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Summer Reading: Biographies of Business Tycoons

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There’s no better season than summer to kick back in a hammock, relax with an ice-cold beverage and soak up grizzly war stories from entrepreneurs who came, saw and conquered—and have the battle scars (and book deals) to prove it. Here are 10 bios that offer priceless insights for MBA students and emerging entrepreneurs:

10 Biographies of Business Tycoons


Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca

Legendary president and CEO of both Ford and Chrysler, Lee Iacocca is as renowned for his remarkable 30+-year career in the automotive industry as he is for his endless supply of quote-worthy aphorisms—“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” In his wildly successful autobiography—the best-selling nonfiction book of both 1984 and 1985—Iacocca recounts the creation of the Mustang and the Pinto; “Henry Ford’s reign of intimidation and manipulation…[and] the miraculous rebirth of Chrysler.”


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The primary source for the 2013 biopic, Isaacson captures the complexity, obstinacy, and zeal of Apple maestro and iconic polyglot Steve Jobs, whose “passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing.”


Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-Founder of Microsoft by Paul Allen

In an exclusive play-by-play of an extraordinary life and career, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen unpacks his relationship with Bill Gates and how “a struggling start-up became the most powerful technology company in the world.” In Allen’s own words: “I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way.”


Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh

CEO Tony Hseih has steered Zappos into eight-figure territory by emphasizing happiness as its dominant corporate culture—“Pay new employees $2000 to quit. Make customer service the entire company, not just a department.” In his best-selling memoir, Hseih “explains how using happiness as a framework can produce profits, passion and purpose both in business and in life.”


The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts

Steven Watts’ fascinating analysis of Henry Ford embraces the visionary entrepreneur as a walking paradox. The man opposed labor unions but “believed in giving his workers a living wage;” detested consumerism yet staked his claim on a “car affordable to the masses;” and was a devoted husband who fathered a son out of wedlock and “a rabid anti-Semite [who] nonetheless embraced African American workers in the era of Jim Crow.”


Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw

Andrew Carnegie’s story is ingrained in the American psyche, so much so that his “rags-to-riches” tale has become the archetypal “American dream” scenario to which all of us aspire. Carnegie amassed a fortune as founder of Carnegie Steel—he was the richest man on the planet for a time—only to give it all away while campaigning for world peace. Nasaw surveys the life and times of a truly enigmatic figure in American business.


Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow
Rockefeller was among the “most controversial businessmen in our nation’s history,” whose empire was “built on grand-scale collusion with the railroads, predatory pricing, industrial espionage and wholesale bribery of political officials.” Chernow certainly doesn’t flinch away from the dark truth about the Standard Oil Company founder, but the biography seeks to highlight the multi-faceted layers of “a quirky, eccentric original.”


Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson

The bastard lovechild of Bill Gates and P.T. Barnum, Richard Branson has played by no one else’s rules but his own—to resounding international success over four decades in business. From the jump, the ventures under Branson’s Virgin brand, which encompass travel, entertainment and lifestyle, have discarded all excess baggage, from central headquarters to management hierarchy and bureaucracy. Losing My Virginity is touted as “the ultimate tale of personal and business survival.”


One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of by Richard L. Brandt

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos built a veritable e-commerce empire on a defiantly simple premise: “Make online shopping so easy and convenient that customers won’t think twice.” In the process, Amazon changed the game both in the virtual realm and for brick-and-mortar retailers IRL. Richard Brandt surveys “Bezos’s rise from computer nerd to world-changing entrepreneur.”


Direct from Dell: Strategies that Revolutionized an Industry by Michael Dell

Dell Computers founder Michael Dell shares insights from his roller coaster ride of a career, reflecting on hard-won lessons from his early days as a UT-Austin freshman through Dell’s meteoric (read: extremely rocky) rise to prominence as a computing powerhouse. Direct from Dell promises to “show you effective ways to grow your business and will help you save time on costly mistakes by following his direct model for success.”

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