Management in 10 words

• By Terry Leahy
• Random House
• RRP $37.99

It’s difficult not to feel cynical about business books that offer magic numbers. I admit, therefore, to feeling ambivalent about the read ahead as I flicked open Management in 10 Words by Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy. And, I’m sorry to say, I don’t feel all that different now that it’s been relegated to my bookcase.
The popular evidence suggests that the slum kid who made good by turning mediocre supermarket chain into the largest in the UK knew what he was doing. But in reading his tale of success, I’m unsure whether he came up with his 10 key management words before or after the writing. The text and the words don’t always fit comfortably and contradictions are little too prevalent.
There were, however, couple of sentences in Leahy’s introduction that snared me into reading this book. The essential truth of what he said was encouraging. “… I have been struck by how basic, simple truths about life – not just business – have been forgotten or are dismissed as ‘too obvious to matter’ by clever people who mistake ‘simple’ for ‘simplistic’,” he wrote. “We have allowed ourselves to think that, because the world in which we live is complicated, the solutions must be complicated as well.”
Sticking to the basics and the simple skills running supermarket chain took Leahy to the top, as it has few others that American management guru Jim Collins identified in his best seller, Built to Last. Enigmatic leaders like 3M’s William McKnight for example.
Leahy didn’t really need 10 words to describe the essential success of his career – Clubcard would have been quite sufficient. But one word that encapsulated and gave form to his deep understanding of the power of data mining as the key to locking in customers would not, at least in the management genre, have worked.
So he, and perhaps his editors, came up instead with truth, loyalty, courage, values, act, balance, simple, lean, compete and trust – collection that surely widened his readership catchment. The more I read, the less convinced I was that the author felt entirely comfortable with, and always lived, his list. None of that is to take anything away from the success he had running what became very large ship under his captaincy.
Leahy is right about the essential simplicity of good business management. Perhaps his own reportedly essential simplicity is responsible for his approach and conviction that making things too complex is not the way to do or think about things.
Leahy is not an insufferable egoist as are so many high flyers. His book is simply written. His thoughts, though sometimes conflicted, provide the occasional insight into what makes this successful man. The tale, therefore, rings relatively true.

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