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Volume 20 No. 46
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Top picks on leadership, communication, customer service

I look forward to writing this column every year to share books that I have found and that others — primarily my son Dan — have recommended to me. This year it was easy finding a number of books to recommend. The hard part was fitting them all in the column.

“Onward” by Howard Schultz

One of my very favorite reads of the year. Having read his first work, “Pour Your Heart into It,” I was excited to find “Onward,” which details Schultz’s coming back into Starbucks because the company had lost its way. A very candid examination of understanding your core business and what made you successful in the first place. One of the most fascinating stories is how Schultz shut down all of the Starbucks in the U.S. (losing millions in revenue) one afternoon and had everyone learn how to pour the perfect shot of espresso, and why he felt that was important. Great read for any executive whose company has lost touch with its essence or for turnaround specialists seeking a model for reform.

“Tell to Win” by Peter Guber

According to the author, “in this age of acute economic uncertainty and rapid technological change, it’s not the 0’s and 1’s of the digital revolution, but rather the oohs and aahs of telling to win that offer the best chance of overcoming fear or compelling listeners to act on behalf of a worthy goal.” We are a civilization that has learned to formulate stories and pass them along from generation to generation. So why not harness this power to effectively market and sell our products and services by bringing them to life and giving them purpose dimension and substance through the use of stories?

“Rainmaking Conversations” by Mike Schultz and John Doerr

RAIN is an acronym for Rapport, Aspirations and Afflictions, Impact and New Reality. The purpose of the book is to aid the rainmakers (those who bring in the most clients and revenue) in any organization as to how to lead successful sales conversations. This is an outstanding read for formulating questions and generating the right responses. One of my favorite things about the book is that the author provides numerous tools, resources and additional learning content on a website, all free for the purchasers of the book. Sorry, I promised I would not divulge it so you will have to buy the book.

“The Art of Immersion” by Frank Rose

By now you have probably surmised that in this technologically driven world in which we live, I have decided to emphasize the importance of communication through the spoken word, and specifically on telling stories. I do this because, as I learned through the writing of the late Mark McCormack, at some point in time, “people will speak to each other and negotiate the deal.” All the technology and applications are just tools to get to that point. Rose refers to stories as “rehearsals for life. We create a world in microcosm, an alternate reality, a world we wish were true or else fear it could become so — and then regardless of the medium — we immerse ourselves in it.” The issues, which Rose illustrates quite well, are the various forms of media we can employ and indulge in are constantly changing and growing in power and attraction. This is the story of that immersion and how people in gaming, entertainment, advertising, television and film are trying to understand and utilize it.

“The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk

This a book about the importance of customer relationships and the impact happy and unhappy customers can have on the fate of our business through expressing their feelings and thoughts. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, texting and sharing photos have all been used to positively affect the fortunes of business entities and, in some cases, to negatively affect other business entities. This is the unedited, unfiltered, mass dissemination of stories instantly to an audience that might not have an opinion but readily accepted this opinion as fact and, in turn, disseminates it to its followers. The “thank you economy” refers to an economic system where only companies that have manners and can convey those manners authentically and effectively are going to successfully compete in this new world variation of storytellers and influencers.

“The Experience Economy” by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore

This book is an update of their classic work from 1999. Experiences are memorable and customizable forms of personal engagement with a product or service. When you read “Onward,” you will understand that he took buying and drinking coffee and made it experiential. The Apple stores, Rain Forest Café and, of course, Disney have all excelled in creating the experience. In sport, new venues like the Amway Center in Orlando, Target Field in Minneapolis and Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh are all about creating and delivering memorable experiences that can be repeated and shared over and over again.

“Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America” by Thurston Clarke

In my mind, the best inauguration speech and one of the best political speeches — ever. Why do I list it here? Because it is a motivational book about having a vision, sharing that vision and asking for everyone’s help to get there. If that isn’t a business leader trying to motivate and inspire his or her team, then I shouldn’t be writing this column every year.

What else am I reading? “Life” by Keith Richards and James Fox, “The Autobiography of Mark Twain,” “The Extra 2%” by Jonah Keri, “The Ones Who Hit the Hardest” by Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne, and “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I am also writing the 4th edition of “Sport Marketing for Human Kinetics,” due out late next year. Please visit my website,, for my list of the top 50 business books.

Bill Sutton ( is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.