Well, we’ve reached that time of the year again. The first chill of autumn is in the air; it’s time to procure the pumpkins, break out the tweeds and the cable-knits, ferry the yacht to the Caribbean, and start thinking about skyboxes for the Super Bowl and hotel reservations for Davos.
Such is the life of a Sky King.
It’s also that time of the year when the publishing industry unveils its annual tranche of Master of the Universe Business Autobiographies. Among the many initial public offerings this fall are memoirs from Disney’s Bob Iger, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, and Stephen Schwarzman, founder of the Blackstone Group.
Perhaps you picked up one of these books at Heathrow on your way to the B.A. executive lounge in Terminal 5. Or maybe you found one lurking at the bottom of the goodie bag from your last panel appearance at a Thought Leader Conference in Aspen.
Either way, the mechanics of this interaction are almost always the same:
First, you look at the title (wondering, Who actually wrote this?), then the blurbs (who’s backscratching who?), and then the index (am I in here?).
And then you’re struck by a simple thought:
“Why not me? Why don’t I write one of these?”
The world would be a better place, imparted with your vital business insights and uncanny corporate acumen, wouldn’t it?
With this in mind, here’s the template. Now get cracking. With any luck at all, you should be able to knock out a first draft by the time you touch down in Dubai.
Virtually every business memoir begins at a moment of crisis. You weren’t made C.E.O., the Sand Hill Road gang has pulled your funding, the I.P.O. failed, you’ve been tossed out of a job. The future has never been bleaker. The cliff-hanger at the end of the chapter: Are you going down in flames, or do you have the grit, guile, tenacity, and pluck to survive?
Your Hardscrabble Beginnings
It doesn’t matter whether you grew up on the mean streets of Cairo or the hard-fought turf of the Dartmouth lacrosse team. Herein we learn about your early challenges, setbacks, failures, and growing awareness of society’s ills—along with the emergence of your iron-willed determination to succeed. We meet your parents (pick one: loving/supportive, distant/unpleasable), your mentors (loving/supportive, distant/unpleasable), and learn about your first job. It’s the backstory—the emotional backfill that sets the stage for all that is to come.
The Big Idea Strikes
This chapter picks up where the first chapter left off. You detail the hundreds of meetings, late-night brainstorming sessions, the red-eye flights, and pizzas consumed trying to find your way forward. Then lightning strikes. You pull the sword out of the stone, level the airplane, right the ship. The stock rises, the Web site is launched, the app goes viral, the dragons are slayed. The future has never been brighter.
Icarus Pilots a Gulfstream G650
Yes, just as you’ve gone wheels-up from Teterboro, the app fails, the market tanks, the Web site crashes, the Justice Department opens an anti-trust investigation. You grew too fast, a trusted lieutenant has been indicted for insider trading, a corporate raider has launched an unfriendly takeover, the board wants you out. Your conscience aches. It’s your “Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200 Million” moment. You have to pivot, sell the jet, and let people go. But somehow, through a combination of grit, guile, tenacity, and pluck (see Chapter One), you emerge from it all as a better leader, with a stronger company.
Passing the Torch
Cutting the ribbon on your new corporate headquarters, you realize it’s time to turn the company over to the next generation. Your handpicked successors are younger, and more nimble, more pivotable. You’re leaving a rock-solid company in presumably good hands—which means that if things go south again, it’s on them, not you.
Rules to Manage By
This chapter is critical, as it provides the underpinnings for your upcoming lecture tour. Start with the usual bromides: Listen, learn, admit your shortcomings, apologize for your mistakes. Surround yourself with smart people, embrace the future, don’t be afraid of change. When in doubt, do the right thing. And always treat everyone around you the way you’d like to be treated. Beyond this, you’ll need to personalize the list by throwing in a few curveballs. If you’re stuck, you can always find inspiration in the book that’s the inspiration for all these lists: Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Especially the quirky bits, like “Take a nap every afternoon.”
The Road Ahead
You’ve always been a Big Picture Person. Here’s where you lay out the challenges facing your industry, then deftly segue into the challenges facing society, America, and the world as a whole: climate change, health care, income inequality, education, human rights.
You’re optimistic about the charitable foundation you’ve started, but if you’ve learned one thing in life it’s that family comes first, and your real concern is the future you’re leaving to your children and grandchildren.
You’re always open to new challenges.
And with a combination of grit, guile, tenacity, and pluck, it’s somehow all going to be all right.
All of which leads to the sentence you can’t write but that you’re hoping will be the takeaway from all this:
“Hey: If a failed casino operator from Queens can get elected president and throw the country into utter turmoil and chaos, isn’t it possible that maybe, just maybe, I’m the one who can fix it?”
Bruce Feirstein is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL