A retired business executive draws practical lessons from a long corporate career.
Books on business leadership are hardly in short supply, but the biographical ones tend to highlight the careers of those few who climbed to the top of their industries, leaving a whole range of executive experience unrepresented. Furthermore, debut author Kahn observes, professional fulfillment is available to those who don’t ultimately rise to C-suite status, though business schools do little to prepare their students to thoughtfully govern their own personal searches for job satisfaction. To that end, the author presents an autobiographical account of his career in the form of a series of case studies—each one presents an occupational challenge, Kahn’s response to it, and a brief summary of the lessons he learned. The author went to Purdue University on a Naval ROTC scholarship, graduating with a degree in mathematics in 1957. After leaving the Marines in 1960, he graduated from Harvard Business School in 1963 and secured a job at Procter & Gamble working on iconic brands like Joy and Tide. He would have other employers, but this institutional triad—the Marines, Harvard, and Procter & Gamble—furnished the fulcrum of lessons that strike him as the most impactful as well as the ones of which he’s proudest. Written in informally lucid prose, Kahn’s reflections break up into two categories: the more narrowly professional ones account for a wide range of significant decisions. For example, he helpfully supplies counsel regarding how to choose an employer and when to resign from one. The second category of advice sensibly covers the intersection of the professional and the personal—the author discusses the nature of career fulfillment, family life, and the importance of leaving a legacy of which one can be proud. Much of the advice is so common-sensical it seems hardly worth mentioning: “The basic thing I learned was to think and to use my head.” But some of it is much more thought-provoking, including Kahn’s views on the balance between work and family, and is likely to be especially useful to young executives early in their careers.
A well-organized fount of executive prudence.