See Bill. See Zapp! See The Sequel

It's a tale that makes you wonder about the good sense--to say nothing of the literary tastes--of Corporate America.

Once upon a time, William C. Byham, a clever but rather ordinary business consultant, enlisted the help of a professional writer and penned a fable for managers on how to "empower" employees. As if by wizardry, the book--Zapp!: The Lightning of Empowerment--became a huge underground bestseller. Indeed, Byham claims more than 1.5 million copies have gone into print since 1989. Written in Dick-and-Jane prose, it's the fictionalized story of how employees can play a more meaningful role in companies if they're empowered to make more decisions.

Now, Byham, chief executive of Pittsburgh-based consultant Development Dimensions International Inc. (DDI), is hoping to zap corporate readers again. The sequel to Zapp!, scheduled to be published on May 5 by Harmony Books, a division of Crown Publishers Inc., is called Heroz: Empower Yourself, Your Coworkers, Your Company. (The "z" after "hero" is supposed to conjure up memories of Zapp!.)

Byham's latest fable is set in the imaginary medieval castle of Lamron. It features heroic knights who defend the kingdom's citizens from fire-breathing dragons by using magic arrows. The arrow producers become dispirited, however, and the citizens begin to flee to other kingdoms that offer better protection and cheaper arrows. Lessons are distilled in memos from the workbench of arrowmaker Art Halegiver. There are also pages from The Zapp Wizard's Spell Book, which boasts a recipe for a "magic brew" to help sell ideas to the boss.

Sound goofy? Heroz won't win any literary awards. Nor is it likely to earn kudos from management gurus--who typically dismiss Zapp! as simplistic. But Byham, 56, who once worked as an industrial psychologist for J.C. Penney Co., doesn't care. He hopes to cast his own spell on managers who will buy the book in bulk for their employees--just as they did Zapp!.

Initially self-published, Zapp! became a hit largely through Byham's promotional efforts. He printed 200,000 copies and gave away 7,000 to clients. Many were sold by direct mail, before the book was commercially published in 1991. In the end, some 500,000 copies were given away free to companies that book him for speeches or hire his company for training seminars.

Nevertheless, Zapp! created unusual fanfare. Byham says IBM bought 40,000 copies. General Electric Co., which gave out Zappometer pads to employees, gobbled up about 30,000. PepsiCo Inc. had its own edition of the book printed in blue for 23,000 of its employees. Waste Management Inc. purchased more than 100 copies of the $895 video version. Other promotional items available from DDI: Zapp! pins, coffee mugs, paperweights, headbands, T-shirts, and even wrapping paper.

Pricey advice. The book's success has made Byham a sought-after business speaker. Last year, he delivered about 100 speeches. His typical fee: $12,000 for a two-hour lecture, or $15,000 for a full day. His consulting firm has also prospered. Byham expects annual revenues to climb by 27%, to $66 million, in the fiscal year that ends on Aug. 31. Says Byham: "I have made millions from the book."

Why has Corporate America embraced Byham's approach? "If you give managers something real thick, they'll just stick it on the shelf," says Thomas A. Parks, a quality coach at AT&t Global Information Systems. Parks uses the 200-page Zapp! as an "icebreaker" in training sessions. Adds Edward E. Lawler, a University of Southern California management professor: "It may trivialize the issue of empowerment, but it's readable."

With Heroz, Byham is seeding the market with 10,000 free copies. His consulting firm's account executives will promote the book with clients, and Byham plans to plug it heavily at upcoming conferences. The early reports aren't half-bad. Having read a quarter of Heroz' 208 pages, Russell D. Robinson, an operations manager at Motorola Inc., is already recommending the book to colleagues. "It's really good," says Robinson, who once staged a "Zapp! Bash" for hundreds of employees at which Zapp! videos were shown on large-screen TVs.

So be forewarned, employees of Corporate America: Like it or not, legions of your bosses--or rather, your coaches, as they're known in Zappese--may soon be plugging Heroz. For Byham, it looks like another happy ending.

      Author Byham's count of Zapp! buyers:
                          copies purchased
      IBM                    40,000
      GENERAL ELECTRIC       30,000
      DuPont                 25,000
      PEPSICO                23,000
      WAL-MART               10,500
      KFC                     8,500
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.