Business people --- don your suits, pick up your briefcases and
laptops and prepare to fight. That could be battle cry for
graduates of the Harvard Business School's Advanced Management
Program (AMP) and for readers of the book that explains the
program, EXTREME MANAGEMENT: What They Teach at Harvard Business
School's Advanced Management Program.
AMP is a military brat. It was born during World War II to help the
U. S. military commanders gain advantage over war enemies. So,
what's good for the military must be good for business. Why reserve
the lessons only for intermittent wars? Put 'em to work daily in
the business world.
The course, according to the book's author Mark Stevens, is an
exhausting 10-week "boot camp" (or wing tip camp). Each week lasts
six days, each day last 14 hours, and at the end, managers are
armed with the tools to fight and win in a global and hostile
marketplace. (No doubt, the book is much easier than the course
itself.) Students learn how to create a sustainable, competitive
advantage, establish brand and corporate positioning, negotiate
global transactions, and master conflict.
The book is not a textbook. Far from it. And that might annoy those
readers searching for a step-by-step or week-by-week course in AMP.
Stevens, who wrote SUDDEN DEATH: The Rise and Fall of E. F. Hutton,
does share what a typical day looks like at the camp and a
breakdown of what's covered week to week, but the chronological
timeline ends there. The lessons are presented, just not in a
typical form. Stevens imports lessons from the program's alumni
(corporate executives) and some of the program's faculty via
examples, anecdotes, essays, and question and answer interviews.
And lessons slowly emerge on decision making, work models, finance,
teamwork, strategic perspectives, and visioning exercises designed
to separate exceptional managers from mediocre ones.
Stevens has tapped some of commerce's top minds. Among them Jack
Welch, General Electric's CEO; David Packard of Hewlett-Packard;
and Bill Gates of Microsoft. Stevens also tosses in some lucid
examples of management from clear industry leaders, such as
AT&T, BMW, and Taco Bell.
Thankfully, there are only a couple of business equations (and they
aren't difficult to follow) and very few military metaphors, which
would surely prove tiring over the course of the book. Some might
expect that because this course was originally created for
hard-line military leaders, that the management lessons may be more
callused. Ironically, though, managers who finish AMP adopt a
kinder, gentler management style. Alumni shed their authoritarian
and micromanaging approaches and take on a warmer managerial method
that yields a softer side. Managers become more of an information
source and less ornery. This results in friendlier subordinates who
follow the lead and work harder. One manager, whose employees were
trying to start a union, walked away realizing he wasn't always the
expert. He reflected on the AMP lessons and, instead of firing the
union supporters, he hired a labor lawyer.
It's tough to boil down the 166 pages into one portable lesson, but
Stevens does say, "He who knows the most, and continues to learn
the most, wins." And there's plenty learn here from many who've
fought in the trenches.
Reviewed by Doug McPherson on January 21, 2011