The business book that Bill Gates recommends

Gates Foundation

Bill Gates, the co-founder and former President, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, does not read many books about business leaders.

“In my experience, it is rare to find one that really captures what it’s like to build and operate an organisation or that has tips you could really put into practice,” Bill Gates writes in GatesNotes.

Bill Gates, whose Twitter account was recently hacked, said the best business book he has ever read is Business Adventures, a little-known collection of articles by reporter John Brooks.

“Whenever someone asks me to recommend one book on business, that’s the one I suggest most often,” Bill Gates wrote.

“But I recently read another business book that I will happily recommend to anyone who asks: The Ride of a Lifetime, by former Disney CEO Robert Iger. In fact, I have already suggested it to several friends and colleagues, including Satya Nadella.

Bill Gates, Bob Iger

“As the person who led Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, Lucasfilm (that is, all the Star Wars stuff), Marvel, and most of 21st Century Fox, Iger is able to take you inside the workings of a massive media company and show how he thought about building on its strengths and shoring up its weaknesses. This is a short, readable book with smart insights, and along the way he crosses paths with some colourful characters.

“Iger does a great job explaining what it is like to be a CEO. You’re always worried, “Which thing am I not spending enough time on?” As Iger writes, “You go from plotting growth strategy with investors, to looking at the design of a giant new theme-park attraction with Imagineers, to giving notes on the rough cut of a film, to discussing security measures and board governance and ticket pricing and pay scale… there are also, always, crises and failures for which you can never be fully prepared.” Although I never had to deal with most of those specific issues, the overall picture he draws is quite accurate.” added Gates.

Robert Iger, who was CEO of The Walt Disney Company for 15 years, is Disney’s Executive Chairman. He has said he will retire from the company next year.

In Iger’s view, there are 10 principles he believes are necessary for what he describes as “true leadership”. He characterises them as:

  1. Optimism
    Iger describes this as one of the most important qualities of a good leader. He sees optimism as a “pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved”. Iger explains: “Even in the face of difficult choices and less than ideal outcomes an optimistic leader does not yield to pessimism. Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists”.
  2. Courage
    Iger believes courage to be the foundation of risk-taking and argues that in “ever-changing, disrupted businesses”, risk-taking is essential and innovation is vital. “True innovation only occurs when people have courage,” he writes. “This is true of acquisitions, investments and capital allocations and it particularly applies to creative decisions – fear of failure destroys creativity.”
  3. Focus
    Allocating time, energy, and resources to strategies, problems, and projects that are of the highest importance and value is vital, writes Iger, adding that communicating your priorities “clearly and often” is imperative.
  4. Decisiveness
    Iger writes it’s vital that every decision, no matter how difficult, can and should be made “in a timely way”. “Leaders must encourage a diversity of opinion balanced with the need to make and implement decisions,” he writes. On the other hand, Iger believes that chronic indecision is inefficient, counterproductive, and deeply corrosive to morale.
  5. Curiosity
    A “deep and abiding curiosity” facilitates the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, writes Iger, as well as an “awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics”, adding that the “path to innovation” begins with curiosity.
  6. Fairness
    Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people, says Iger, who adds that empathy and accessibility are essential. In line with this philosophy, Iger says people who make honest mistakes deserve second chances. He adds that it is important not to judge people too harshly as this creates a culture of fear, which has the effect of discouraging communication and innovation.
  7. Thoughtfulness
    Iger views thoughtfulness as one of the most underrated elements of good leadership. He describes it as the process of “gaining knowledge, so an opinion rendered or decision made is more credible and more likely to be correct”. In a nutshell, it means taking the time to develop informed opinions.
  8. Authenticity
    Be genuine and honest, writes Iger. “Don’t fake anything,” he writes. Truth and authenticity will breed trust and respect.
  9. The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

    Iger writes he does not seek “perfectionism at all costs”. What he means is a refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.” If you think something can be improved, make the effort and time to do it.

  10. Integrity
    Iger writes “nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organisation’s people and its product”. A company must set high ethical standard for all things – big and small – as its success depends on it. Iger sums it up by saying: “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

Iger concludes the book with a list of what he calls “lessons to lead by.”

“Normally, I am allergic to lists like this because they’re so vacuous. But Iger’s is quite perceptive,” wrote Bill Gates.

“For example, he advises, “Value ability more than experience, and put people in roles that require more of them than they know they have in them.” And he writes, “I became comfortable with failure—not with lack of effort, but with the fact that if you want innovation, you need to grant permission to fail.” Melinda and I regularly give the same advice to the teams at our foundation.”

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