Axonn CEO Fergus Parker declares he “buys more books than he can finish” and his voracity for reading has only escalated in recent years. Here he takes us through a selection of his favourite business books and why we should be reading them...
The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking - Roman Tschäppeler, Mikael Krogerus
What’s it about? A worldwide bestseller, The Decision Book brings together the 50 best decision-making models to help you to make every decision, from who to hire to what to have for lunch.
Why should we read it? “I came across this book at the start of 2013, not long after I had become CEO at Axonn.
"I realised early on that effective decision making was going to be a constant part of the role, so this book jumped out at me when I saw it on the shelf. It’s a short, snappy book with great diagrams depicting each different decision-making process.
"As the commercial department will tell you, my personal favourite is the Eisenhower Matrix, which plots importance against urgency to help you prioritise tasks. The most effective people complete important tasks before they become urgent.”
Key takeaway: The Eisenhower Matrix
The Challenger Sale - Matthew Dixon, Brent Anderson
What’s it about? Rejecting the long-held view that relationship-building is the most important element of sales, The Challenger Sale believes that instead of building relationships with customers, we should be challenging them.
Why should we read it? “I read this recently on the recommendation of a friend of mine. It proposes the theory that there have been four major developments in the history of selling.
"The first was in the 1900s when insurance brokers found that the most successful brokers, over time, spent most of their time on renewals rather than sourcing new business. Thus these roles were split into the traditional roles we would now identify as sales representative and account manager.
"This was revolutionary as it was the first time new business development became a stand-alone role.
"The second stage was in 1925 with the publication of The Psychology of Selling, which introduced techniques such as objection handling and promoting benefits over features, which are still practised today.
"The third evolution, the consultative phase, focused on SPIN selling (in light of Neil Rackham’s 1995 book), and most recently the challenger sale. The challenger sale is based on challenging the prospect to question their current thinking and operate in different ways.
"There are several different sales personalities: the hard worker, the relationship builder, the lone wolf, the problem solver and the challenger. While most businesses focus on developing the relationship builder, it is actually the challenger who is most successful.”
Key takeaway: From the chapter The Power of Insight- “Customer loyalty is less about what you sell and much more about how you sell. The best companies don’t win through the quality of the products they sell but through the quality of the insight they deliver through the sale itself.
"The battle for customer loyalty is won or lost long before a thing ever gets sold. And the best reps win that battle not by “discovering” what customers already know they need, but by teaching them a new way of thinking altogether.”
Inside Team Sky - David Walsh
What’s it about? The Times chief sports writer David Walsh, notorious for revealing the dark side of the cycling world, spent six months with the Team Sky cycling team to try to understand the secrets of their success
Why should we read it? “Sir David Brailsford’s plan was simple: to ensure everyone on the Team Sky team - from cyclists to chauffeurs - agree to one goal, to be the first drug-free team to win the overall Tour de France.
"This objective was ingrained in everything they did, from what they ate to where they slept, and it was that one basic principle that resulted in them achieving their goal.
"I’ve tried to implement this with Axonn too, most recently applying this to our client relations team to think about what Axonn’s overall objective should be to give them one singular goal to focus on. It just proves that something simple can make the biggest difference.”
Key takeaway: Take Sir David Brailsford’s advice - success is not necessarily about “team harmony” but “goal harmony”. Focus on one universal objective for your business and ensure that everyone in the business always has it at their forefront.
The 21 Indispensable Characteristics of a Leader- John C. Maxwell
What’s it about? John C. Maxwell believes “everything rises and falls with leadership but knowing how to lead is only half the battle. Understanding leadership and actually leading are two different activities”. This book is a 21-day journey into more effective leadership by learning from some of the greats.
Why should we read it? “This is a book I like to dip in and out of for inspiration. It has 21 chapters, each focusing on a different characteristic and some of these are quite surprising.
"Some of their definitions of characteristics are quite different from how we perceive them, so this book was kind of a myth-buster for me. I particularly like the chapter on charisma. I always thought charisma was about being outgoing and loud, but the book defines charisma as a quality that draws people into you, that makes them feel better about themselves. It completely turned my concept of charisma on its head.”
Key takeaways: From the book introduction- “If you can become the leader you ought to be on the inside, you will be able to become the person you want on the outside. People will want to follow you. And when that happens, you’ll be able to tackle anything in this world.”
Start with Why- Simon Sinek
What’s it about? Start With Why examines some of the world’s greatest leaders, from Steve Jobs to Martin Luther King, and reflects upon their motivation. It develops a framework for businesses to help them understand that it is not how or what your business does that is important, but why.
Why should we read it? “I discovered this book one evening in the run up to Christmas when our CTO, Janaka, walked into my office to tell me about a presentation he had just listened to online. I was initially more interested in what last minute shopping I needed to do but eventually I caved."
"The video he showed me was the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek, and I sat, completely absorbed, for the full 18 minutes. And that was how I discovered Simon Sinek and Start With Why."
"The basic principle is that in order to motivate people to do the things you want them to do - from coming to work on time to writing a report - they need to understand why they are doing it… simple right? Average businesses talk about themselves from the outside in - this is what we do, this is how we do it."
"But Start With Why believes great businesses look at themselves from the inside out, looking at why first with how and what later on. This is the only way you can truly inspire people.”
Key takeaway: “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”