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Business:  The Ultimate Resource

Perseus Publishing, 2002
2,172 pages,$59.95
ISBN 0-7382-0242-8

Reviewed by Vernon J. Edwards

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  I am a sucker for reference books. A good reference book invites browsing by the hour and ends up being tattered from frequent handling, littered with Post-It Notes®, underlined and hi-lighted. When I saw this one, I had to have it.

Business: The Ultimate Resource is an omnibus volume of information and advice written by more than 200 contributors who are practitioners, consultants, or academics. According to the editors, it contains 2.5 million words, 700 illustrations, and 150 maps, and is the most comprehensive one-volume business reference work ever published. It is organized into seven sections: Best Practice, Management Checklists and Actionlists, Management Library, Business Thinkers and Management Giants, Dictionary, World Business Almanac, and Business Information Sources. Each section includes brief articles about specific business subjects.

The Best Practice section is divided into ten topical subsections: People/Culture, Marketing, Strategy/Competition, Finance, IT/Information Management, Systems, Structure, Leadership, Renewal/Growth, and Productivity and Personal Effectiveness. Each subsection contains a number of two-page articles that describe best practices for processes and practices like: “Managing Stress,” “Maximizing a New Strategic Alliance,” “Power Struggling and Power Sharing,” “Competing on Costs,” “Budgeting,” “Enterprise Information Systems,” “Project Management,” “The Critical Factors That Build or Break Teams,” “Setting Objectives for a Business,” “Profiting from Prices,” “Managing Internal Politics,” and “Developing Exceptional Problem-Solving Skills.” Each article begins with an executive summary and ends with a list of recommended readings and cross references to other articles in the book.

Some of the Best Practice titles are especially intriguing, like “The Good, the Fad, and the Ugly,” by Lucy Kellaway, an editor of Financial Times and the author of Sense and Nonsense in the Office. Ms. Kellaway writes that all senior managers hate management fads, yet follow them like fashion-conscious teenagers, calling them “ideas,” “concepts,” “theories,” and “solutions” when they do. She says that although most academics say management fads do not work, businesses buy into them because they are afraid of being left behind. In discussing particular fads, she says that Total Quality Management had the status of a religion by the end of the 1980s, before managers began complaining about paperwork and bureaucracy, but that companies began to abandon it by the start of the 1990s. She also mentions Reengineering, which once seemed to be an “unbeatable” management technique, but which ultimately developed such bad press that even its creators backed away from it. Other fads that get her attention include knowledge management, benchmarking, mission statements, and empowerment. At the end of the article, Ms. Kellaway suggests how to deal with fads when they arrive, as they inevitably will, and urges a cautious, thoughtful, and organization-specific approach. (I wonder what she would think about contractual incentives and performance-based service contracting.)

The section of Management Checklists and Actionlists includes a collection of more than 300 top-level, two-page checklists and actionlists for a wide variety of business processes. There are checklists for managing absenteeism, mentoring, preparing presentations, writing reports, developing a marketing strategy, handling complaints, setting objectives, partnering, purchasing, establishing performance measures, managing projects, managing cash flow, budgeting, and controlling costs, to name just a few. (But not proposal preparation, contract negotiation, and contract management!) Each checklist begins with a statement of its purpose, followed by a definition and a summary of advantages and disadvantages, and ends with do’s and don’ts and references to sources of additional information. The Effective Purchasing checklist includes items for the buyer’s organization and for suppliers and general hints and good practices. Among the purchasing recommendations—compile a history of purchases, audit major suppliers, use your supplier’s expertise, and maintain an audit trail of all purchase documents.

The actionlists are short instructions for performing tasks and solving problems in e-commerce, marketing, personal development, and accounting and finance. Examples include: setting up a website; planning an advertising campaign; writing a resume; getting promoted; making a host of financial calculations such as activity-based costing, depreciation, efficiency, marginal cost, net present value, working capital productivity, and economic value added; and reading annual reports. Each actionlist tells you how to get started and includes references to more information. The best of them are the ones for accounting and finance, which explain various business measures, like economic value added, tell you why they are important, tell you how to calculate them, and refer you to more information about them. They also tell you how to do things like create a cash flow statement and read a balance sheet. Very handy. Yet, every businessperson must buy things by issuing purchase orders and negotiating contracts, and the book lacks checklists and actionlists for those processes.

The Management Library is a set of 70 one-page reviews of books about business and management. Among them are many of the acknowledged classics––Administrative Behavior, by Herbert Simon; How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie; My Years with General Motors, by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.; Parkinson’s Law, by C. Northcote Parkinson; The Functions of the Executive, by Chester Barnard; Out of the Crisis, by W. Edwards Deming; The Peter Principle, by Laurence Peter; and The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith. Surprisingly, there is only one title by Peter Drucker—The Age of Discontinuity. (Why not include The Practice of Management, The Effective Executive, and Managing in a Time of Great Change?) While many of the choices are very worthwhile—everybody should read The Wealth of Nations, which is one of the source documents of capitalism and actually a good read—several of the titles would seem no longer to be of current interest, like Megatrends and The Third Wave, which are twenty year old futurology books. I would have swapped either of them for Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy.

The section on Business Thinkers and Management Giants is a collection of brief profiles of important persons in the history of business, including such leading lights as Philip Crosby, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran, the quality gurus; Peter Drucker; Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the writer and former editor of the Harvard Business Review; Abraham Maslow; Adam Smith; Frederick Winslow Taylor; Andrew Carnegie; Walt Disney; Lee Iacocca; Bill Gates and Steve Jobs; Estee Lauder; Akio Morita; David Packard; Martha Stewart; Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Oprah Winfrey.

One of the most useful sections of the book, and my favorite, is the Dictionary, which includes definitions of more than 5,000 international business terms. Each entry identifies the topical category to which the word or term belongs, such as e-commerce; general management; finance, banking, and accounting; human resources and personnel, etc. The definitions are clear and concise. If you like to browse dictionaries, you will enjoy the entries for Abilene paradox, bludge, bricolage, glaze, guan xi, kiasu, obcuranto (Can you speak it?), ohnosecond, permalancer, presenteeism, prosuming, scripophily, SCUM, spruik, taste space, tree, Willie Sutton rule, WOMBAT, and word of mouse (yes, mouse), to name just a few.

The World Business Almanac is a compendium of facts about more than 150 countries and 24 industrial sectors. Do you know the gross national income of Brazil? Which country is the largest exporter of commercial services? Which is the most popular tourist destination? Which has the greatest life expectancy (I never heard of it.) Or which is the least corrupt? You might be surprised to learn which country has the highest prevalence of heart disease.

Business Information Resources is a topical compilation of books, magazines, websites and organizations. While I found many interesting and useful entries in this section, I was disappointed in the entries for contracts and contracting, purchasing and supply chain management, and outsourcing. There are references to only six books for contracts and contracting—four about general contract law, one about negotiation, and one about outsourcing. Two of the four legal texts are oriented toward British contract law, one is a “for dummies” book, and one is a fairly new book with which I am not familiar. There are no references to any of the well-known American contract law hornbooks (e.g., Calamari and Perillo or Farnsworth), to the Uniform Commercial Code, or to the famous Cibinic and Nash books: Formation of Government Contracts and Administration of Government Contracts. The only website given for contracts and contracting is www.ncmahq.org, maintained by the National Contract Management Association. What about Where in Federal Contracting?, www.wifcon.com? Outsourcing also seems neglected, despite its importance in both the private and public sectors. Purchasing and supply chain management receives more attention, but, as usual, the references are oriented toward purchasing for manufacturing operations. Also, the entries for pricing seemed scant—only five books, no magazines, two websites, and one organization—given the importance of the topic; this is only slightly better than the entries for mission statements—five books, no magazines, two websites, and no organizations. In comparison, packaging merits references to seven books, six magazines, six websites, and four organizations. There are no entries for cost estimating, proposal preparation, or scheduling, which I consider to be major omissions. The entries for accounting and for negotiation are good, and the entries for project management are extensive, but some well-known titles are missing, such as Harold Kerzner’s Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling, arguably the most famous and comprehensive book about project management ever written, now in its seventh edition.

One problem with a reference work about a field as dynamic and ever-changing as business is that it quickly becomes out of date. The publisher of Business: The Ultimate Resource may have solved this problem by setting up a website and making free monthly updates available to purchasers. The updates are in PDF format and can be read on-line or printed and stored. The book provides the website address and a password. All you have to do to access and download the updates is register on-line.

Overall, Business: The Ultimate Resource, is very strong on soft skills and topics—people management, personal development, communication, culture, organization, teams, training and the like. It is also very strong on accounting and finance, e-commerce, marketing and strategy. It is less strong on hard skills such as production management, project management, service operations management, and quality assurance and control, and the coverage of contracting, purchasing and outsourcing is inadequate. Yet, despite these shortcomings, which hopefully will be remedied through updates and in the next print edition, Business: The Ultimate Resource, belongs on the reference shelf of every contracting office, and career professionals will want a copy of their own.

  Vernon J. Edwards  is a researcher, writer, and teacher of federal contracting.  Copyright © 2002 by Vernon J. Edwards


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