Gary Sutton, author of Corporate Canaries: Avoiding Business Disasters with a Coal Miner's Secrets (Nelson Business; $19.99), a book that you can easily read in a couple of hours but will spend significantly longer thinking about-and ideally putting into practice-has the sort of intestinal fortitude that's sometimes called "guts" and sometimes called something else. On the second page of the book, Sutton, who has had a number of positions (often at or near the top) of companies that he's often had to turn around (i.e., they were going broke and he helped fix them), states in boldface italic type (sort of like a belt and suspenders): "This book will help managers detect a serious business problem, either in your company or in a competitor's, within a year of reading. If not, I will return your money plus a dollar." Clearly, he believes that the five "secrets" he reveals will be more valuable than a saw buck. The list:
- You can't outgrow losses. ("When you have losses, your customers are telling you that you aren't so special. And going for more volume with bad margins only makes losers die faster.")
- Debt's a killer.
- Fools fly blind. ("Everybody has to know where profits come from.")
- Any decision beats no decision. (He counsels meaningful differentiation. As in: "Your offering should be the 'fastest' or the 'most dependable' or the 'only widget in colors' or the 'widest selection' or have 'limited distribution' or offer 'generous financing' or have the 'longest warranty.' Something. Anything. Stretch for it.")
- Markets grow and markets die. ("If your executives are shaking their fists at the sky, if the hallway talk is about the good old days, if your brochures show the office buildings and picture your founders and tell stories about the company history, you have joined the walking dead.")
Corporate Canaries-especially in this time of uncertainty-is worth $20 to a factor of X. Get it.-GSV