7 Books about CEOs We Can All Learn From

This article originally appeared on Future Female Leaders

Being a CEO of a major company like Amazon, Tesla, or Paypal is something most of us can only dream of. Many of us may not even be interested in becoming CEOs of Fortune 500 companies someday. No matter our career path there is so much we can learn from these CEOs who have ultimately succeeded but experienced failure, competition, and disheartening loss along the way. One of the best ways to learn is through a book, through the stories of others, and these top seven books by American CEOs are chock full of wisdom, success stories, advice on failure, and ideas we can all learn from.

You’ll notice that this list is male-centric, but that’s not because women are not successful CEOs. Unfortunately, not enough female CEOs have written books yet. I’m hoping that changes in the future, because I would absolutely devour a book by Indra Nooyi, Kendra Scott, or Ginni Rometty. In the meantime, explore these published books by and about some of the biggest CEOs you’ve ever heard of, and let’s encourage more women to climb the ladders of success in business, and write books about it.

Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsoBased on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.  At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. Jobs built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.    Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. In fact, he encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly

Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul by Howard SchultzIn 2008, Howard Schultz decided to return as the CEO of Starbucks to help restore its financial health and bring the company back to its core values. In Onward, he shares this remarkable story, revealing how, during one of the most tumultuous economic periods in American history, Starbucks again achieved profitability and sustainability without sacrificing humanity. Offering you a snapshot of the recession that left no company unscathed, the book shows in riveting detail how one company struggled and recreated itself in the midst of it all. In addition, you’ll get an inside look into Schultz’s central leadership philosophy: It’s not about winning, it’s about the right way to win. Onward is a compelling, candid narrative documenting the maturing of a brand as well as a businessman. Ultimately, Schultz gives you a sense of hope that, no matter how tough times get, the future can be more successful than the past.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee VanceIn Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious entrepreneur. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur’s journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent over 40 hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to 300 people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, and to characterize a man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation while making plenty of enemies along the way. 

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
Amazon.com’s visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that’s never been cracked. Until now. Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, and his book is the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. The Everything Store is the book that the business world can’t stop talking about, the revealing, definitive biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read.

Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s by Ray KrocFew entrepreneurs can claim to have radically changed the way we live, and Ray Kroc is one of them. His revolutions in food-service automation, franchising, shared national training, and advertising have earned him a place beside the men and women who have founded not only businesses, but entire empires. But even more interesting than Ray Kroc the business man is Ray Kroc the man. Not your typical self-made tycoon, Kroc was fifty-two years old when he opened his first franchise. In Grinding It Out, you’ll meet the man behind McDonald’s, one of the largest fast-food corporations in the world with over 32,000 stores around the globe

Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam WaltonMeet a genuine American folk hero cut from the homespun cloth of America’s heartland: Sam Walton, who parlayed a single dime store in a hardscrabble cotton town into Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world.  The undisputed merchant king of the late twentieth century, Sam never lost the common touch.  Here, finally, inimitable words.  Genuinely modest, but always sure if his ambitions and achievements.  Sam shares his thinking in a candid, straight-from-the-shoulder style.  In a story rich with anecdotes and the “rules of the road” of both Main Street and Wall Street, Sam Walton chronicles the inspiration, heart, and optimism that propelled him to lasso the American Dream.

Tough Choices: A Memoir by Carly Fiorina

For five and a half years, Carly Fiorina led Hewlett-Packard through major internal changes, the worst technology slump in decades, and the most controversial merger in high-tech history. Yet just as things were about to turn around, she was abruptly fired, making front-page news around the world.  Fiorina has been the subject of endless debate and speculation. But she has never spoken publicly about crucial details of her time at HP, about the mysterious circumstances of her firing, or about many other aspects of her landmark career. Until now.  In this extraordinarily candid memoir, she reveals the private person behind the public persona. She shares her triumphs and failures, her deepest fears and most painful confrontations. She shows us what it was like to be an ambitious young woman at stodgy old AT&T and then a fast- track executive during the spin-off of Lucent Technologies. Above all, she describes how she drove the transformation of legendary but deeply troubled HP, in the face of fierce opposition.

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