Nox Mlalazi

Trainee Equity Analyst

December 2018

Winning the business game

Article Summary

The author argues how “aggressive observation”, and other seemingly small tactics, can pay off.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Looking at the title, one could be forgiven for thinking that the purpose of What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School is to denigrate business schools. But that is not Mark McCormack’s intention at all. The aim of his game is gaining that imperceptible edge in business by developing a humility regarding one’s ability to read other people and oneself. Business school, he believes, should be seen as a foundation or ancillary to the development of managerial and interpersonal skills – and not as a panacea to personal and corporate development. The chapters are segmented along main themes of “Reading People”, “The Art of Sales & Negotiation” and “Running a Business”. 

The small things matter. McCormack’s common-sense approach posits that how one responds in less formal situations (a restaurant or hotel lobby) speaks volumes about character. This can be described as “observing aggressively”. A sobering reflection is the difference between rejecting matters on principle, and due to ego. McCormack highlights the importance of listening and observing aggressively before formulating our responses. These reflections do not only extend to our colleagues, business partners and clients. Even worse than skewed self-awareness, he says, is none at all.

Most people associate sales with that foot-in-the-door or pushy telemarketer who won’t take “No!” for an answer. Growing up, children unconsciously practise the art of persuasion. The true art of sales is understanding the needs of the other party – putting the client’s needs first and the unrelenting pursuit of showing one’s clients, customers and associates a relentless pursuit of excellence, and it is okay to let them know it. As John D. Rockefeller once said, “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.” This is a highly underrated practice, which can do wonders in aligning the expectations of both parties.

The last major theme is relevant not only to entrepreneurs, but to any team leader – from mid-level management and up. Here the author devotes considerable space to practical time management tips and how a team will mirror its leader’s communication style. The main takeaway is how the most admired leaders are not only analytical, but also understand that decision-making is intuitive. Research is imperative, he says, but so is action.

The name Mark McCormack may not ring a bell. Yet as the founder of unassuming yet indomitable global sports and management company International Management Group (IMG), he birthed the sporting celebrity endorsement industry in the 1960s. Some of IMG’s notable clients included golf’s “Big Three” (Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus), and more recently tennis stars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

McCormack’s writing style is self-effacing, anecdotal and chockfull of sporting metaphors. It may seem glib to some to see business as a game; however, there are rules of engagement and for those who play to win, this is a classic management book to add to your collection.


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