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  • Writer's pictureAl Desetta

What Makes a Good Business Memoir?

Updated: Mar 20

For me, what makes a good business memoir is the human story behind the struggle to succeed against the odds. Will there be helpful, concrete information about marketing or HR or IT or other technical aspects of business in such a book? Absolutely. 


But the most important lessons in the business memoirs I’ve worked on are universal and apply to any endeavor in life.


I worked on a book

that profiled Bill McDermott, who at the time was Co-CEO of SAP AG. Bill talked about going to work in a deli (and eventually owning it) while still in high school, putting in 100 hours a week to build it into a thriving business.


“Number one, it’s all about the customer. You have to deliver better service than anyone else. People think they’re supposed to say that because they went to management school and somebody told them to say it. But I know it because I had to live it.


“None of this was a massive stroke of genius. It was simply realizing that I couldn’t make payroll, pay the rent, and pay off the note unless I took care of my customers better than anybody else.”


McDermott also realized another important lesson—that the little things you do in business mean a lot and go a long way.


“The floors in the deli had to be clean enough to eat off. We waxed them every night.  You don’t let a woman walk to the car with groceries, with her kids following behind. You carry the groceries for her and help them into the car. When you show respect, it permeates the entire organization.”


Bill started working as a salesman for Xerox at 22, knocking on cold doors in New York City. 


“I’ll give you an example of the difference between being a book smart sales person who went through SPIN training,” Bill said, “and an authentic salesman who’s comfortable in his own skin. 


“When I was a trainee, I went on a sales call with a guy named Bob. We were visiting a woman who ran her own business out of a Manhattan brownstone.


“Across the room is this huge cat.  The cat lands on my left shoulder. So the woman looks at me and goes, ‘Do you like cats?’ And we get into an enjoyable conversation between two cat lovers.


“Meanwhile, Bob’s getting frustrated because we’ve spent 35 minutes talking about cats. The product hasn’t come out of the bag yet. So Bob says, ‘Bill, I think it’s time now that we do the demonstration on the copier and typewriter.’


“I looked at the woman and said, ‘Do you need one?’


“And she says, ‘I’ll take both of them. Where do I sign?’ She signs, we walk out and hit the sidewalk, and I said, ‘Bob, here’s the slip.’


“‘McDermott,’ he said, ‘you’re either going to be the CEO of Xerox or you’re going to jail.’


“I said, ‘Bob, that was just two people having an authentic conversation.’”


The stories we remember from a good business memoir are always about more than a mere transaction. 







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