By Connie Chen
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Whether you’re a startup founder seeking advice to guide your journey or an exec who’s always challenging herself to become a better leader, you can probably find the proper inspiration in one of the thousands of business books published every year.
To save you the trouble of sifting through each and every one of them, we’ve previously narrowed down the huge category to the most influential books, the books CEOs recommend reading, and the best books of 2018 so far.
A group of people who no doubt have some thoughts about the business and leadership books you should read are MBA students, so I asked some MBA alumni about the books that have actually stuck with them long past business school.
After graduating from the top business schools in the country, they’ve gone on to found successful startups or lead business development, analytics, and product strategy at their respective companies.
With all the clutter in the world of business publishing, these MBA-recommended books are worth more than one read. They contain insights and lessons that are applicable in real business situations, from strategy and negotiations to team-building and company culture.
Throughout her book, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Magdalena Yesil urges women to take control of their careers and combat the gender wage gap. Magdalena immigrated to the United States in 1976 with only $43 and today is best known as the first investor in the multi-billion dollar company, Salesforce. A definite must-read for anyone looking to get ahead in business. — Heidi Zak, co-founder of ThirdLove, MIT Sloan School of Management
This is probably one of the best known books on innovation and business out there, but I think it’s for good reason and worth highlighting again. For entrepreneurs and leaders of startups, there are layers and layers of insightful thinking on product market fit, how many large companies eventually “over-engineer” their products and create opportunity for new entrants, and deep thoughts on how to create and capture value in these situations.
Christensen’s book is also the intellectual foundation for a lot of the best business writing out there today (like Stratechery by Ben Thompson, a personal favorite) and is necessary reading for anyone interested in how these ideas have evolved over time. — Josh Hix, co-founder of Plated, Harvard Business School
“Delivering Happiness” provides a real-life blueprint for starting and growing a company. It inspired much of the foundation of Cuyana and I highly recommend it! — Karla Gallardo, co-founder of Cuyana, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Amazing insights about business, what makes people tick, and how to navigate the soft skills part of business. Mark McCormack, the author, is the father of modern sports as we know it and built an absolute media empire around the monetization of sports that ultimately benefited athletes, sponsors, rightsholders, and leagues. — Ilan Bielas, Columbia Business School
I truly believe that everyone is creative and there are no limits to one’s ingenuity. Like many things, there is a process to help bring out the best ideas. These books help one establish a framework to encourage business inspiration. — Shilpa Shah, co-founder of Cuyana, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business
I love learning through successful people’s real-life experiences and this book provides an extremely practical and honest experience about running a company, managing people, and handling tough problems. — Noura Sakkijha, co-founder of Mejuri, McMaster University DeGroote School of Business
From his human-centric approach to his self-awareness, Phil Jackson paints an incredible picture of what it actually takes to build and manage high-performing teams. The lessons and idioms in the book are field- and industry-agnostic. It’s a quick read that will easily get you thinking about your personal leadership style and the real work that it takes to achieve lasting success. — Erika Shumate, co-founder of Pinrose, Stanford Graduate School of Business
“Shoe Dog” shows how traction and execution can trump planning, how important it is to be able to think on your feet, and how much perseverance is required in the face of uncertainty. This is the best book I’ve ever read and it hit really close to home with our journey at Burrow. — Stephen Kuhl, co-founder of Burrow, The Wharton School
In the fall of 1962 US spy planes discovered that the Soviet Union was building nuclear missile sites in Cuba, just 90 miles from US shores. Thirteen Days is a behind-the-scenes recollection of the days that followed and how the US handled one of the highest stakes negotiations in history (and a much more interesting read than most negotiation and game theory texts). — Rich Kennedy, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management
Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, never took no for an answer. He continuously challenged the convention and refused to back down against much larger competitors. More importantly, he was never satisfied with where Wal-Mart had reached or how big it had become — he was always focused on making it bigger and better. — Kabeer Chopra, co-founder of Burrow, The Wharton School
There is a cult built around the work of John Boyd, a former fighter pilot whose thoughts on war and strategy helped shape military doctrine across the US military. This book does a great job of explaining not only Boyd’s work but how it applies away from the battlefield. — Jeff Armfield, University of Michigan Ross School of Business
It’s valuable because it’s accessible. You don’t have to be an MBA to understand how Wall Street screwed the country (and got away with it). There are lessons on ethics, economics, and the importance of oversight. As a bonus, if you don’t feel like reading the book, the movie is just as good. — Cameron Merriman, Clarkson University David D. Reh School of Business
I’m a big fan of Adam Grant’s work and loved “Originals.” It was published right before we launched Away, in February 2016, so reading it then was especially interesting as we were just starting out and taking something that was an idea and turning it into something that was entirely our own.
“Originals” has also influenced the way I lead my team. Adam emphasizes the notion that great leaders champion new perspectives and ideas, from anyone in the organization, encouraging innovation and cultivating great leaders from within. He talks a lot about how great leaders choose to go against the grain, and I think we’re doing that every single day at Away —consistently challenging the status quo and what we think we know, and using all the context we have to find the “Away way” of doing things. — Steph Korey, co-founder of Away, Columbia Business School
Adam Grant’s “Give and Take” was an important book for both Andres [Modak] and I as it helped define our approach for building Snowe by building a collaborative environment where our mutual success is defined by how we build teams, create partnerships, and interact with others outside of the company.
Adam Grant was one of my favorite professors at Wharton, not least for his inspiring approach to negotiations. In today’s increasingly conflicted, adversarial political and business environment, it’s been a helpful ‘North Star’ to us as we think about how we build a brand and organization that we are proud of, one supported by deeply-rooted successful relationships and camaraderie. — Rachel Cohen, co-founder of Snowe, The Wharton School
Written in the pre-Internet era, I argue that it is still relevant now. Yes, it is a dated book but most, if not all, of the principles still apply. — Jeff Armfield, University of Michigan Ross School of Business
While there’s so much to take away on empowering teams and fostering creativity, what really struck a chord for me was Pixar’s singular focus on trying to create the right team behaviors (inputs) that will drive to the right outcome (outputs). — Adam Ross, founder of Heyday, The Wharton School
Jim has several well-known business books. “Great by Choice” examines companies that have become great and focuses on the stories of the intentional decisions they have made that led them to maintain their status as one of the world’s largest and most successful stories. What I liked about this book is the use of real-life examples across different industries that ultimately gets brought together through common themes that drove their successes. — Ilan Bielas, Columbia Business School
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Originally published on Business Insider.
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