Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Some Random… But Important Information

In the several weeks since I posted my last blog I’ve traveled quite a bit; a trip to Philadelphia to teach at Wharton, down to Orlando to attend the Inc. Magazine “Grow Your Company” conference and several side trips to meet with clients.  Along the way I have picked up some interesting information that I hope you find valuable…



First, let me begin with a fantastic book recommendation.  As many of you know I am an exceedingly voracious reader and have kept up a pace of reading a minimum of 100 business books a year since 1989.  Because of that, I am often asked to recommend my very favorite business books. Well, now I can answer that question with the recommendation of a single book!  I ordered a copy of “The 100 Best Business Books of All Time” by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten from their awesome website 800-CEO-READ.  If you are interested in business books and have never been to the 800-CEO-READ website you are in for a real treat.  Here is a site totally dedicated to showcasing the newest and best business books available, as well as a vast library of the best business books ever written, which brings me back to Jack and Todd’s book.  I am proud to say that I had already read 92 of the 100 books they identified as the best ever written — and found their brief 2-3 page overviews to be absolutely spot on and an excellent way to decide whether to invest the time and money in actually purchasing one of these books and reading it.  Based on the reviews of the eight that I had not yet read, I decided to order four of them right away — and skipped the other four.  If you are dedicated to lifelong learning and continuously increasing your professional knowledge, a copy of “The 100 Best Business Books of All Time” would be a truly valuable resource (and would make a welcome gift for the business reader on your list).


When will this end?

For the fifth year in a row, I was invited back to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business to be a guest lecturer on strategic thinking/planning at the annual Securities Industry Institute, a special week-long event for members of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA).  To say that the financial markets were little different this year than when I addressed this group last February would be a colossal understatement.  No one on the face of the earth could have predicted the unbelievable change in their market and competitive landscape in just 12 months.  For the last four years the number one issue I have focused on in my classes was lack of disciplined execution of the strategic plan, although that still remains a significant issue, there was only thing on everyone’s mind this year.  In my classroom, walking through the hallways, shopping at the bookstore… person after person kept pulling me aside to ask the same question: “John, when do you think the recession will end and things will finally get back to normal?”  My answer: never.  It is my strong belief that given the severity and scope of our current situation — trillions of dollars & truly global impact — that we will see a fundamental “re-set” of how many markets and businesses operate.  My advice to my friends at Wharton: stop waiting for someone to save you and for things to get back to “normal” and instead start thinking very, very hard about how you need to change the way you do business to succeed in the future.  If you want things to get better — you will have to make them better.


What the top business thinkers have to say

After a week in Philly, I ran down to Orlando, Florida to attend Inc. Magazine’s “GrowCo” seminar.  In attendance were 400+ enthusiastic, optimistic, foaming-at-the-mouth entrepreneurs and private business owners.  These folks had gotten the message, they were ready to do whatever it took to change their businesses to not just survive but totally thrive regardless of what the economy wanted to throw at them.  I have to give the staff at Inc. Magazine a ton of credit for putting together a wonderfully run event with truly exceptional speakers.  To get things kicked off, Ram Charan, arguably the world’s most influential business guru at this point in time, gave his assessment of how we got to where we are in this economic situation and what it will take to come out the other side successfully.  To boil down his one hour speech just a few key words here is what Ram Charan felt were the most important things for business owners to be focused on right now:

  • Cash is king — protect cash flow vigilantly.
  • Customer relationships matter — get as close as possible to your customers.
  • Focus is essential — figure out where you add true value and have real leverage (both inside and outside of your company) – then focus all of your efforts there.
  • Involve & Innovate — get your best people working to constantly improve the way you do business and your relationships with your most important customers.

Superb advice from an incredibly thoughtful person, and I’m pleased that it was so similar to the video I posted on this blog back on January, 26th – the Six Keys to Business Survival in 2009.  I won’t say that great minds think alike, but at least I see things in much the same way Ram does on this topic. (PS – Ram also indicated that he felt the recession would begin to turn around by October of this year! Followed by severe inflation about 24 months later).

Other speakers at the Inc. conference included Jim Champy, Jack Stack, Norm Brodsky, Bo Burlingham, Jack Mitchell, Tom Wujec and a wonderful session by Keith McFarland who wrote the fantastic book, “The Breakthrough Company.”  In addition there were dozens of breakout sessions offered by extremely talented speakers and consultants.  The message from all of them was clear: focus on where you add real value + get close to your customer +  innovate on both your products and your business model + know your numbers and watch them every single day. As a final note on the conference, I was especially impressed by the efforts that the folks at Inc. went through to make all of the speakers and their staff fully accessible to everyone at the conference, this was without question one of the most networking intensive events I’ve ever attended and well worth the investment of my time and money.

Can I count on your vote?

Lastly, several years ago I ran across this really cool website called “Change This” where people who felt like they had big a idea would post a “proposal” to write a “manifesto.”  I thought I had a big idea about what companies should focus on to achieve success, so I wrote a manifesto proposal, which  got enough votes that it ended up being posted on the site… which led to me being contacted by a literary agent… who sold the idea to Jossey-Bass publishers… and it will now be my upcoming book that will be released later this year. Talk about your serendipity!!!  Well, I have posted another proposal idea for how to ensure job security in his tumultuous economic environment.  My goal is to get enough votes that I can write a manifesto on what I believe it truly takes to be a “professional” and deliver so much value that you never, ever have to worry about job security.  If this idea sounds interesting to you please go to the Change This website and vote for my proposal.  Even if you don’t like my proposal idea, you’ll enjoy this site, it has some really interesting and thought-provoking manifestoes on wide array of topics — all truly wonderful and fun to read.  Here is a direct link to the page where you can vote for my manifesto proposal (click here).

I hope you enjoyed this blog entry and you found some helpful information in it.  I very much look forward to your comments, feedback and suggestions — take good care — John Spence


  1. Jeff Vaudreuil says:


    RE “A great book”

    Do you agree with their choices?

  2. Yes, about 80% — there are a few that I loved that were missing — but I honestly felt that the books they picked were all very good — every one worth the read. You could also check out the PMBA (Personal MBA) site — for Josh’s top recommendations — that is another great list. And my list is posted on my site.

  3. I voted! Thanks for the resource recommendations. I had missed your reading list on your website and added to my reading goals as a result.

  4. John,
    I voted and am looking forward to a good read.
    Check out 50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon. I enjoyed the audio version as an easy way to learn about some good titles. I also agree with the PMBA recommendation (2009 books recently updated). I’ll be checking out your recommended reading next.

  5. For those of you that are interested — here is a direct link to my recommended book list on my website. I will update this soon and make it into a blog with my newest additions — John

  6. John,

    Agree with you that if we want to make things better we have to make the changes, no one is coming to save us. Very similar to the story you tell about us going to the moon “it wasn’t a miracle, we just decided to go” I love that story! Really looking forward to lots of reading from your list this year and beyond. Voted for your proposal and look forward to following your future blogs more.


  7. Pete Girgis says:

    John, thanks for the post and I love your comment about “If you want things to get better — you will have to make them better.” Sometimes I get into panic mode and forget this, but I always come back to this foundation!

    Voted for the manifesto and wanted to share the Inc conference link for everyones benefit as they’ve posted some of the presentations:

  8. Jeff Vaudreuil says:


    Since we are talking about books I wanted to ask a related question. You are an avid reader (to say the least), so what are your thoughts on the Amazon Kindle? I have been considering a switch to this format. Instant delivery, cheaper books, great portability and your entire library in one device seems pretty enticing, but I worry that there will be some intangible missing by not holding the paper version. I like to reference my older books as the need arises and also worry that I will lose track of what I have if they are all just some files sitting in a folder on my computer.

  9. Jeff – great question. I have a Kindle and like it very much. It is perfect for packing in my briefcase for long plane trip… rather than try and take books — literally! However, I agree with you that there is something satisfying in holding a real book in your hands and being able to put it on the shelf after you finished it so that you can pull it down at any time for reference. To me, I really enjoy reading fiction books on the Kindle — although there is a feature where you can underline key passages and then download all of your underlying into a word document and print that out — insanely valuable for somebody like me. All in all I am a fan — but still find myself buying lots and lots of paper books and yellow highlighting pens!


  1. […] Março 2009 por Miguel Cavalcanti Acabo de ler um post do John Spence, em que ele comenta, entre outras coisas, a palestra do Ram Charam no seminário GrowCo, organizado […]