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The corridors of power ...

Every week, two or three new management books land on my desk in Wapping. We never do anything with them, but the publishers don't seem to take the hint. A recent example is a case study of Alexander the Great, which includes a list of 'leadership lessons' from the great man.

These include: have a compelling vision; encourage innovation; and plan for succession. Yeah, and he had an iPod too.

In a new interview series in The Times, of six senior executives, not one admitted to reading management books. Lord Sharman of KPMG fame says he learns more from reading military history. David Arculus, the new mm02 chairman, reads Edward de Bono, the lateral thinker. Mervyn Davies, chief executive of Standard Chartered, prefers business articles that he can cut out and disseminate to his team.

Chip Goodyear, chief executive of BHP Billiton, the mining giant, studies speeches by famous people. He won’t touch management books. As he says: ‘If you have to learn it from a book, you probably aren’t going to do too well.’

Alison Carnwath, the serial Footsie non-exec, does not read management books. She says: ‘They just seem to be extremely remote from any of the issues and problems that I’ve faced.’

The only management books of any vague use are the ones in which business luminaries talk about their experiences. Gerry Robinson, the former Granada chairman, has just published a book based on his BBC television series: I’ll Show Them Who’s Boss. It has some useful tips on sacking people.

For the rest, how about a boycott of management books? Don’t give into temptation at the airport bookshop. If nobody buys them, maybe they will just go away.

  • Jon Ashworth, business features editor at The Times.

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