Business Exposed

Financial Times
Freek Vermeulen  
Total pages
October 2010
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Business Exposed
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Cutting edge, pithy and provocative, this is a no-holds barred analysis of business today that will entertain and appal you in equal measure.


This entertaining expose of the business world, reveals the scandals, quirks, counter-intuitive behaviour and downright silliness that make up business today. Based on rigorous research and verifiable facts, combining revelation, story-telling and analysis, this book will defy anyone to read it and not emerge better-informed about the reality of business today.


From the collective inertia of middle management to the cowardly reluctance of CEOs to stand out from the crowd, from the soap opera of working with consultants to the mystery of why top executives’ salaries bear no resemblance to the performance of their firms, Business Exposed will entertain and appal you in equal measure.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


About the Author

Publisher's acknowledgements

Introduction: The monkey story


1: Management happens

Forced to be stupid  

Collective inertia - if you don’t join them, you can beat them!

Pharma - the devil is in the detailing

The Abilene Paradox

Same same but different

'Selection bias'

Numbers and strategy - do they mix?

Inebriated cyclists

Deciding stuff - that’s the easy bit

How well do you know your company? (My guess is not very well at all…)

How to make a compelling corporate strategy in six easy steps

Wanna play strategy? Get a board game

'Framing contests': What really happens in strategy meetings

It looks like we don’t have a strategy…

2: The Success trap (and some ideas how to get out of it)

Why good companies go bad

The Icarus paradox

Tunnel vision - 'in the end, there is only flux'

Operation Market Garden

Mental models – let’s all think within the same box

A creosote bush: how 'exploitation' drives out 'exploration'

A bitter pill

Framing something as a threat or an opportunity dramatically alters what we choose

In a downturn, manage your revenues, not your costs

In a crisis, innovate

Is your company brave enough to survive?

3: The urge to conquer

How big is your yam? (not that it matters)

Deal-eager executives - tribal instincts

CEOs, marriage, mergers, geriatric millionaires, and blushing brides 

When acquisitions take over

'Time compression diseconomies' - too much, too fast

Seeds and fertilizer - how to build a firm

'I've won... I've won'

Most acquisitions fail - really!

'Heerlijk, helder, Heineken'

Toads and acquisitions - where does CEO 'hubris' come from?

4: Gods and villains

The heroes of our time

Narcissus versus humble bloke - and the winner is?

Are overconfident CEOs born or made?

Hang the hero

Celebrity CEOs and the burden of expectation

Successful managers - incompetent for sure

Executives: superhuman after all…

'Over the hill and far away, top managers are here to stay'

Chief story teller

Managers and leaders: are they different?

Women on top

5: Liaisons and intrigues

Fact over fiction

Analysts, astrologers, and lemmings - three of a kind?

Conflicts of interest - do analysts rate their bank's clients' stock more favorably?

Banks' blurry categorizations - have your cake and eat it too

Analysts rule the waves (whether we like it or not)

Sirens and investment bankers – birds of a feather

How to tame an analyst

Advice or influence? Why firms ask government officials to be directors

Boards of directors: cliques and elites

Board-cloning - a rewarding habit

Boardroom friends

CEOs and their stock options (oh please)

Stock options, risk, and manipulations

Too hot to handle: explaining excessive top management remuneration

How to justify paying top managers too much

CEOs do seek advice – if you pay them for it

Dirty laundry: who is hiding the bad stuff?

6: Myths in management

No stranger than fiction

Say you will - that'll do

Right again! Managers and their self-fulfilling prophecies

Your expectations manage you

'Reverse causality' - sorry, but life's not that simple

Eating Uncle Ed - don’t worry, its called downsizing

Does downsizing ever work?

Who can downsize without detriment?

What management bandwagons bring

Remember this one: 'total quality management'?

ISO 9000 makes you reliable, myopi

Back Cover

'... a delicious read, a candy dish of witty reflections about the current state of management in a candid and disarming personal tone. Two thumbs up!'

Gabriel Szulanski, Professor of Strategy, INSEAD

'If the role of CEO is chief storyteller, Vermeulen's role is chief doubter ... You'll never look at business in the same way again.'

Stevie Spring, Chief Executive Officer, Future plc

'disrobes the emperor of conventional wisdom to reveal how things really work in the strange business of business ... .'

Costas Markides, Professor and holder of the Robert P. Bauman Chair in Strategic Leadership, London Business School

'Every so often a book comes along that re-frames business, Business Exposed does just that in a face-paced, smart read, chock full of insights that you won't expect.'

Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Stanford Warren Ascherman Professor of Strategy and Organization, Stanford University




Freek Vermeulen is Associate Professor of Strategic & International Management at London Business School, teaching courses to executives and executive MBA students. He is the recipient of several teaching and various research-related awards, including the first-ever LBS ‘Excellence in Teaching’ award and the prestigious Academy of Management Journal Best Paper Award. Freek is an active consultant for companies such as KPMG, and a key-note speaker on various topics.