Five entrepreneurs reveal the books that shaped their lives

By   Hannah Bickerton 7 min read

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Reading has long been touted as a major inspiration for high profile business leaders and entrepreneurs, with Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Warren Buffet among those to highlight the benefits.

While reading books from well-known business leaders will undoubtedly have a positive impact, multiple studies have shown that books, of any genre, shape the people we become and careers we go on to develop.

With this in mind, we have drawn on the wealth of knowledge from our network of entrepreneurial authors, compiling a list of books, across the genres, to inspire the next generation of business minds and self-starters.

Dr Gary Crotaz, PhD, Executive and Mindset Coach, author of The IDEA Mindset and host of The Unlock Moment podcast. Featured in Forbes, the Telegraph and the Sunday Times, he helps his clients, readers and listeners around the world to discover remarkable clarity about the right path ahead.

Which business book has had the biggest impact on your life and career, and why?

‘Now, Discover Your Strengths: How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton.

Don Clifton of Gallup said “What would happen if we studied what was right with people versus what’s wrong with people?” This simple but powerful reframing thought unlocked my passion for empowering people by harnessing their natural talents and strengths, instead of trying to fix their weaknesses. Eventually I made it my full-time occupation as an executive coach and incorporated it into my own book on personal development and growth.’

What other book, of any genre, would you say is most important to you?

‘I am fascinated by the kinds of questions that have no easy answers. I love my copy of The Monk and the Philosopher, East Meets West in a Father-Son Dialogue, by Jean-François Revel and Matthieu Ricard, translated by John Canti.

‘The exchange between a father and son, one a philosopher and the other a monk, is an exploration of the meaning of life, the quest for true happiness, the place of science, philosophy and religion. Each time I read it I discover something new, but it also reminds me of how much I don’t know, and that is strangely comforting.’

Former vice president at Nike, Lisa MacCallum, is co-founder and chief strategist of Inspired Companies, supporting and transforming companies into purpose led, resilient and inspired brands, capable of navigating the pace and complexity of the 21st Century marketplace. Lisa is co-author of Inspired INC.: Become a Company the World Will Get Behind.

Which business book has had the biggest impact on your life and career, and why?

‘The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked Economy by Kenichi Ohmae

‘Dr Ohmae’s communication style in person or in the written word is future-facing, sophisticated and accessible. He’s always 20 years ahead of where the major macroeconomic trends are, unlocking expansive thinking in a very matter of fact way. His PhD and background in nuclear physics coupled with years of structured corporate consulting at McKinsey makes his work an intellectual joyride. Fun and smart.

Dr Ohmae’s way of thinking and teaching had a profound effect on my life and career. Ken, who subsequently became a business partner and the most important mentor in my life, has a way of making everything seem possible. He makes the most complex of subjects understandable. He was the first person who made me confidently feel like delivering big ideas was not only possible, but inevitable if you work hard enough, have an inspiring narrative and bring enough people with you on the journey. That’s the formula I live by.’

What other book, of any genre, would you say is most important to you?

Creating a World without Poverty by Muhammad Yunus.

Dr Yunus has had an extraordinary impact on my experience of the world and views on leadership. Yes, he is brilliant, focused and relentlessly committed to solving complex human problems – and he is very very good at it. His real influence and power, however, is in his humility, kindness and gentle way of navigating conversations. It is a most beautiful version of humanity.’

Sebastian Chambers, non-executive director of Neptune Home, CIL Management Consultants, Sentry Doors and investor of a number of startups. Sebastian is also the author of The A-Z of Inequality.

Which business book has had the biggest impact on your life and career, and why?

‘I have spent most of my career helping companies with their growth strategy and forecasting is a key component of that work. Because of this, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, by Dan Gardner and Philip E. Tetlock, has not only made the biggest impact on my career, but it’s also the book I most wish I had been able to read earlier in my career.

This book shows the power of breaking a problem down into its component parts, using a combination of logic and guesstimation on each fork in the road. It debunks stories, focusing on building a picture of the future from each lego brick. Given that we are all involved in building the future I cannot recommend it more highly.’

What other book, of any genre, would you say is most important to you?

‘Another book that really changed my worldview is Stalingrad by Antony Beevor. For the most part, my generation was brought up on the importance of carrots, rather than sticks, and the importance of empathy in leadership – quite right too. Beevor chronicles the opposite approach.

Despite this, soldiers on both sides show the extraordinary capacity of humans for courage, ingenuity and resilience. On top of this, most of the participants at Stalingrad were young, and this book is a great example of young people taking responsibility, something I’m a great believer in and advocate for. I put Stalingrad on the shelf at CIL as a recommended book on management – but I hope none of my colleagues have actually used it!’

Pauline Parry, founder and CEO of LA catering company, Good Gracious!, and author of FOOD, FUN, LOVE: Party Styles.

Which business book has had the biggest impact on your life and career, and why?

‘My all-time favourite business book is Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer. The book is all about the hospitality business and as someone who’s dedicated their whole life to this sector, the author’s insights and experience has been a great source of knowledge on how to build a fabulous business model. 

One of the greatest lessons taught in this book is Danny’s own dynamic philosophy, ‘Enlightened Hospitality’. No matter your role in the hospitality world, the emphasis on strong in-house relationships as well as customer satisfaction are lessons to be learned by all.’

What other book, of any genre, would you say is most important to you?

‘My other book would be The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership by Richard Branson. Reading the memoir of such a successful entrepreneur helped me to train my own belief system, seeing failure as a natural part of business, and life, and certainly nothing to be feared. Branson’s attitude focuses on the importance of never giving up and preserving until you get it right.

A certified holistic health coach, podcaster and speaker with 20 years experience in corporate communications and leadership, Heidi Hauer is the author of The Queendom Within.

Which business book has had the biggest impact on your life and career, and why?

‘Taking inspiration from fellow entrepreneur, Rha Goddess’ The Calling: 3 Fundamental Shifts to Stay True, Get Paid, and Do Good helped me to clarify my calling and define the path to achieving my life goals.

Goddess provides readers the necessary tools to work through three ‘fundamental shifts’ – recognising, accepting and forgiving. This book allowed me to take the time to step back, analyse my life goals and work out how I was going to achieve them.’

What other book, of any genre, would you say is most important to you?

‘Rise Sister Rise by Rebecca Campbell.

Written as a call to arms for women to rise up, tell their truth and lead, Campbell’s guide to co-creating a new archetype for women is a revolutionary read. Exploring what it takes to make a woman who doesn’t shrink herself to make others feel comfortable, define herself by her body or her career – this book activated the courage in me to step out of my comfort zone, set up my own business and follow my calling.’

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.