25 ’World Changers’ discuss companies in new book

“World Changers: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Business as We Knew It” (Portfolio/Penguin), by John A. Byrne

Some businesses become so embedded in our lives it’s hard to imagine a day without them. We get up and grab a cup of Starbucks coffee, sit down in front of our Apple and Dell computers, write documents in Microsoft Word while simultaneously searching Google. We might stop at Whole Foods before heading home, where a package is waiting from Amazon.com or a movie from Netflix.

In his new book, “World Changers: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Business as We Knew It,” John A. Byrne, the former executive editor of BusinessWeek, gets invitations to sit down with the people behind those big-name companies. It’s an impressive accomplishment, but what he gets out of the conversations is somewhat uninspired. Maybe it’s the book’s format, a short introduction to each person followed by a question-and-answer transcript of the interview, which allows the subject to ramble unchecked. Or maybe Byrne isn’t asking the right questions. But readers who expect to come away with any great insights are likely to be disappointed.

Also disappointing: the lack of female voices in the book. Of the 27 people profiled (co-founders share chapters), Oprah Winfrey is the only woman. Yes, women currently lead just 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies. But why Byrne would choose to profile Carlos Nuzman, who helped win the 2016 Olympic Games for Rio de Janeiro, over homemaking guru Martha Stewart, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington or even Spanx inventor Sara Blakely is hard to imagine. Maybe he didn’t think of it, or maybe they were too busy.

Still, the book does contain entertaining and interesting facts, especially for readers unfamiliar with the founding stories of some of the country’s most transformational companies. Readers learn that a $40 late fee for forgetting to return the movie “Apollo 13” helped inspire Reed Hastings to found Netfix; Starbucks head Howard Schultz covertly tried out a new instant variety of the company’s coffee on dinner party guests; and Home Depot initially stocked hundreds of empty boxes and thousands of empty paint cans on the store’s top shelves to give the impression the place was packed with products.

Byrne is also fairly consistent in asking each entrepreneur for advice, the one question likely to interest most readers. The general message: have a great idea you believe in, hire smart people and work really, really hard.

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