Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Benevolent Dictator Book Review


Pros What I enjoyed most about this book was how no detail was too small for Michael to explore and explain.  This is, of course, part of his management credo, what he sometimes refers to as micromanagement, though his definition doesn’t carry as much negative connotation as what you’d expect. For example, part of his daily routine at OfficeMax included calling each store nightly to get the day’s sales numbers.  Given he ran a retail business, this is not terribly surprising and, arguably, it was a necessary step to have an immediate understanding of OfficeMax’s daily cash flow.  If you’ve ever ran a business of any size, you know that cash flow is, in fact, king!


I had an opportunity to read the soon to be released The Benevolent Dictator by Michael Feuer (external link to The Benevolent Dictator website). I found quite a lot of good advice worth bestowing on the student-entrepreneurs. 

Book Recommendations

How do you manage and make decision in a fast growing startup?  Do you make decision by committee, or solely?
The book focuses on Michael’s career after he left Jo-Ann Stores to startup OfficeMax and, later, Max-Wellness.  It has an interesting rhythm: it reads almost like a biography rather than a business management book. 
It  is broken down to four parts, aptly named Phases, to represent the various phases a startup goes through:
  1. Start Up
  2. Build Out and Put the Idea to the Test
  3. Constant Reinvention
  4. The Payday
Each part then contains lessons learned and applied.  Overall, Michael lists a total of 40 lessons that can readily be applied to your startup.
Overall If you’re a budding entrepreneur, I definitely recommend reading the first two parts of this book as they focus on the initial phases of a startup.  You’ll gain much needed anecdotal knowledge to avoid some of the early potholes on the road to bootstrapping your company.  Who knows, may be we’ll read about you in a few years and how Michael’s book affected your successful startup!
He also has an interesting sense of humor, which makes the book an easier read.  When describing how his attention to detail involved taking meticulous notes, he spells out how he used FU as an acronym for “follow up” on tasks others had to complete, though it was sometimes misunderstood by his subordinate as something more acrimonious!  
Though not formally labeled as one of the 40 lessons in the book, I found his statement “if you don’t ask, you’ll never get” very apropos for an entrepreneur.  The truth behind this phrase is made apparent throughout the book  when Michael describes his creative financing for both OfficeMax and Max-Wellness where the only way to know whether his crazy wants would be fulfilled was to simply ask the people that could fulfill them.
Cons Given the book reads more like a biography then a business management book, it may disappoint academics.  Likely, that’s not who you are.  If you’re looking for on-the-ground tactical and strategic lessons, this is the right book for you, along with Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (external link to the Delivering Happiness website), reviewed earlier.
Also, though I found many of the lessons useful, 40 lessons seems a bit much.  The large number of lessons doesn’t amount to a lot of pages (264).  It’s just that some of the lessons are repetitive and unnecessary.  In fact, I would recommend reading the first two parts of this book and coming back the latter half as you get past your startup stage and need reminder of the earlier lessons. Most of what you need to startup your company will be in those first 106 pages.

What Do You Think?

As always, please feel free to share your comments below.

Photo Credit

The Benevolent Dictator Website