Executive books for the beach: what senior management read on holiday

Written by: James Dunne
Published on: 15 Aug 2016

The ‘what to read on holiday’ article may be a hardy annual for the popular press, but we here at exec-appointments.com (tongue in cheek alert) assume that our customers, candidates and blog readers are a cerebral lot and that the likes of Marian Keyes, Dan Brown, et al are not for them. Interestingly, Lucy Kellaway, one our colleagues on the FT.com, has also been considering this question, albeit from a slightly different angle, and reports that “ there is a new way for CEOs to say: mine’s bigger than yours. It is done through what they are reading (and) McKinsey has just asked 14 chief executives which books they will be taking to the beach this year — and the result is one of the most naked displays of one-upmanship I’ve ever seen.”

To test whether this is true or not, we got in touch with a number of major clients and exec-level businesspeople and found that there is no pattern whatsoever to their preferred holiday reading – as you’ll find out as you read on…

Simon La Fosse, of La Fosse Associates, is packing “Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh.  Simon tells us “Tony built a billion dollar company off the back of a laser-like focus on employee happiness: we have a similar focus so I’m keen to pick up some top tips.”

Minesh Jobanputra, MD and founder of Deltra Group and Latimer Executive is going to be reading 'Wonder Weeks' “to help me understand what is going on in our newborn’s head and to help me and my wife keep him calm and get a good night’s sleep! It's a great read to tell me what is happening to him week by week and what milestones to look out for. It also helps keep me sane as I don't need to panic over the slightest of issues…”

Jacqui Jones, Director of Human Resources and Workforce Development at NHS National Services Scotland, loves spending her holidays in the Highlands. Her holiday reading this year was ‘The True You’ by Emma. J. Bell.  Jacqui says, “This is an amazing, easy to read book which helps us all to live the best life we can and to be a leader - mainly in our relationship with ourselves. It also helps us build better relationships with others and discard old programming which puts barriers in the way of progressing as a person. I had read the manuscript and it helped me feel great every day.  But with the reality of a busy work and home life I decided that I needed to go back and read the book again on holiday.  I have been back at work for four weeks and the pace is relentless and the demands on me by others immense. But I feel calm, focused and not stressed.  Definitely recommended!”

John McGurk, Head of the CIPD in Northern Ireland and Scotland, has three books in his luggage, telling us, “I recommend two big thinking books and one on the micro-level. Firstly, ‘Global Inequality’, by Branco Milanovic, which charts the forces which brought us Brexit etc. is full of data and insight with which leaders should get acquainted given the increasing calls to address this issue. My second is ‘The Seventh Sense’ by Josh Cooper Ramo. This one is about how networks are recasting the world we live in. It’s also a great, epic read. Finally, 4D (4 disciplines of execution) by Covey, McChesney et al, is a great operational manual for leaders focusing on transformational change. Great models and case studies that I will be using.”

Gareth Biggerstaff, MD of IT recruiters Be-IT Resourcing, took Ranulph Fiennes latest book, ‘Cold’ to Florida (where it’s not cold) and says “it is excellent if you love cold adventure.  In fact, it is jaw dropping what that man can sustain and do in such environments!” 

John Hunter, Chief Executive at Argyll Scott tells us that given current levels of technological and social change across the world he’s going for ‘Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World’ by Tim Marshall. Having read it, I’d concur that it’s a great choice.

Barry Gasson, Commercial Manager at TMP Worldwide, tells us  “I’m taking ‘Winner; My racing life’, Tony McCoy’s second biography (read the first, great book) because he is the greatest National Hunt Jockey that ever lived (not the best horseman though, Ruby Walsh is), and for drive, ambition and will to be 20x Champion Jockey, he inspires me.  The second one I’m taking is ‘Legend’ about the Krays, mainly because my daughter bought it for me for Christmas. I have read a few gangster real life books: I like the territorial mind games.  Although I wouldn’t have bought the Krays’ book myself, I will read it on holiday as my daughter is accompanying me!”

Bill Mitchell, Director of Optimum Organisation Design has a keen interested in Roman history and consequently is a Mary Beard devotee, so he’s taking her ‘SPQR’ with him, as well as the Western Isles author Peter May’s ‘The Firemaker’, which Bill describes as a real page-turner.

Douglas Mundie, IoD council member and Non-Exec Director tells us, “One of my favourites is about how the All Blacks build their team mentality: ‘Legacy (15 lessons in Leadership)’ by James Kerr. If you haven’t read it, do!”

Ray McCowan, a new Director at the WEA, is honest enough to say, “What with changing jobs I must confess that I haven't read too much recently! In terms of great reads I have found ‘The First Ninety Days’ very good any time I have changed roles - so at present it is quite topical!”

Not quite a pure 'business book' perhaps, but John Turner, Accountable Officer at NHS South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group, says his favourite is Steven Johnson's ‘Where good ideas come from: The Natural History of Innovation’  - he even has a copy signed by the author! There's a nice 5-minute piece on You Tube on the essence of the book - it's a little sketched film - worth checking out if you're not familiar with it.

Finally, Fraser Crerar, HRD at Aberdeen Airport, says he's taking James Paterson's 'The 6th Target.'  Fraser says, "I love his books. So easy to read and keep you intrigued right to the end."

I personally have fairly catholic tastes when it comes to books to read on holiday.  This year, I set out for Spain with “The Great Acceleration” by Robert Colville, which was fascinating and slightly scary, along with “Horrible Words” (a guide to the misuse of English) by Rebecca Gowers.  The inestimable Steve Playford, who is responsible for all things to do with exec-appointments.com, is heading for Turkey where he admits that he will almost certainly have at least one book by Nick Hornby! 

James Dunne, exec-appointments.com