A retired CEO weaves memoir, management philosophy, and career advice in this well-crafted debut.
MacDonald, a specialist in corporate real estate, draws the title from his capstone assignment—rescuing Australia’s largest property company, Investa, from collapse during the global financial crisis. His saga began in 2008, six months after Morgan Stanley took Investa private in an ill-timed, highly leveraged $6.5 billion buyout. He accepted a six-month stint in Australia that turned into five years of organizational scrambling and nick-of-time refinancing to avoid insolvency. He saved the company but lost his marriage. Alternating chapters backfill his biography, connecting decisions at Investa with lessons from his hardscrabble childhood, teenage factory jobs, college struggles, military service, and “globe-trotting” rise to the boardroom. MacDonald turns the same eye for detail that scrutinized balance sheets to rendering scenes. The volume of tangential, personal details could have shrunk his potential readership to his grandchildren, but he is an adept storyteller with a colorful past. Poignant, well-told recollections keep the reader engaged. MacDonald’s writing, like the management style he chronicles, is deliberate and nuanced, not flashy. Understatement and pacing magnify inherent tensions, as in a passage describing three executives awaiting a bank decision on renewing a $650 million loan: “The loan would mature the next day. I asked Jonathan at exactly what time; after checking the documents, he told me 11 a.m. No one had ever asked him before at precisely what time of day a loan matured.” MacDonald draws his characters concisely. A chief financial officer is “a quiet guy, the type who knew all the answers but was reticent to disclose any.” An Australian banker speaks in “an earthy vernacular, reflecting his early days as a union organizer and Labor Party activist.” In closing, he summarizes 25 key lessons, emphasizing teamwork, ethics, win-win solutions, decentralized decision-making, open communications, and respecting workers. None are entirely original, but his life experiences elevate platitudes to practical guidance. MacDonald puts a compassionate face on the CEO stereotype and reveals real people, not caricatures, caught in the executive-suite dramas spawned by the financial crisis.
For business readers, this insider’s tale informs and entertains.