Book review: What Management Is: How It Works And Why It's Everyone's Business by Joan Magretta with Nan Stone, Profile Books (£9.99)

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Given the number of hefty tomes dealing with management and its various facets that have appeared in recent years, it is perhaps hard to believe there is a need for yet another book on the subject.

And yet, as anybody who has dipped even slightly into these waters will attest, most of these titles are much more about pushing some new concept or ideology than examining the ins and outs of what might be termed "what bosses do all day".

This is not lost on Joan Magretta, a former consultant who later spent a spell as an editor at the Harvard Business Review (HBR), where - as she puts it - she and collaborator Nan Stone had "front-row seats at the floodgates" as a sea of management writing descended upon those who became managers in the latter half of the last century. Despite this flood - or perhaps because of it, in view of the overwhelming volume - "most people are more confused than ever about what management is," writes Magretta. Moreover, popular conceptions of management have "a lot of catching up to do with the advancing state of the discipline".

Not only that, but as the book was being written the public attitude to business "swung from excessive exuberance to equally excessive cynicism in the space of only two or three years". Taking a more balanced view, Magretta claims her work "contains a dose of realism about what management is, and some idealism about what it can and should be". In so doing, she succeeds in both making the activity sound worthwhile and helping the outsider understand what it is all about.

The reference in the subtitle to management being "everyone's business" is aimed at individuals - whether they be serious investors or those hapless souls who have looked on as the value of their pensions plummeted - who are outside the business world. But owners of growing businesses will not find in this book a guide to management practices in big organisations.

Certainly, there are many examples taken from the corridors of big business. But in the opening few paragraphs Magretta reminds readers that entrepreneurs played their part in turning the public against business. "During the boom, we believed they walked on water," she says. "Now, after trillions of dollars of market capitalisation have vanished into thin air, we better understand that people who try to walk on water, and those who invest in them, will get soaked." And almost immediately afterwards, she takes a swipe at that much-used term of the internet boom, "business model". Though a powerful idea - in that every successful business needs one - the concept of the business model became so overused "to give legitimacy to bad business ideas" that it became discredited, she adds.

This is not to suggest that entrepreneurs only get brickbats in the book. The overriding message is that - done properly - management provides the discipline that enables businesses to work and survive, and so make money for their founders and those who invest in them.

Chapters on value creation, strategy and organisation set the tone, with apposite quotes from the likes of Warren Buffett and Michael Porter and, as you would expect from an HBR alumnus, much use of case studies. Entrepreneurs and owner-managers will find it as much of value as middle managers in multinationals. But it is later in the book that things really get interesting for enterprising types.

In the book's second part, Execution: Making it Happen, Magretta begins with a quotation from Steve Case, the former chairman of AOL Time Warner: "In the end, a vision without the ability to execute is probably a hallucination."

If that is not pragmatic enough, Magretta continues with a concise account of why certain numbers matter before moving on to the "real bottom line: mission and measures". In this chapter, she explains "management's version of the search for the holy grail" - finding the right way to keep score. Next comes the discussion of a subject close to many entrepreneurs' hearts: innovation. Though some may be disappointed by Magretta's view that this too needs to be closely managed, they will no doubt be encouraged to hear that "good management is entrepreneurial".

Essentially, she is saying - not just in this chapter but in the whole book - that effective management is a juggling act. There need to be tight controls alongside wonderful insights, measurements alongside inspirational visions and a willingness to take risks coupled with a realisation of when to stop.

If this is less exciting than the latest fad-ridden tome, then so be it. But by making key points in the clear and precise manner of Peter Drucker - the sage whose influence on her own book she freely acknowledges - Magretta has gone a long way to achieving her aim.

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