My Favorite Books of 2015

Whenever I have a spare moment, I’m reading a book, even while I brush my teeth.  I’ve had a very challenging year, filled with a lot of professional and personal ups and downs. These books exposed me to some incredible lessons.

 

Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall

A Creatian Freedom Fighter

A Creatian Freedom Fighter

 

Where do I start with even describing this? McDougall put together a fun, rambling look at a little known group of Allied secret agents in WWII who teamed up with a band of shepherdson the island of Crete who kidnapped a Nazi General and single handily slowed down 80k troops destined for the Russian front.   

The book explores ancient and modern expressions of heroism. Everything from a modern day school administrator who fends off a knife wielding attacker to an ancient Greek warrior who could lift a stone so heavy the lift was only matched a few years ago. He looks at the attitude, food and exercise they use to accomplish such feats of strength and endurance. 

It reminded me just because something isn’t being done today, doesn’t mean it wasn’t done in the past and can’t be done in the future.

 

When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub

Jerry Courtesy of Vanity Fair

Jerry Courtesy of Vanity Fair

 

Jerry! Jerry! Raised in the Bronx Jerry Weintraub was a talent promoter turned entertainment empresario who ended up managing everyone from Elvis to Bob Dylan. Then getting into movie production.  

I lost count of the number of times he would be on the phone with a performer, concert promoter, etc. and they would pin Jerry into a corner with no place to go. He would respond with “I’ve got a great idea. I’ll tell you exactly what we’re going to do…” and whatever came off the top of his head was exactly what they were going to do. He trusted his experience and gut to carry him through.

After several years of running a very successful concert promotion and artist management business Jerry looked at his “to call” sheet and realized he didn’t feel like making any calls. So he sold both businesses and started anew.  That’s actually how he got into the movie producing business. He had a chance lunch with a director who was talking about a script he liked. He asked “How much do you need?” and was ready to cut a cheque then and there. The director replied “No Jerry, we go to a movie studio, sell it to them and they take the risk.” Jerry replied “This business is perfect, no downside!” Suddenly he was a movie producer. Years later he produced the Oceans movies with George Clooney.

Nothing was handed to Jerry when he was starting out, he went out, was persistent and delivered on what he said he was going to do. It was a fun reminder that’s all it takes.

 

The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohn

Frank Zemurray

Frank Zemurray

 

Frank Zemurray started out as a penniless, orphaned Russian immigrant to New Orleans in the early 1900’s. He died as the largest shareholder of United Fruit, one of the world’s largest companies. In between he started a war with rebels in Central America threatening his business, endowed Tulane university and may have been the tipping point in the creation of Israel.  

Because he wasn’t from the right side of the tracks, school and spoke with an accent he was severely underestimated. This allowed him a certain freedom and he produced a more strongly run company that on every level (product, marketing, pricing) trounced his much larger competitors. Then when the time was right, when his biggest competitor United Fruit was in trouble, he was able to pounce and take control for next to nothing. 

His legacy is not without its challenges. However, it’s fascinating to read about a man so independent in mind and spirit. Rich Cohn’s prose is also fantastic. 

 

Not Fade Away by Peter Barton and Lawrence Shames

I read Not Fade Away when I was university and it changed my life. Rereading it 12 years later it was fun to see how much I’ve changed in that time period. 

Not Fade Away tells the story of Peter Barton. A hippie piano playing ski bum who through several twists and turns, becomes the CEO of Liberty Media (they BET and MTV). His father died when he was quite young and Peter had a premonition that he wouldn’t live very long. So he had to pack in a full life in half the time. Unfortunately when Peter was in his late 40’s he contracted cancer. 

The book begins a few years after his diagnosis. It alternates chapters between Peter looking back on his life, recounting his adventures, and a co-author sharing the story of Peter going through the process of dying. Peter is not a formally religious person, but is incredibly curious about what lies beyond.

His love for his family, zest for adventure and the courage he displays in facing a very unglamorous death are jaw dropping.  In a challenging year this book reminded me all the twists and turns are part of the fun.

 

80/20 Marketing by Perry Marshall

 

I don’t read too many marketing books anymore but this one was a world changer for me. Perry is best known for his Adwords expertise. The book hit me over the head with two big concepts, racking the shotgun and the power of 80/20-ing an 80/20.

Perry tells the story of a professional gambler who trained a newbie by pulling a sawed-off shotgun out of his jacket, racked it, and looked around to see who recognized the ratcheting sound and turned their heads. He said to his protege, "John, the people who turned their heads are not marks. Do not play poker with them. Gamble with everybody else."

The idea is every time you ask an audience to take an action you're "Racking The Shotgun.”  Only those that identify with who you are will take notice. Therefore, you can gear all your marketing and selling to those people actually interested in what you’re up to and therefore, more likely to buy.

The Pareto Principle LINK says that 80% of results come from 20% of actions. Where Perry takes it further, and blew my head off, was applying the 80/20 process again to the 20% of people already interested in your product. So if you have 1000 customers paying you $100, you collected $100K. But that also means: 200 will give you $400, 40 will give you $1600, and 8 will give you $6400, and at least 1 will give you $25,600.

Add all those up and you don’t just have a $100K business. You have a $100K + $80K + $64K + $51K + $25K business. Total is $320K. It’s also a stronger business because you’ll have different types of customers

And a great tool to help you figure out who those people are, and what to charge them, is the 80/20 curve. The book get's a bit salesy, but the ideas are solid.

Money by Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins on $

Tony Robbins on $

 

Okay, I was very skeptical of this book. I know Tony Robbins as the cheesy infomercial guy peddling personal development. However, the more I learn about him; the more I like the guy. 

I have a passion for personal finance. However, besides the classics (Richest Man in Bablyon, Think and Grow Rich and useful I WILL TEACH YOU TO BE RICH) I avoid the category like the plague. However, what Robbins outlines is a pretty straightforward method for making the money you earn work for you. Figure out what kind of lifestyle you want to lead and what it actually costs. Create goals that match that lifestyle and break down the goals into achievable chunks. Course correct as you go and ensure you pay attention to asset allocation one or twice a year.

Robbins interviews lot’s of financial luminaries and the transcripts are at the back and worth the price of the book alone. The Ray Dalio and Carl Icahn ones especially.

 

Any books you’ve read this year that have really impacted your thinking? I’d love to hear them!