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MBA Reading List: "The Lords of Strategy"

Posted in Test Prep on October 28, 2010 by

Welcome to the first installment of our “Business School Reading List” series. It’s all about recommended reading for prospective MBAs. The books we’ll cover are some of the essential texts for anyone interested in management and entrepreneurship — plus they provide some excellent GMAT-level reading practice!

This week’s pick: The Lords of Strategy by Walter Kiechel III.

Why it’s worth your time

This book is a  must-read for budding consultants out there as well as former McKinseyites and Bainies. Kiechel (former Editorial Director of Harvard Business Publishing) covers the birth of “strategy,” a paradigm so fundamental to business today that we can’t imagine corporate America without it.

What you’ll learn

The origins of an industry. Consultants will be familiar with BCG’s “growth share matrix” and McKinsey’s “7-S framework” and nearly everyone takes for granted the Kiechel’s structuring of the modern business world: as one in which outside parties influence senior leadership and help them gain competitive advantage in their respective spheres. However, Kiechel has a unique grasp on the personal narratives or the cultural climate surrounding the emergence of the multi-billion dollar consulting industry forty years ago.

Background on the big names. Key players in Kiechel’s narrative include Bruce Hendersen (founder of the Boston Consulting Group), Bill Bain (creator of Bain & Company) Fred Gluck (longtime managing partner of McKinsey & Co), and Michael Porter, groundbreaking professor at Harvard Business School. Comprehensive and even dry at a solid 328 pages, the book doubles as a short business history and a strategy textbook which explains concepts involving customer, costs, competition, and human capital.

The limits of one approach. Though Kiechel makes some effort to be even-handed in his assessment and does describe some consulting trends as less useful and more faddish, an underlying admiration for the “lords” shines through his occasional criticism. Chapters which address the role of consulting firms in corporate failures and the current economic crisis are not as comprehensive as one might expect. Reviewers have described the last chapter, “Where Was Strategy When the Global Financial System Collapsed?” as an out-of-place coda or tack-on.

Want to read more?

Those searching for a less scholarly, more critical stance on the value of consultants should look to The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart and debut memoir, House of Lies by Martin Kihn while those looking for general management expertise from former consultants should check out The Alchemy of Growth by Mehrdad Baghai and Creative Destruction by McKinsey veterans Richard Foster & Sarah Kaplan.

One-sentence takeaway

The opening chapters of Lords, which cover the intensification of capitalism and “intellectualization” of management during the latter half of the 20th century, should captivate anyone interested in business, history, or American culture.

Happy reading!