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Professional Reading List
Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II
Author(s): Arthur Herman
Publisher: Random House
Copyright Date: 2012
Hard/Softcover: Hardcover, 432 pages
Reviewed by: Dr. B. F. Cooling
Professor of National Security Studies
The Eisenhower School
National Defense University
Remarkable as it may seem today, there once was a time when the president of the United States could pick up the phone and ask the president of General Motors to resign his position and take the reins of a great national enterprise. And the CEO would oblige, no questions asked, because it was his patriotic duty.
In Freedom’s Forge, bestselling author Arthur Herman takes us back to that time, revealing how two extraordinary American businessmen—automobile magnate William Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser—helped corral, cajole, and inspire business leaders across the country to mobilize the “arsenal of democracy” that propelled the Allies to victory in World War II.
“Knudsen? I want to see you in Washington. I want you to work on some production matters.” With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlisted “Big Bill” Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who had risen through the ranks of the auto industry to become president of General Motors, to drop his plans for market domination and join the U.S. Army. Commissioned a lieutenant general, Knudsen assembled a crack team of industrial innovators, persuading them one by one to leave their lucrative private sector positions and join him in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the “dollar-a-year men,” these dedicated patriots quickly took charge of America’s moribund war production effort.
Henry J. Kaiser was a maverick California industrialist famed for his innovative business techniques and his can-do management style. He, too, joined the cause. His Liberty ships became World War II icons—and the Kaiser name became so admired that FDR briefly considered making him his vice president in 1944. Together, Knudsen and Kaiser created a wartime production behemoth. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE, and Frigidaire, they turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions, giving Americans fighting in Europe and Asia the tools they needed to defeat the Axis. In four short years they transformed America’s army from a hollow shell into a truly global force, laying the foundations for a new industrial America—and for the country’s rise as an economic as well as military superpower.
Featuring behind-the-scenes portraits of FDR, George Marshall, Henry Stimson, Harry Hopkins, Jimmy Doolittle, and Curtis LeMay, as well as scores of largely forgotten heroes and heroines of the wartime industrial effort, Freedom’s Forge is the American story writ large. It vividly re-creates American industry’s finest hour, when the nation’s business elites put aside their pursuit of profits and set about saving the world.
Writing readable acquisition history can be difficult. Often the province of official histories that provide the first cut from a data bank, products can be mundane and factual, but hardly exciting. In the hands of an accomplished writer such as Arthur Herman, however, it can be scintillating. Such is the case with Freedom’s Forge although Herman, associated with the American Enterprise Institute at the time of publication, trumpets the party line that every success traces to private enterprise. In this case, he advances that key elements and people from the business community won World War II. The question is, what can be learned from this approach? By introducing readers to corporate giants like automobile maker Knudsen and shipbuilder Kaiser, to name but two, Herman suggests a public spirit induced by Pearl Harbor and the winsome cajolery of FDR led to an opportunity for a generation of captains of industry to set aside profit, politics, and competition to respond to the needs of a government and its military in time of peril. The story begins with aid to France and Great Britain standing alone against Nazism and Fascism before Pearl Harbor. It moves through the nation’s conversion process from consumer to military need and touches upon wartime introduction of improved technology application whether artillery fuses, introduction of napalm, or something as prosaic as Liberty cargo ships. It concludes with the reverse conversion of demobilization and a bright new postwar world carried forward on the waves of America’s industrial victory.
Again, just what can today’s acquisition professionals learn from a total war distant in time and space? For one thing, typical of such triumphalism, Herman’s popular history simplifies the difficulties of mobilization and production, war financing, concern for wartime excess profits, ethics and corruption, and labor difficulties that also attended the World War II enterprise. The corps of government civilian bureaucrats as well as military logisticians hardly receive their due in this paean to private industry. Other equally conversant students of this wartime miracle by “the Greatest Generation” are more judicious in suggesting that public-private partnership of government and industry lay behind victory. Paul Koistinen, Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare 1940–1945; Paul Kennedy, Engineers of Victory; and Maury Klein, A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II are superior in that regard, while A. J. Baime, The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War; Jim Lacey, Keep From All Thoughtful Men; How U.S. Economists Won World War II; or chapters in a more obscure, The BIG L; American Logistics in World War II, edited by Alan Gropman almost 20 years ago also merit a visit. Herman underappreciates the fact that public funds and contracts, mobilization and procurement planning, and execution are inherently government functions then and now. They start the wheels of production and underwrite private sector achievement in the first place. It is called teamwork whether during World War II or today.
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America
Author(s): Thomas L. Friedman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copyright Date: 2009
Hard/Softcover: Softcover, 528 pages
Reviewed by: William Komiss
Senior Research Scientist
In this brilliant, essential book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas L. Friedman speaks to America’s urgent need for national renewal and explains how a green revolution can bring about both a sustainable environment and a sustainable America.
Friedman explains how global warming, rapidly growing populations, and the expansion of the world’s middle class through globalization have produced a dangerously unstable planet—one that is “hot, flat, and crowded.” In this Release 2.0 edition, he also shows how the very habits that led us to ravage the natural world led to the meltdown of the financial markets and the Great Recession. The challenge of a sustainable way of life presents the United States with an opportunity not only to rebuild its economy, but to lead the world in radically innovating toward cleaner energy. And it could inspire Americans to something we haven’t seen in a long time— nation-building in America—by summoning the intelligence, creativity, and concern for the common good that are our greatest national resources. Hot, Flat, and Crowded is classic Thomas L. Friedman: fearless, incisive, forward-looking, and rich in surprising common sense about the challenge— and the promise—of the future.
In his 2005 book The World is Flat, Friedman wrote that he feared Americans would respond to September 11th by walling ourselves in. Eleven years later, the political landscape now includes discussion of limiting or even suspending immigration and building physical walls at the borders. In these same 11 years, five grave problems that America shares with the rest of the World have become worse. The world’s demand for energy supplies and natural resources has grown; the world continues to transfer massive amounts of wealth to oil-rich countries; the threat of climate change persists unmitigated; millions of people live in energy poverty; and, biodiversity loss has accelerated.
Friedman wrote his 2006 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, to explain why America must overcome its emergent protectionist tendency and lead the world in solving these five problems. His concern is that too many Americans perceive solving these problems as too costly with benefits too far in the future. Friedman argues against this perception by explaining how these problems arose and proposing how American leadership could resolve these problems.
How did we get so hot, flat, and crowded? First, America, China, and other developed countries consume enormous quantities of fossil fuels. So much so that the International Panel on Climate Change likely underestimates future global temperatures because they use outdated data on China’s economic activities. Second, many countries now participate in a global economy thanks to technological and geopolitical developments at the end of the 20th century. Although this flattening has enabled millions to lift themselves out of poverty, the higher standards of living imply greater demands on energy and natural resources. These demands spur deforestation, leading to greater carbon dioxide emissions, which make the world hotter. (Friedman cautions, “We are the asteroid.” Or, as the great comedian George Carlin said, “We’re going away.”) Third, we are crowded because population levels have risen and populations have become more urbanized.
Friedman argues that our hot, flat, and crowded world is, in part, the result of a dirty fuel system based on the wasteful use of dirty, cheap, abundant fossil fuels at the expense of other natural resources, like air and water. How should America lead? Friedman argues that a key step is for America to appropriately shape the market. America should increase tariffs on crude oil and remove subsidies for corn ethanol, which affect global food prices. America should require its companies to meet higher energy efficiency standards. America should provide incentives for electric utilities to join with their customers to invest in energy efficiency. Readers of Defense AT&L Magazine will be familiar with the emergence of “green hawks” in 2006 after Marine Major General Richard Zilmer called attention to the dangers of transporting diesel fuel in Anbar Province. Green hawks alsopushed for foam insulation in tents, which has saved millions of dollars. As Friedman notes, the military will want renewables when and where they enable greater tactical flexibility.
This book, especially the chapter on “outgreening Al Qaeda,” is a must read for the defense operational energy community. To outgreen our enemies and to win the future, we must not underestimate the benefits of innovation and overestimate its costs. This will require leadership—leadership that builds bridges, not walls—focused, forward-looking leadership that Friedman seeks to inspire with his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded.
The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at All Levels
Author(s): Michael D. Watkins, Peter H. Daly, with Cate Reavis
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
Copyright Date: 2006
Hard/Softcover: Hardcover, 272 pages
Reviewed by: Dr. Don Birchler
Senior Research Scientist
Member, Defense ARJ Editorial Board
More than 250,000 public sector managers in the United States take on new positions each year and many more aspire to leadership. Each will confront special challenges—from higher public profiles to a greater number of stakeholders to volatile political environments—that will make their transitions even more challenging than in the business world. Now Michael D. Watkins, author of the best-selling book The First 90 Days, applies his proven leadership transition framework to the public sector. Watkins and co-author Peter H. Daly address the crucial differences between the private and public sectors that go to the heart of how success and failure are defined, measured, and rewarded or penalized. This concise, practical book provides a roadmap to help new government leaders at all levels accelerate their transitions by overcoming nine transition challenges, ranging from clarifying expectations to defining goals to building a team to managing personal stress. The authors also offer detailed strategies for avoiding major “transition traps.” Zeroing in on the challenges facing new government leaders, The First 90 Days in Government is an indispensable guide for anyone seeking to lead and succeed in the public sector.
Leaders are often judged by how well they have done in their first 90 days in office. The Gallup polling organization, for example, has polled the American people on the job approval of every president since Eisenhower after their first 90 days. While public sector managers may not have the same political pressures as presidents, they still need to take advantage of those first 90 days to establish a new tempo for their organizations and create a vision for change that adds value to the overall enterprise. Watkins and Daly’s The First 90 Days in Government explains just how these new managers, including those in the Department of Defense (DoD), can most
efficiently use this transitional period.
Watkins and Daly specifically wrote this book to be nontheoretical in nature. Each chapter details practical lessons that new managers should use to ensure success. Throughout the book, they intersperse actual stories from public sector managers about the challenges they faced and how they dealt with them. In some cases, these stories recount a successful transition. In other cases, the stories depict manager failure. In all cases, Watkins and Daly detail what happened and what lessons new managers can take away. Like with a cookbook, the authors lay out their book in a step-by-step fashion.
The first of nine steps stresses the need for new managers to clarify expectations across the organization. This includes engaging in meaningful discussions with those subordinate to the new manager as well as her new boss in order to avoid conflicting expectations. The book ends with the ninth step, which offers new managers an approach they refer to as “The Four Pillars of Self -Efficacy” to minimize stress while increasing their overall efficiency. These two bookends are connected very neatly via steps two through seven, which help new managers understand the importance of early wins, matching strategy to situations, and building teams and
I have had the occasion to work closely with many managers throughout the DoD, especially in the acquisition world. Even the best managers stumble, especially when they are new. However, acquisition can be a very unforgiving place, and a bad start for a new manager can have serious repercussions. Expectations for a weapon system flood in from every possible avenue, budgets change frequently, negotiations with prime contractors are complicated and often political, and the laws and guidelines for acquisition are byzantine. Any one of these problems can easily overwhelm even the best manager. Given this harsh environment, The First 90 Days in Government should be required reading for new managers at all levels in the acquisition world.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t
Author(s): Jim Collins
Publisher: Harper Business
Copyright Date: 2001
Hard/Softcover: Hardcover, 320 pages
Reviewed by: William “Bill” Kobren
Director, Logistics and
Defense Acquisition University
Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning. But what about the company that is not born with great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?
For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great? Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world’s greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.
The research team contrasted the good-to-great companies with a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to make the leap from good to great. What was different? Why did one set of companies become truly great performers while the other set remained only good? Over five years, the team analyzed the histories of all twenty-eight companies in the study. After sifting through mountains of data and thousands of pages of interviews, Collins and his crew discovered the key determinants of greatness— why some companies make the leap and others don’t.
What separates the good from the great? The merely successful from the very best? The effective from best-in-class? Insights gleaned from extensive research can be found in a book by author Jim Collins entitled Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. The second in a series of books by Collins, which include Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (coauthored with Jerry Porras) and Great by Choice, Good to Great, has applicability not just to businesses, corporations, and the corporate world, but to government organizations, including the Department of Defense and defense acquisition organizations. It also has staying power, and is still readily available 15 years after first being published.
In Good to Great, Collins seeks the answer to one fundamental question: “Can a good company become a great company, and if so, how?” Based on a 5-year research project comparing companies that made the leap to those that did not, Good to Great shows that greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance, but largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline. A surprisingly easy read, Good to Great is an interesting, insightful, engaging, research-driven, and perhaps—most importantly—relevant book. Collins summarizes his premise in the first sentence with the truism, “Good is the enemy of great,” and then proceeds to delve into the common characteristics of great organizations that successfully made the transition from good. Those characteristics include:
- What Collins calls Level 5 Leadership (“a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”);
- First Who, then What (“first get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then figure out where to drive it”);
- Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith) (“maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality”);
- The Hedgehog Concept (cornerstone of the book, “if you cannot be the best in the world at your core business, then your core business absolutely cannot form the basis of a great company”);
- A Culture of Discipline (“When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great performance”);
- Technology Accelerators (“Good-to-great companies…never use technology as the primary means of igniting a transformation. Yet paradoxically they are pioneers in the application of carefully selected technologies”); and
- The Flywheel and the Doom Loop (“Those who launch revolutions, dramatic change programs and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap… Tremendous power exists in the fact of continued improvement and the delivery of results”.)
Although several of the companies identified as having made the leap from good-to-great back in 2001 have subsequently fallen off the pedestal for a variety of often unrelated reasons, the foundational tenets and principles Collins and his team identified remain as timeless and relevant to successful organizations today as they did 15 years ago when this book was first published.