Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review: Life Under the Corporate Microscope: A Maverick's Irreverent Perspective by Larry Underwood

There are thousands of books written about thousands of publicly traded companies. This is probably due to the fact that much of the info on these companies is a matter of public record. But when it comes to private companies, it is rare to find info on large privately held companies. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is the largest rental car company in North America, and is the 16th largest private company in the United States, according to Forbes. Larry Underwood, the author of Life Under the Corporate Microscope: A Maverick's Irreverent Perspective, gives an exceptional and extraordinary account of his career with Enterprise, and a unique insight into how large companies operate, especially the private ones, and primarily this one.

This is a guy who started out as a grunt, working behind the counter renting cars to people, who worked his way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming a multimillionaire earning almost $4 million per year, and retiring before the age of 49, thanks to the unique compensation arrangement at Enterprise. And the amazing thing was, Underwood never even reached the rank of President.

Underwood gives the reader his very opinionated views of how corporations should be run and what the best management style is. Here is just one of his recommendations.
"The fact that the three top guys didn't quite have everything figured out, except for the fact that they wanted to make me General Manager, exemplifies the gold old fashioned "fly by the seat of your pants" business plans that entrepreneurial companies put together. As far as I was concerned, that way of doing business suited me just fine; it seemed to me that the people who were most successful in the company weren't afraid to make a few mistakes along the way; they always seemed to have a backup plan ready to go, and eventually, things usually worked out just fine."

The book is filled with humor, with hilarity on every other page. Underwood used humor extensively when he was on the job and fortunately his sense of humor was still intact when he wrote the book. If you don't laugh by the time you reach the bottom of page 16, then it means that you are probably offended by the earthy and course language used throughout. In this time of economic stress and gloominess, we can use a little humor; as a matter of fact, we could use a lot of humor. At an annual rental managers meeting, he discusses how all the Enterprise city managers were required to give a short speech.
"Actually nobody I talked to thought this was such a good idea; and in fact, many of the future orators were so nervous, the supply of toilet paper in St. Louis suddenly became dangerously low."

If you are planning on working for a large corporation, if you are currently working up the corporate ranks, if you run a corporation, or if you just want a page-turner about life in the big private corporate world, then Life Under the Corporate Microscope: A Maverick's Irreverent Perspective is for you.

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