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Real Lessons

Biographies and autobiographies are among the types of books that can be both interesting and instructive.

Biographies and autobiographies are among the types of books that can be both interesting and instructive. Since the “Dell model” is talked about in Detroit with one part awe and a bigger part of envy, Michael Dell’s Direct from Dell was undoubtedly stuffed into many stockings this past holiday season.

What is, perhaps, a more interesting book than that, especially for those of us who can only shake our heads in wonder at two numbers related to Dell—his wealth and his age—is The CEO Chronicles: Lessons from the Top about Inspiration and Leadership by Glenn Rifkin and Douglas Matthews (Knowledge Exchange; Los Angeles; $24.95). It is a collection of 41 mini-autobiographies that are separated into six categories (ranging from dealing with adversity to doing things differently). Some of the stories are familiar, like that of former Harley-Davidson chairman and CEO Richard Teerlink. But no matter how often you read or hear about the comeback of Harley, plain, straight-up advice like Teerlink’s “The leader’s job isn’t to be out there getting gold stars but to help create a fantastic environment” cannot be overplayed.

Most of the other leaders and their companies are more obscure, such as Patrick Kelly, who founded PSS/World Medical, a medical supply company. But his is a story that many people can relate to. He tells of how he was working for a medical-supply distributor, Intermedco, and rose to the position of vice president. Then the company was purchased. As Kelly recalls, “Intermedco was bought by British Tire & Rubber in 1982 and a director in London decided that we shouldn’t be selling medical supplies to physicians. I had taken the company into that business. So I was let go by my boss, Buddy, head of United States operations [on February 8, 1983].” So he started PSS. “Now,” Kelly continues, “every February 8th, we celebrate Buddy Day to thank him for firing me. There is cake and ice cream for everyone in the company, and the best part is that today, Buddy is an employee.”

Real stories like that can be enlightening—and invigorating.

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