Brexit, Bitcoin, Bezos, and Trump town: The best business reads of 2017

John Daly highlights the best business books of 2017

Brexit, Bitcoin, Bezos, and Trump town: The best business reads of 2017

‘Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response’, by Tony Connelly

Love it or hate thinking about the issue — and there are equal numbers on both sides of this ditch — Brexit represents the single greatest economic and foreign-policy challenge to the Irish State since the Second World War.

A topic that will clearly run and run through 2018 and beyond, its ultimate outcome will touch every aspect of Irish life. As RTÉ’s long-time Brussels correspondent, Mr Connelly has been delivering soundings on the implications for Ireland over the past 18 months — and here, he digs deeper to impart the dramatic story of the Irish response to this political and economic earthquake that will be part of all our lives for years to come.

Drawing on unprecedented access to insiders in Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels, the book comes packed with insights about how the EU actually works, complete with revealing stories from the corridors of power.

Mr Connelly talks to the business leaders, farmers, and entrepreneurs on the front lines of the crisis, and traces the various ways in which Brexit is likely to change our lives.

‘Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money’, by Nathaniel Popper

Along with Brexit and Trump, Bitcoin was surely one of the key buzzwords of 2017.

This engrossing history of the so-called cryptocurrency by New York Times reporter Mr Popper delves behind the landmark digital money and financial technology that has spawned a global social movement.

While the notion of a new currency, maintained by computers users around the world, has been the butt of many jokes, it certainly has not stopped it from growing into a technology worth billions of dollars.

Supported by the hordes of followers who have come to view it as the most important new idea since the creation of the internet, believers see the potential for a financial system free from banks and governments, regardless of concerns that it may help to destabilise some of society’s most basic institutions.

An unusual tale of group invention, Digital Gold charts the rise of the Bitcoin technology through the eyes of the movement’s colourful central characters, including an Argentinian millionaire, a Chinese entrepreneur, former Facebook investors Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, and Bitcoin’s elusive creator or creators, Satoshi Nakamoto.

Will it last, is the question observers are asking? Bitcoin reached a record high in early December — only to lose about a third of its value in a few days.

‘Janesville: An American Story’ by Amy Goldstein

Perhaps not, strictly speaking, a business book in the usual sense of the term, this Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year award winner does excavate the story of an American town when the main employer shut down.

It’s the kind of town that probably helped Donald Trump win the White House, and outlines the stories behind the headlines and the anonymous people left behind.

Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Goldstein spent years immersed in Janesville, Wisconsin, where the nation’s oldest operating General Motors plant shut down in the midst of the Great Recession, just two days before Christmas of 2008.

The hometown of Paul Ryan, current Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Janesville is the story of what happens to an industrial town in the American heartland when its factory closes — but not from the usual angles.

Unlike the libraries of books charting the immediate anguish of vanished jobs, Ms Goldstein lived amongst the locals to witness what happened when a community with a can-do spirit tried to pick itself up. Her story delves deep into the follow-on lives of Janesville’s autoworkers, educators, bankers and politicians — and the underlying reasons why such an economic catastrophe leaves scars that never really heal. It’s an American story, but could likely apply anywhere.

‘The Cartel’, by Stephen Breen and Owen Conlon

Christy Kinahan is one of Ireland’s most successful CEOs, running a global multinational with operations on every continent and a turnover in the billions. And that’s where the good words end.

Were there a pantheon of the world’s most successful gangsters — and who knows, there may well be such within that shadowy underworld — Mr Kinahan must surely rate a place in the upper podium for the sheer global scale of his business dealings in drugs, guns, and money-laundering.

Having kept relatively under the media radar in his early empire-building days, the scope of his dark world began to emerge around 2010 when police raided gang members homes in Spain, Ireland the UK. Well known to international law enforcement agencies by then, Mr Kinahan was already among the richest criminals in Europe, with an estimated fortune of €750m. It was in 2016, however, that the Irish public began to grasp the sheer scope of the Kinahan empire when a daring gun attack on a suburban Dublin hotel exposed the long-running feud with archrival Gerry Hutch.

Over the past year, the fallout, and body count, from this vendetta has continued to rise — and will doubtless mark 2018 with similar episodes.

‘Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It’, by Jeffrey and Bryan

Eisenberg

“Your brand isn’t what you say it is but what your customers say it is.”

This is the business mantra underlining this book by a pair of co-authors whose previous output includes Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends.

Today’s companies are built on action, not just words, they suggest, and Amazon has become one of the most valuable retailers and service companies globally because of its dedication to customer experience and execution in marketing and promotion.

In 2001, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, laid out his plan: “We take those funds that might otherwise be used to shout about our service, and put those funds instead into improving the service.

“That’s the philosophy we’ve taken from the beginning — if you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.”

Building great customer experiences is not always about investment, rather it requires “an intense focus on details and an obsession with delighting customers.”

With the four pillars of Amazon’s success based on customer centricity, continuous optimisation, and what it calls a culture of innovation and corporate agility, the authors suggest that “if you look closely you’ll see that they speed each other up, creating a virtuous flywheel that spins at ever-greater speeds”.

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