A CFO’s Reading Tips

Let’s talk about stereotypes. No, this finance and accounting professional’s idea of a relaxing evening does not involve kicking back with a voluminous spreadsheet.

Nor does it include streaming movies like “The Accountant,” for a glimpse of exciting worlds beyond US-GAAP, IFRS, SEC and SOX.

Instead, I connect and spend time with other people as much as possible - person-to-person, at home in my local community and abroad when traveling. And through reading.

Real books, not ledgers. That’s my not-so-guilty pleasure. I read, voraciously.

If you met me in the business lounge at the airport or on a flight to or from Europe or Asia, you likely caught me with a book.

A friend recently suggested sharing a few reads that have left an impact on me on this blog. Here are my picks - what would be yours? [Let me know on LinkedIn!](https://www.linkedin.com/in/billschult/detail/recent-activity/posts/ "Bill Schult's posts on LinkedIn" target="_blank")

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The Folly of Fad Surfing

The term “fad surfing” was coined by Eileen Shapiro of Boston-based consulting firm Hillcrest Group.

In her book “Fad Surfing in the Boardroom,” she shines a hard light on the follies and fiascos that ensue when boards or management teams try to adopt the latest and greatest so-called "management tools" or methodologies - and, yes, also fall for every new business book fad.

So no “hottest CFO reads” from me in this post. I recommend this book (and think about it often) because to me, fad surfing seems even more rampant today than in 1995 when “Fad Surfing in the Boardroom” was initially published, at the peak of the Business Process Re-Engineering craze.

I am a big believer in basic blocking and tackling, treating people right, listening to customers, measuring results and holding people accountable.

But my career has also taught me that in the same way parents know their child better than anyone else does, the owners, founders or longtime leaders of a company know their businesses better than anyone else.

As with everything, there are of course exceptions. But leaders who keep their core principles in mind and seek prudent insight and counsel judiciously from people that have "been there and done that," or perhaps "are there and are doing that,” will often know best in which direction to go.

They will also save themselves a great deal of fad surfing expenses a.k.a. management consulting fees.

Eileen C. Shapiro: [Fad Surfing In The Boardroom: Managing In The Age Of Instant Answers.](https://www.amazon.com/Fad-Surfing-Boardroom-Managing-Instant/dp/0201441950/ "Fad Surfing In The Boardroom on Amazon" target="_blank") ([Basic Books](http://www.basicbooks.com/full-details?isbn=9780201441956 "Publisher: Basic Books" target="_blank"))

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Left To Tell

This one is not a light read for a day on the beach. “Left to Tell” by Immaculée Ilibagiza (with Steve Erwin) deals with one of the darkest chapters of recent history and humanity at its worst. It has stayed on my mind because of the questions it raises, and the message it sends.

Hidden in the bathroom of a local pastor’s home together with seven other women, the author survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Her family was butchered with nearly a million other Rwandans.

You may have seen her on CBS’s 60 Minutes or watched the documentary [The Diary of Immaculée](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzuK_NXyE8U "The Diary of Immaculée - documentary by Peter LeDonne and Steve Kalafer on YouTube" target="_blank") by Peter LeDonne and Steve Kalafer. Since “Left to Tell” was published, Immaculée Ilibagiza received numerous humanitarian awards, including The Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace (2007) and American Legacy's Women of Strength & Courage Award.

Immaculée Ilibagiza’s book stuck with me mostly because of the questions it raises. How was it possible that two ethnic groups in Rwanda (Tutsis and Hutus) that had long lived together peacefully so quickly became diabolically intolerant, hateful and violent toward each other?

World leaders did too little, too late to avert this tragedy. What lessons can and should we learn from it?

What I found most remarkable about “Left to Tell” is how the Immaculée Ilibagiza answered these questions for herself.

At the end of the Rwandan mass killings, when she was finally able to come out of hiding, Immaculée Ilibagiza managed to find and forgive her family's killers. The powerful message she sends with this book reminds us of the vital role of faith and forgiveness in overcoming darkness and crisis.

Immaculée Ilibagiza (with Steve Erwin): [Left to Tell. Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.](https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00IEKS6GI/hayhousecom-20 "Left to Tell - on Amazon" target="_blank") ([Hay House](http://www.hayhouse.com/left-to-tell-6 "Publisher: Hay House" target="_blank")), UK

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Tuned In To Perform In Tune

How can Sales & Operations Planning improve control of a business? That is the theme of “Orchestrating Success” by Richard Ling and Walter Goddard. The book describes how sales and marketing planning should be dynamically integrated with the operations side of a business.

While S&OP is the focus of this modern management classic, it doesn’t hurt to look across the fence from finance and accounting once in awhile. (I’m glad I did with this book.) The insights and advice provided in “Orchestrating Success” have served me well over the course of my career.

The authors describe how to create a connection between a company's business plan and each department's operations, to allow the business to anticipate changes in customers’ needs and expectations more accurately. This leads to higher customer satisfaction, which strengthens a company's competitive position.

ERP, CRM and Big Data have significantly improved the numerical components of S&OP since the book was first published in 1992, but the core analogy the authors build on in “Orchestrating Success” to illustrate the required leadership approach still shows the way.

In the first chapter, they introduce three fictional symphony orchestras. The first has all sections performing “in perfect harmony,” the second ensemble sounds “not quite tuned,” while the third sees the audience (plus three members of the brass section) leaving the concert hall.

Like with orchestras, orchestrating success for (manufacturing) companies requires leaders that are finely tuned in for the ensemble to perform at its best. “[I]t doesn’t take a maestro to convince all departments to work in concert,” the authors write. “But it does require a competent conductor who can keep everyone playing the same score on the same page.”

Having the best people, "Orchestrating Success" reminds us, is not enough if an organization lacks leaders who know how to listen and how to direct their performers to maximum performance - individually and as a team.

Richard C. Ling / Walter E. Goddard: [Orchestrating Success: Improve Control of the Business with Sales & Operations Planning.](https://www.amazon.com/Orchestrating-Success-Business-Operations-Planning/dp/0471132276/ "Orchestrating Success - on Amazon" target="_blank") ([Wiley](http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471132276.html "Publisher: Wiley" target="_blank"))