Book Review: Up the Organization

“Up the Organization”  written by Robert Townsend

This was one of the first business books I read after graduating from college. It was very different than anything I had learned in business school. Robert Townsend was a very successful CEO at Avis Rent-A-Car prior to writing this NY Times Bestseller. The book continues today to top many “best business book” lists.

Townsend’s brutally honest perspectives on leadership and management have stayed with me for a long time first as a small business owner and now as a consultant to executives. I recently re-read the book and here are just a few of my favorite ideas:

  • “The controller’s job is to see that all future surprises are pleasant.”

  • “He (the CEO) delegates as many important matters as he can because that creates a climate in which people grow.”

  • “True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enhancement of the leaders. In combat, officers eat last.”

  • “The effective ones (management consultants) are the one-man shows. The institutional ones are disastrous.” This is one is definitely one of my favorites.

  • “The fatal fact about nepotism is that really good people won’t go to work for you in the first place or will quit trying for your job when they spot your uncle, brother, nephew, wife, mistress, or son on the payroll.”

  • “Hiring. To keep an organization young and fit, don’t hire anyone until everybody’s so overworked they’ll be glad to see the newcomer no matter where he sits.”

  • “I used to keep a sign opposite my desk where I couldn’t miss it… Is what I’m doing or about to do getting us closer to our objectives?”

  • “Anyone that makes over $150 a week (in 1970 $$$) should be allowed to set his own office hours.”

  • “Policy manuals. If they’re general, they’re useless. If they’re specific, they’re how-to manuals – expensive to prepare and revise. If you have to have a policy manual, publish the Ten Commandments.”

  • “Wearing out your welcome. Nobody should be the chief executive officer of anything for more than five or six years.”

Which is your favorite? You may not agree with everything Townsend writes in this book but I will assure you that at the very least the book will cause you to think and possibly reconsider some of your basic assumptions about leadership and management.