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The Facts of Business Life

Book Review of: The Facts of Business Life

What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don't

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Review of The Facts of Business Life, by Bill McBean (Hardcover, 2013)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


If you make a habit of acquiring and reading business books, you would do well to add this one to your collection. This book didn't dazzle me, and I don't think the author (Bill McBean) really cares about the dazzle factor. What struck me is he cares about helping the reader grasp the bigger picture of business in general and operating a business in particular. Good stuff to know, and unfortunately most small business owners fail before getting around to knowing these things.

The subtitle is a bit of a thrown down gauntlet, but given the statistics on business failures it's likely to be accurate in a random sampling of potential readers. The title definitely matches the content, and that bucks a recent trend in book titles.

Now, I want to caution readers that this isn't something along the lines of an instant MBA. As an MBA myself, I can tell you there is no such thing as a book that gives you anything even remotely resembling the equivalent of the knowledge required to earn an MBA. If you don't have an MBA, ask someone who does about the reading load or go look at the syllabi at various universities. Much to his credit, McBean does not pretend to condense an MBA or teach particular skills Cliff-notes style.

I would also like to note that, as an MBA myself, I can tell you that an MBA does not make you a biz whiz. Somehow, the business press jumped on the "MBA means success" train and rode it right off the rails. I graduated at the top of my MBA class, but this didn't make me an expert. It didn't give me all I needed for success. Most of my fellow graduates, in fact, have outperformed me in business. Outside the MBA program, they learned some important things that I still don't know.

Having a mentor, someone like McBean, for example, can make a huge difference. This book is a distillation of that mentoring committed to paper. At least, that's how it reads to me.

What's usually missing in the business owner's training is an understanding of what business life is actually about. In a large corporation, you may find MBA's churning out mind-numbing reports. In the nitty gritty world of running a small or medium-sized business, the ability to do that is of no value. The things you really need to know are the kinds of things McBean discusses in this book.

I think most businesses fail not because of doing things wrong, but because of doing the wrong things. This is what I have seen time and again. It's also worth noting that "doing the right things" was one of the seven habits in Stephen R. Covey's iconic book.

McBean tries to teach the reader how to get the right mindset and how to develop the framework you need for successfully running a business through its major stages. He wants you to be able to figure out what are the right things to do at a given stage of the life of a business.

McBean enumerates five major stages (which he calls levels) in the business life cycle:

  1. Ownership and opportunity.
  2. Creating your company's DNA.
  3. From survival to success.
  4. Maintaining success.
  5. Moving on when it's time to go.

Prior to identifying these stages, McBean lists "the seven facts of business life." Starting with Chapter Three, he devotes a chapter to each of these and discusses that particular fact in the context of each of the five stages. So, he discusses the fact five times. While this process makes that discussion precise and highly relevant to where a business happens to be, it does result in some repetition. Normally, I consider repetition a negative but in this case I don't see how the repetition is avoidable without diminishing the value of the book.

This book does have some negatives.

First of all, it would read much better if someone familiar with Strunk and White copyedited it. Especially for "needless words." An example is "past experience." Your experience is, by definition, in the past. A few cliches, such as "at the end of the day" also show up and you'll find misuse of "impact" a few times. However, these are mere annoyances. They don't leave the reader confused about what McBean is trying to say. I suppose not every highly successful CEO is also an accomplished grammarian, and expecting that is unrealistic. What we can expect is he can speak and write in cogent sentences so that you understand the point he's making. McBean does that.

Second, there's the repetition I mentioned earlier (gee, I'm doing it too!). This book gives me the impression it was written as a series of independent articles. Maybe that can't be helped, considering the structure McBean chose. A point he makes repeatedly (and I am not complaining about that particular repetition) is various aspects of business are intertwined. This isn't a mindless tome like "Who Cut The Cheese" or whatever that little stinker of a book was called. It's a thoughtful narrative on each of a structured assembly of business topics. How a business owner exerts control at level three will have considerable overlap with how he exerts control at level four. The company isn't a completely different animal as it moves from level to level, nor are its markets or business in general.

This book consists of 9 chapters across 324 pages. It's nicely indexed and has a thoughtful Foreword contributed by Ken Fisher. Mr. Fisher is a widely recognized name in the business literature, so his Foreword is a coup for Mr. McBean.


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