Lettering by Braulio Amado

By Julie Verhage

Dec 12, 2019

Every year, during the weeks spent compiling this list of business leaders’ favorite reads, books on management invariably crop up. That’s hardly a surprise, given the obviously hyper-focused group of chief executive officers, entrepreneurs, and celebrities we survey. But sometimes people offer books that only loosely touch on how to obliterate corporate opponents and appease the public markets. This year, The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek tied for the title of most recommended. 

The book’s contention—that working toward victory looks different than working toward fulfillment—is meant as a treatise for everyday living that also happens to apply to business. “With infinite games, the players can change, the rules are in a state of flux, and there is no winning,” writes Uber Eats boss Janelle Sallenave. “This resonates deeply with me, as there's no winning in marriage, friendships, careers, politics, or even life itself.”

The other most-recommended book was Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries, which delves into the quirks of human behavior. But Loonshots and Infinite Game were each picked just twice, meaning there was wide-ranging diversity in the rest of the list, which spans topics from climate change (Everlane’s CEO picked Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming) to coming of age in North Carolina (Bank of America’s chief operations and technology officer chose Where the Crawdads Sing). The sprawl of genres is proof: Many of the best lessons in business aren’t business-related. 

  • Cathy Bessant

    Chief operations and technology officer, Bank of America Corp.

    Wonderfully written, without the words getting in the way of the story. The characters and plot are so compelling that I couldn’t put it down, and missed it when I got to the end. Small towns, poverty, prejudice, rural living, and self-development are themes that become evident naturally and are important and truly thought-provoking.

    Published on Aug. 14, 2018

  • Neil Blumenthal

    Co-founder and co-CEO, Warby Parker Retail Inc.

    I recommend this book to anyone looking to start a new business or break through to the next level of their career. It’s full of inspiration and tools needed to be fearless and push forward when you’re ready to make a big change. I wish I had it by my side when starting Warby Parker.

    Published on Jan. 8, 2019

  • Ana Botin

    Executive chairman, Banco Santander SA

    This book forces the reader to think about the challenges of our current internet data model and focus on how the data we leave behind online is used to sell to us and predict and influence our behaviour. Everyone should read it, but particularly business leaders who, like me, are committed to models that use personal data to empower people and to ensure real competition and transparency that truly allows consumer choice.

    Published on Jan. 15, 2019

  • Stephanie Cohen

    Chief strategy officer, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

    I inhaled Loonshots, by physicist-turned-entrepreneur Safi Bahcall. The book considers the factors that allow good ideas—and especially, good, crazy ideas—to get off the ground. Bahcall borrows from physics, writing that most organizations exist in discrete phases. Some are good at the new; some are better at refining what’s worked already. What I especially liked was his analysis of those occasions when an organization straddled the line between the two, managing to create the future while keeping pace with the here and now.

    Published on March 19, 2019

  • Dave Gilboa

    Co-founder and co-CEO, Warby Parker Retail Inc.

    In a world that seems to have no shortage of bleak news, this book shifted my perspective by using data to reveal under-reported truths of human progress. It’s a great reminder of the incredible positive advancement happening around the world.

    Published on April 3, 2018

  • Donald Gogel

    Chairman and CEO, Clayton Dubilier & Rice LLC

    The Flight Portfolio

    By Julie Orringer

    This is a compelling historical fiction based on a remarkable individual, Varian Fry, who bravely worked to smuggle artists out of France during World War II. Orringer evokes a vivid sense of Marseilles, the Vichy functionaries, and the remarkable people committed to save the lives and the cultural legacy of notable artists (Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, among them). The clever schemes to organize escape routes across the Pyrenees and the Atlantic carry the gripping narrative, but the insightful exploration of the inner lives of the characters lifts this novel to a different level. Highly recommended as an escape to a different time and place when principles and lives were on the line every day, and personal choices really mattered.

    Published on May 7, 2019

  • Kirsten Green

    Founding partner, Forerunner Ventures

    Jerry's book is show, don't tell in its finest form. His journey is one of courage, and the book resonates so well because he is real, open, and inspiring when writing about the winding path to leadership. This honest portrayal of personal and professional growth says something new, rather than rinsing and reusing the helpful, but often generic, definition of success.

    Published on June 18, 2019

  • Lydia Jett

    Partner, SoftBank Group Corp.

    At a time when immigration is sparking headlines across the developed world, I loved the humanity in this deep profile of one family’s story. It's mixed with equal parts of history, economics, foreign policy, gritty reality, and hope.

    Published on Aug. 20, 2019

  • Claire Hughes Johnson

    Chief operating officer, Stripe Inc.

    Washington Black

    By Esi Edugyan

    Great leadership is an exercise in empathy, which requires you to inhabit others' worlds. The title character is inspired by an inventor whom he follows to escape from enslavement, crossing from his world in Barbados to colonial America, the Arctic, and eventually England, where he becomes an artist for a scientific exhibit. The novel's language is evocative, plunging you into an entirely new reality.

    Published on Sept. 18, 2018

  • Amit Jhawar

    General manager, Venmo

    Talking to Strangers

    By Malcolm Gladwell

    Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell is a book that immediately had relevance in my personal and professional life. Illuminating the fact that we are all strangers in different settings and the perceptions, feelings, and misconceptions about those interactions from both sides is fascinating. In an increasingly polarized world, where the middle ground seems to be disappearing, understanding how we judge, perceive, and evaluate strangers changed the way I will act going forward.

    Published on Sept. 10, 2019

  • Cristina Junqueira

    Co-founder, Nubank

    This book captivated me by bringing real examples about Gates's experience and projects around the world to empower women. The book shows the importance of valuing and investing in women, not only for the lives of women themselves, but also for their families, the economy, and even society as a whole.

    Published on April 23, 2019

  • Jason Kelly

    CEO, Ginkgo Bioworks

    IBM from 1935 to 1965 is one of my biggest inspirations, that company is amazing! One thing that really resonated with me is the bit about Peter Drucker, who was a reporter in Germany way before he was the famous management theorist. Drucker interviewed Tom Watson Sr.—essentially IBM's founding CEO—about this thing called “data processing.” And he took it back to his editor, who said, "Watson's a nut," and threw it out. Watson was using the language of his time, the 1930s, saying, “We will process data the way we process ore or steel.” It completely confused people. I relate to that story because that’s how we've described ourselves here at Ginkgo. We're going to program cells like you program computers.

    Published on March 5, 2019

  • Mike Krieger

    Co-founder, Instagram

    I became a U.S. citizen this year and, not coincidentally, my favorite book of 2019 was George Packer’s Our Man. It’s his biography of Richard Holbrooke, a diplomat whose career spanned U.S. conflicts in Vietnam, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. But more than that, it’s an intensely evocative portrait of America—and its leaders—at their best and worst. At its heart is a question relevant to anyone who’s managed a team: Are the elements that make someone great separable from their flaws?

    Published on May 7, 2019

  • Aaron Levie

    Co-founder and CEO, Box Inc.

    While running Cisco for two decades, John Chambers successfully navigated market shifts like mobile and digital, landing his company on the right side of disruption every time and creating new markets in the process. In this book, he shares his playbook for building one of the most resilient and innovative companies in the world. Connecting the Dots is a must-read for any entrepreneur or leader looking to stave off disruption and ride the next technology wave.

    Published on Sept. 25, 2018

  • Shan-Lyn Ma

    CEO and co-founder, Zola

    Super Pumped is the long-lost lovechild of Bonfire of the Vanities and Wolf of Wall Street, set in Silicon Valley. Business schools and business leaders alike teach and preach ethics, morals, and “doing the right thing,” and yet here is an organization that gave the middle finger to all of that, while creating extreme riches for its early employees and investors.

    Published on Sept. 3, 2019

  • Justin McLeod

    CEO and founder, Hinge Inc.

    While we are more connected than ever through our digital devices, we are also feeling lonelier than ever. Belong is a timely call, with practical guidance, for us all to find love, connection, and purpose through real community beyond our digital social networks. Her approach has been revolutionary in my own life, and I believe it has the potential to be revolutionary in helping us solve the larger loneliness epidemic in society.

    Published on Sept. 4, 2018

  • Mike Mayo

    Wall Street analyst, Wells Fargo & Co.

    The book, written by a digital sociologist, details how the transition from an analog to digital world is causing society to become untethered from the American Dream, leading to a range of social, economic, and political repercussions. More choice, which can enable more nomadic lifestyles, has come with less time spent on jobs, relationships, and homes. It raises concern about the disconnect between this extra freedom and our own happiness.

    Published on April 16, 2019

  • Cheryl Miller

    President and CEO, AutoNation Inc.

    The Infinite Game

    By Simon Sinek

    Simon Sinek’s book rallies those who are ready to challenge the status quo and contribute to something bigger than themselves. In today’s fast-paced world, Sinek lays the framework for leading with an infinite mindset and creating conditions to thrive on the other side of disruption. Everyone has an opportunity to contribute to a company’s success, well beyond their own individual tenure.

    Published on Oct. 15, 2019

  • Richard Parsons

    Senior adviser, Providence Equity Partners LLC

    A must-read for anyone who thinks Western Europeans were the source of all knowledge that has shaped the modern world.

    Published on May 14, 2019

  • Christina Paxson

    President, Brown University

    Turkish author and journalist Ahmet Altan was arrested during a media purge after a 2016 coup attempt and is now serving a sentence of life imprisonment. His memoir, handwritten in prison, is notable in highlighting the perils that writers and journalists face in a world that seems increasingly less tolerant of freedom of expression. It also demonstrates how Altan is ultimately saved by his rich writer's imagination, which keeps his mind free, even as he is confined to a cell.

    Published on Oct. 1, 2019

  • Michael Preysman

    Founder and CEO, Everlane Inc.

    Everybody is scrambling to understand climate change and what can be done. In Drawdown, Paul—one of the most important environmentalists today—put together the top 100 actions we can take right now as a society to slow down carbon emissions. Not all of the solutions are in the hands of individuals, but many are—for example, eating less red meat and reducing our food waste.

    Published on April 18, 2017

  • Paul Rabil

    Co-founder, chief strategy officer, and player, Premier Lacrosse League

    Stillness Is the Key

    By Ryan Holiday

    More often than not, entrepreneurship, working 80-hour weeks, and sleep deprivation are glamorized, associated with success and status. But after reading Ryan Holiday’s latest book, Stillness Is the Key, I've come to appreciate the history and benefits of stoicism and stillness. We reside in a modern tech- and mobile-driven society that’s constantly fighting for our attention, and Holiday does a wonderful job recommending stillness as a source of inspiration, creative genius, happiness, and fulfilment. In other words, calm down the busy in your life, block out your calendar daily, and you’ll notice better productivity and happiness.

    Published on Oct. 1, 2019

  • Janelle Sallenave

    Head of Uber Eats U.S. & Canada, Uber Technologies Inc.

    The Infinite Game

    By Simon Sinek

    Sinek argues that the games of our childhood—finite games with specific players, set rules, and a defined endpoint—are hugely different from the infinite games we encounter as adults. With infinite games, the players can change, the rules are in a state of flux, and there is no winning. This resonates deeply with me, as there's no winning in marriage, friendships, careers, politics, or even life itself. The book offers an interesting blueprint for making the world a better place.

    Published on Oct. 15, 2019

  • Sheryl Sandberg

    Chief operating officer, Facebook Inc.

    Samantha Power writes that “regardless of our different backgrounds and perspectives, stories have the power to bind us.” In her memoir, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and former diplomat expertly takes us through the most important stories of her life, from immigrating to the U.S. as a child and experiencing devastating loss in high school to reporting on war atrocities in Bosnia and serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She is not only an idealist but an optimist—believing that despite the many challenges facing the human race, good will prevail.

    Published on Sept. 10, 2019

  • Jonathan Scott

    TV host, HGTV's The Property Brothers

    It reads like something straight out of a Hollywood thriller. But the patterns of harassment described in the book have been a disturbing reality for so many. The book describes corruption, cover-ups, intimidation, and threats. Nothing seems off the table for these powerful men who feel they are untouchable—who feel they're above the law.

    Published on Oct. 15, 2019

  • Maria Sharapova

    Founder and tennis star, Sugarpova Inc.

    I'm lucky to have worked with many incredible coaches and mentors in both my tennis career and entrepreneurial work, which is why Trillion Dollar Coach, about Bill Campbell, was one of my favorite reads of the year. As someone who brings a competitive mentality to all my projects, including my business, I found Bill's ability to translate the qualities of a great sports coach into coaching some of the world's top business leaders truly remarkable.

    Published on April 16, 2019

  • Ian Siegel

    CEO and co-founder, ZipRecruiter Inc.

    This book was written by an entrepreneur who hires a Navy SEAL to live with him and get him out of his comfort zone. It really captures what being an entrepreneur is. Nobody understands why you’re taking the leap to start your own business when you’re living a comfortable life working for somebody else. To become an entrepreneur, you really have to be willing to push yourself past the limits of what you thought you could do.

    Published on Nov. 1, 2016

  • Ken Tanji

    Chief financial officer, Prudential Financial Inc.

    Harari’s book consists of 21 chapters covering today’s most pressing issues, including work, war, nationalism, religion, immigration, education, and technology. Throughout the book, Harari takes stock of where we have come from as a society and where we are going. Rather than offer the reader simple solutions, the author forces us to think through difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions like what will the world look like in 2050 and what should schools be teaching students.

    Published on Sept. 4, 2018

  • Holly Thaggard

    CEO and founder, Supergoop!

    The Ride of a Lifetime is about how good leaders should always remain optimistic. Even when faced with difficult decisions, true leaders know their team won't be motivated by pessimists, so they remain positive. Iger also emphasizes the importance of courage, focus, and thoughtfulness. Something he wrote that resonated with me was that if you believe something can be better (like SPF!), then put the effort in to change it.

    Published on Sept. 23, 2019

  • Henry Ward

    CEO, Carta Inc.

    For most, company-building is about designing the culture and organization to support the business. For us at Carta, company-building is an expression of who we are and, perhaps more importantly, who we aspire to be. Loonshots identifies factors and incentives that affect both. It’s an interesting read about creating the structure to allow great ideas and great teams to flourish.

    Published on March 19, 2019

Assists from Candy Cheng, Anne Vandermay, Craig Trudell, Gerrit De Vynck, Erik Schatzker, Jason Kelly, Lananh Nguyen, Kate Krader, Sarah McBride, Max Abelson, Janet Lorin, Kurt Wagner, Joel Weber. 

Lettering by Braulio Amado.

(Corrects Bank of America executive title in third paragraph.)

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