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Management Report

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Summer Reading Recommendations for Korean CEOs

Summer Reading Recommendations for Korean CEOs

HAN Chang-Soo

Aug. 7, 2004

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The best way for corporate chief executive officers to respond to rapid changes and uncertainties in the business environment is to enhance their intellectual capacity. A CEO with strong intellectual capacity can actively respond to unpredictable external challenges. Alvin Toffler predicted that a power shift would occur in the 21st century, and that control of information is at the heart of tomorrow's power and wealth.

How can CEOs then effectively enhance their intellectual capacity? The augmentation of their intellectual ability would naturally lead to stronger corporate intellectual capacity. The quality and quantity of knowledge that CEOs possess has nowadays become more important, their performance often determines the success or failure of business. The importance of intellectual power cannot be emphasized enough, as 90% of a CEO's performance is driven by mental and intellectual power.

The term "learning organization" - once the catchphrase in the corporate sector ?refers to an organization that continuously enhances the learning ability of its members and swiftly adjusts to change. Despite the importance of educating all members of an organization, building a CEO's knowledge remains the most crucial. An organization's overall intellectual capacity can be upgraded through knowledge management, but it has the downside of requiring too much time and resources.

CEOs gain insights, new ideas for management, and peace of mind through reading. Executives are burdened with the responsibility to foresee market changes and technology innovation, and must instill a sense of urgency in their organization. They not only decide the direction of main strategies, but also must provide the key for those strategies. Whether it is technology or design, business leaders stimulate activity within the organization.

Nowadays, the intellectual capacity of CEOs has increasingly become a defining factor in the success and failure of business strategies. In a business environment where changes occur at rapid speed, experience alone does not insure sound judgment. New trends such as technology or product convergence require CEOs to have in-depth knowledge across various fields. New knowledge acquired through reading may lead to development of new products and businesses. As an example, founder and CEO of Amazon.com Jeff Bezos gained insights on emergence of the Internet while reading a magazine on the plane, eventually starting Amazon.com on the spur of his reading experience.

How CEOs use their spare time, and whether or not they use it constructively has a significant impact on business vitality and corporate culture. Spare time does not mean "suspension of work," rather it is a necessity for reinvigoration and change. Korean CEOs, when asked to pick their favorite pastime, generally choose reading along with golfing and mountain climbing.

Successful CEOs have a big appetite for knowledge and read regularly. World-renowned CEOS like Jack Welch, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett make time for reading to gain new ideas and insights. As for Korean CEOs, Vice-Chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics, Jong-Yong Yun cites reading as his favorite hobby. Other notable domestic CEOs are also avid readers.

According to a survey by Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI), Korean CEOs read an average of two or three books per month. This was slightly lower than what their counterparts at western companies read (they average 1,000 pages per month).

Among the Korean CEOs surveyed, 34.8% answered that they read to gain knowledge, 32.6% to catch up on current trends, and 27.7% to get new ideas for management. CEOs enjoyed reading economic and management books most, followed by history and philosophy books.

SERI received recommendations from its researchers and subscribers to its SERICEO publication, and selected 20 books that CEOs would enjoy reading during their summer holidays. SERICEO members recommended 87 books on subjects ranging from economics, management, Asian studies to history. SERI picked out the ten most frequently suggested books, and added ten more books recommended by SERI researchers, for a total of 20 books that deserved the attention of CEOs.

The following are summaries of five books chosen from the 20 books recommended for summertime reading.


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