On the Bookshelf

By Higgins, Carol | American Banker, October 20, 1985 | Go to article overview

On the Bookshelf


Higgins, Carol, American Banker


What an up-and-comer in the financial services industry reads in his or her spare time may not necessarily guarantee a promotion. But outside reading certainly can do a lot to expand one's vision of the world and help one approach business problems from a different perspective, not to mention relieve tension. And in turn, all of these things can lead to more creative problem-solving on the job.

When it comes to reading for sheer pleasure and enjoyment, most executives in the industry say they do not have much time. But in stolen moments before bedtime, on weekends, or during long airplane flights, corporate officers are apt to read a spy thriller or historical novel. Some even manage to tackle the classics. There they find a brief respite from the mountains of documents and news analyses that usually fill their busy, competitive lives.

"Reading takes me out of the environment I work in," says Thomas R. Williams, board chairman and president of First Atlanta Corp., in Atlanta, Georgia. "It lets the mind turn a little on things that are in no way stressful, but at the same time are intellectually interesting."

Mr. Williams, an industrial engineer trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who will become chairman of the merged Wachovia and First Atlanta banks, takes in a huge volume of daily business reading, as others do. His reading includes standards like "In Search for Excellence" by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman J. and "The One Minute Manager" by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Though he finds those two books lean too much on the obvious, he says "if you get one good idea, the book is worth reading."

"The real relaxation," he adds "is in a new book," like William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill or Philip Ziegler's "Mountbatten."

"I like to work on two books at a time," he says. "Churchill's complexities fascinated me -- you wonder why he reacted the way he did." Mr. Williams is also reading "The Hunt for Red October," a book on geopolitics by Tom Clancy.

"Reading teaches you to work hard, to think," Mr. Williams says.

Reading can make a difference in quality of mind an executive brings to a career, says John K. Clemens, an associate professor at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.A. distant cousin of Samuel Clemens, whose pen name was Mark Twain, Mr. Clemens teaches what the classics can say to businessmen.

"Through humanism, we learn about corporate culture," he says. "Great managers have the intellectual abilities and can be offended by the simpler stuff. The transition from manager to great manager has a lot of the cerebral in it, and the classics are full of insight on the improvement of the mind.

"'The One Minute Manager' reads like a manual on how to train your dog," he continues. "Intellectual gravity comes from reading truly great stuff." Mr. Clemens has a list that he says is hard reading but rewarding in lessons about business life. (See accompanying box)

The Aspen Institute

If there is a "mecca" for the serious reader/executive, it is Aspen Institute, in Colorado. Since its founding in 1950, it has drawn businessmen and businesswomen to its summer seminars to study great books and to examine issues like justice, government, and ethics.

Colin Williams, the institute's executive director, says that he has noticed a change in recent years, that there is "more concern," among the students attending, "that the pursuit of success with the standard American values is not all there is."

Mr. Williams notes that businessmen do not have the time to read the great books and reflect, but he believes that once they set aside the time to lsiten and talk, they become interested.

Too often, Mr. Williams contends, business decisions are made without basic humanistic considerations.

"Many feel that the basic bottom line decisions, as they call them, hide other influences in American life and culture," said Mr. …

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