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Book Review in Financial Executives International

October 2004

Is there really value to a book that proclaims, as this does in the preface, to synthesize "the wisdom of the East with the knowledge of the West to articulate insights that show the way for experiencing wholeness and for nurturing the gift of leadership in our daily engagements?"

Indeed, there is. The Art of Business draws in part from the ancient, storied Chinese text, Sun Tzu's The Art of War, but the emphasis is hardly on corporate strife. Yeh, an author, consultant and senior research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, sees harmonious and life-affirming values in great companies; in fact, he strongly believes that top companies have a "soul" - which he says Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and Arthur Andersen did not - and build on the foundations of "giants," the leaders who established their core values.

Loosely organized - there is no sequence or flow to the book, and Yeh himself urges readers to just "pick a story and dive in" - the book offers very focused histories of a wide spectrum of companies, including Southwest Airlines, Medtronic Inc., Dell Inc., Wal-Mart Stores (a common roster of U.S. all-stars) as well as non-business entities like the famed UCLA basketball team of years past and the nation of Singapore.

Yeh does a terrific job of synthesizing the lessons to be learned from these various organizations, especially the culture they've established, and ties the corporate stories to five broad themes established by Sun Tzu: possibility, timing, leverage, mastery and leadership.

At its heart, this is a book that attempts to marry a spiritual dimension with commerce, which may make some uneasy. To his enormous credit, Yeh succeeds: He revisits lionized companies - how many management books don't talk about Dell or Wal-Mart? - and by interviewing executives and distilling their methods, gives us a new way to view and measure their success. This is a wise, eminently readable and important book.

 

 


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