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What Types of Books Successful Executives-Entrepreneurs Read – and Why?


Charles R. B. Stowe MBA, JD, Ph.D

Alex Fram writing for the Associated Press wrote that according to an Associated Press -Ipsos poll “one in four adults read no books at all in the past year.  His article cited a 2004 a National Endowment for the Arts report titled “Reading at Risk” found only 57 percent of American adults had read a book in 2002.  (Washington Post, 

The article led me back to several anecdotal observations:  Many successful executives and entrepreneurs are avid book readers.    Several  years ago, I had opportunity to meet the founder/owner of Dudley Hair Products, Mr.  Joe Dudley and his wife Eunice.  Dudley Products, founded in 1967, is one of the few black-owned firms left in the US with annual revenues of $30 million, Dudley Products manufactures more than 400 beauty agents, from shampoo to lipstick. One of Mr. Dudley’s public relations executives had come to Sam Houston State University to address students on black entrepreneurship.  At the time, I was teaching entrepreneurship. 


The meeting resulted in an invitation for me to visit North Carolina for a meeting of a group he called “Mastermind.”  The group were individuals all interested or actively involved in either starting or were small business owners.  We all seemed to arrive in the late afternoon, were treated to a very nice reception, but were told to go to bed because our meeting would begin the next day at 4am. After a 3 am wake up call, we all assembled in a large conference-ballroom 4 am. After a hearty “good morning,” we were told to read Napoleon Hill’s book “Think and Grow Rich.”  When everyone had finished the book (around 10:30 in the morning), Mr. Dudley gave a commentary on the wealth creation process.  Being the only white person in the room, I was extremely flattered to be part of this group to gain first hand insight.  At the end of the day, the entire group was bused to his home where we were given a tour.  By his bed stand was relatively new book on sales.  In his library, were several shelves of books that he had obviously read (they were underlined and marked up): all on sales strategy and inspirational books on management.  I also noted his bed stand was full of motivational tapes on sales by noted motivational speakers.   I asked him why did he read those books when he obviously was already a very, very successful in sales and management.  His answer was revealing: “I play to my strengthens.  By reading books on sales and management, I get new perspectives and sharpen my skills.” And I don’t waste a second on music as I drive to work – I play those tapes in my car.  It keeps me ‘charged up.'”


In April 2010, I attended a conference for deans of business schools hosted by the AACSB – International.  One of the speakers was the Chief Executive Officer of Campbell’s soup.  After his riveting talk, I approached the podium to say hello.  On the table by the podium was his brief case.  As he put his speech folder into the brief case, I noticed a recently published book on management which had a paper clip in it indicating that he was actively reading the book.  Again, I thought to myself, why is one of the most successful executives in the US reading a popular “trade” book on management?


I could cite many other instances of where I have encountered extremely successful executives and entrepreneurs who were at the “top of their game” who were obviously reading books on management, sales, economics, etc during their travels.  One evening, I was invited to have dinner with Professor Peter Feaver (currently at Duke University) who had worked for President Clinton and President Bush on the National Security Council.  At dinner after his speech at Erskine College, he told the group of academics that President George W. Bush was an avid reader.  The table of liberal academics (all admitted Democrats) were shocked to hear that Bush actually had intelligent conversations with this particular national security adviser (whom they trusted) over very sophisticated books.  When our dinner guest described the titles of some of Bush’s 700 page volumes and the quality of questions his raised over the books, the group was absolutely stunned.  Several asked, “how could that they guy who couldn’t form a complete sentence grasp the intellectual content of such sophisticated, academic research tombs?”  Feaver’s answer was that Bush was different person in one-one-one conversations than in public.  He reminded the table that President Reagan was often thought of as intellectually shallow, but the quality of  Reagan’s personal library of his readings and the extensive amount of writings (including a handwritten diary of his presidency) shocked many of his critics. 


The lesson here is that successful politicians, executives, and entrepreneurs build their successes in life by reading books on their subject areas.  Reading provides perspectives, wisdom and “lessons” (history) that feeds their professional growth. 


So, next time you are at the airport, will you pick up the airport novel, or a more serious book related to your profession?   Something to think about…



This Personal Development article was written by Charles R.B. Stowe on 5/4/2010

BA Vanderbilt, MBA University of Dallas, JD University of Houston law Center, Ph.D Warsaw University (School of Management). 15 Years Venture Capital, Corporate VP New England Paper company & CEO Real Estate Development.
27 years in Higher Ed. Currently, Dean, College of Business and Public Affairs, Lander University, Greenwood, SC. Author “”How to Start Your Business with No Investors and No Debt”” Edpubtech, Inc.