The details of how Barnett C. Helzberg Jr. sold the company his grandfather founded occupy only a small part of What I Learned Before I Sold to Warren Buffett (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95). The former CEO of St. Louis-based Helzberg Diamonds tells how he encountered Buffett on the street and impulsively proposed selling his company in a 30-second pitch. He admits, without providing precise figures, that Buffett paid only half what he asked for the 143-store chain. He lauds Buffett for his candor, wisdom and accomplishments. Then he leaves that topic to impart his own wisdom.
This unlikely setup results in a useful book. Helzberg slices his offering into 80 one- or two-page, easily digestible tidbits dealing with hiring, leading, communicating, decision-making and general management. Some are a trifle shopworn, like the admonitions to focus on what you do best and motivate employees with recognition. But others offer unusual perspectives and occasional real insight. One good tip, "Deal only with controllables," is based on Helzberg's memories of his father ignoring recessions, bad weather, national holidays and other ungovernable events while focusing forcefully on factors he could control. Helzberg offers his sound advice on how to differentiate your business, keep your ego in check, plan for disaster, and otherwise build a business into a property even the world's greatest investor can find irresistible.
Want to know how to tell a great new management idea from a worthless fad? You can't, say Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak in What's the Big Idea? (Harvard Business School, $27.50). Even the goofiest idea could help some company somewhere. An idea is only a fad when a company adopts new ideas indiscriminately, treats them as panaceas for all problems, and drops tried-and-true strategies each time a new one comes along. In other words, there are no fads, only faddish organizations-and they tell you how not to become one. They sift through leading managment ideas, bringing clarity to a badly confused field.
Mark Henricks is Entrepreneur's "Smart Moves" columnist.
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