Bill Gates’s Favorite Business Book

Warren Buffett recommended John Brooks's Business Adventures to Bill Gates in 1991. Gates still calls Business Adventures his favorite business book.

After Bill Gates met fellow billionaire Warren Buffett in 1991, he asked his new friend to recommend his favorite book about business. Without hesitation, Buffett sent Gates his own copy of Business Adventures, a collection of twelve stories of corporate life in America by New Yorker staff writer John Brooks.

More than twenty years later, Gates and Buffett still consider Business Adventures their favorite business book. Why does a book originally published in 1969 still resonate with today’s business leaders?

“Brooks’s work is a great reminder that the rules for running a strong business and creating value haven’t changed,” Gates told the Wall Street Journal. “For one thing, there’s an essential human factor in every business endeavor. It doesn’t matter if you have a perfect product, production plan and marketing pitch; you’ll still need the right people to lead and implement those plans.”

This “human factor” is exemplified in the chapter on Xerox, where Brooks profiles the company’s early years and the creative ingenuity of its leaders. Xerox was one of the earliest companies to embrace a sense of social responsibility, making charitable donations to institutions such as the University of Rochester to support their surrounding community.

When Brooks investigates scandals such as price-fixing at General Electric, he uses communication—and more often miscommunication—as a lens through which to view how corruption can spread up and down the corporate ladder. Has much changed today?

Gates doesn’t think so. “Business Adventures is as much about the strengths and weaknesses of leaders in challenging circumstances as it is about the particulars of one business or another. In that sense, it is still relevant not despite its age but because of it. John Brooks’s work is really about human nature, which is why it has stood the test of time.”


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