to big deals promising the often-spoken-of but rarely found “synergy.”

I’d like to add to that list that she did not marry and/or have children. One thinks, perhaps a bit grandiosely, of Queen Elizabeth the First. The reasoning may  have been the same for both women. (To my knowledge, Oprah Winfrey does have what Wikipedia describes as “a long-term partner.”)

One of the many pleasures of this book is learning retailing lingo like “door buster.” This term describes the huge, immediate hit made by the Ford Mustang upon its introduction to the driving public in 1964. Also Richard’s witty formulations appear from time to time. For example, instruction manuals can mainly be described as “facedown-in-the-soup boring.” From first to last, The Emergence of Charismatic Business Leadership is a wonderful read – informative, surprising, engaging, absorbing,

You might be wondering at my effrontery in calling this author  by his first name. You must forgive me – I’ve been doing it my whole life!

He’s my brother.


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