When Ross Stuart finished writing his book on turnaround skills for business managers he decided that the best way to reach his readership was through the emerging e-reader technology platform. E&T finds out more.
For many of us it's become as much of a rite of passage as the tasteless Starbucks cappuccino, the frantic last minute calls to the office and the final check over the passport, boarding pass, departure board. It seems none of us can resist the temptation to buy yet another management book when we're at the airport. Brushing up on our management techniques while airborne has become something of a national pastime.
But have you ever wondered why we do it? Perhaps it's because for so many of us, cruelly stripped of our mobile digital communications devices while in flight-safe mode, our time above the clouds is the only time we get to read. Perhaps reading a book on business while travelling in business class in some way legitimises the overblown expense of all that trivial luxury. But the truth is we probably don't know what else to do with the time and, knowing this, book publishers in the lucrative management market make hay while the sun shines.
But not everyone is distributing their thoughts on how to improve your management style in this conventional way. Ross Stuart, a professional manager in the manufacturing sector for more than two decades, was convinced that there was a more direct approach, and with the arrival of the e-reader technology platform he saw his break. His new book 'Business Transformation' has been published as a downloadable pdf that you can upload for free onto your iPad.
'I wanted to raise the profile of Business Transformation and turnaround and make people aware that many of the problems managers face are common problems,' says Stuart, explaining why he wrote the book.
So why didn't he go down the tried and tested route and go to a publisher? 'An e-book is a straightforward and easy way to publish. You can easily edit and you retain control and don't have to pander to any particular theme.'
Having said that, the theme Stuart has chosen is one that's been at the core of his business career. For more than 20 years he's managed a wide variety of manufacturing businesses, especially those facing challenging conditions or requiring turnaround expertise, and has a successful track record of delivering results. He has lived and worked on three different continents and his roles have included that of CEO of a fully-quoted UK company, as well as divisional president and divisional MD of multi-national businesses.
During this time he's noticed that there are ten common errors that managers make, and it's this collection of errors that forms the bedrock of Stuart's book. 'Many of the problems I see in manufacturing are repeated. Avoidance of the pitfalls just seems to be good business sense.'
But he reflects ruefully: 'It seems common sense is not so common.'
Stuart says that while many of us work in highly technical environments, most of the management issues he confronts are not technical, but tend to stem from a basic misunderstanding of how to manage. 'So many managers lack the training and tools to ascertain the issues and fix them, and management training is a fundamental part of any transformation.'
In order to ensure the managers get the right training, Stuart tends to refer them to the training specialists Mitchell Phoenix who, working on his recommendations, develop programmes to deliver training on a fundamental management aspect. After which the managers can 'go back into their company, implement this training and the following month report back to their peers on the course how they have got on. It is thought provoking and practical and results can be quickly seen in the workplace'.
Publishing these findings and practical advice on how to achieve solutions to the problems arising from them might have been more complicated than it was. Stuart freely admits: 'The ideas I put forward in the e-book are fairly simple and mostly common sense, so the e-book was a good approach - an easy-to-read format and one which will get managers thinking whether some of the top 10 pitfalls exist in their business.'
Of course, there are numerous advantages to publishing a business manual straight to e-book, especially if the knowledge contained within it needs to be updated or expanded on a short turnaround:
- The lead-time is what you make it. In conventional paper publishing nothing moves fast. Even switched-on publishers find it difficult to get a manuscript set, printed, bound and into the shops in anything like under six months.
- You can control your message. The days of 'vanity publishing' are over. There's no such thing any more. There's simply publishing that works and publishing that doesn't. If you want to get your message out there quickly, sometimes you need to be your own boss.
- You're not bound by traditional publishing conventions. Why stretch out your book to a standard 256 pages (or some other convenient multiple of 16), when your book is a mere 37 pages long? Why waste all that paper?
- Edit as you go along. How many authors look at their book and wish they'd done it differently (I know I certainly do). Want to add a new case study, or some critical information about some impending legislation? No problem: simply make an updated pdf available.
- You can distribute your book electronically. There's nothing to stop you attaching your magnum opus to the end of every email you send to every customer, supplier or competitor. You can put a 'download here' button on your home page, and you can keep tabs on the traffic your book generates.
- Nobody's taking a cut out of your business. And because there are no middle men clawing back all those deductions, you'll get a better percentage in financial terms for your intellectual property.
Or you can give it away for free, which is precisely what Stuart is doing with 'Business Transformation'.
This might be the hardest thing to understand when you reflect on Stuart's career as being all about turning businesses around. What's the reason for this apparent altruism? Stuart says: 'I want to raise the profile of business turnaround, which unfortunately is not always seen in the right light.'
He explains that most businesses can be saved if a professional turnaround manager is brought in at an early stage, and so it follows that 'it's a great pity that jobs are lost because of problems, which, if recognised early, could have been prevented and most of these problems are very fundamental in nature.'
Only time will tell if the e-reader is here to stay. The arrival of Apple's iPad will certainly make a difference, if only because where Apple leads others follow.
There's nothing new in e-readers, but they have met with mixed reception, the main objection to them being that the experience of reading a text on one is nothing like reading a book. As they become more like 'book simulators' they may increase in appeal, but the fact is only a small percentage of people will prefer downloading, say, Zadie Smith's new novel, to receiving a fresh, sweet-smelling paper version delivered to your door by the good people from Amazon.
But business publishing is a different kettle of fish entirely, and the idea that you can store effectively limitless screeds of well-intentioned advice on a small electronic pad does seem to make sense.
The fact that you can delete out-of-date material without the environmental guilt of throwing away paper is an obvious plus point. That you can dip in and out of what's effectively free business information at your convenience means that it all seems to make, to use Stuart's words, 'common sense'.
In the case of 'Business Transformation', we have a short and genuinely useful document. It crystallizes one man's experience in his field of expertise and delivers the findings in an expanded bullet-point style. People who are finding their businesses in trouble of any description can't afford not to read it.
As Stuart says: 'I see many good businesses underperform when a few simple fixes could transform them. I still believe manufacturing is vital to the UK economy, but it has to adapt and in most cases move up the value chain.'
To obtain your FREE copy of Business Transformation by Ross Stuart go to www.mitchellphoenix.com and click on the 'download' button