Summer is here and, with the added bonus of international travel back on the cards (delays and cancellations permitting), senior executives are ready for a holiday. We’ve asked for their top tips and recommendations for books and podcasts to dive into when getting some of that all-important downtime.
There’s a wide range of suggestions, but there is a definite theme in terms of improving awareness as a leader, especially in relation to cultural sensitivity and a deeper understanding of diversity and inclusion. We also have recommendations for The Beatles, Britain’s rave culture, economic theory, the impact of tech on society through the vehicle of alt-reality fiction, not to mention the jaw-dropping true-life story of Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO of Theranos.
Here’s what they had to say:
Margaret Rumpf, Vice President, Global Marketing Head, GlaxoSmithKline Pte Ltd
Podcast: The Health Report
by Dr Norman Swan is one of my favourites. It's a fabulous way to stay current on the latest challenges in health beyond my own biopharma industry. It also helps me reflect on the art of communication as Dr Swan has a great way of making the complex simple.
Book: For anyone interested in DE&I [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion], I would recommend The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart. It's a very well researched book that gives you many “aha moments” and great practical tips to help you foster an inclusive, modern society. Some may question whether it is a holiday read, I would say “yes”, as the learnings stretch beyond the workplace and into our communities.
Currently Reading: The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently - And Why by Richard Nisbett was a great read.
I love Dave Stachowiak’s Coaching for Leaders
. There is an episode  on How to Reduce Frictions that Slow Down Good Intentions with Deepa Purushothaman, that really gets to the heart of the diversity discussion in a very real way, calling out some of the myths we tell ourselves and why they are actually holding us back. For example, when we say that we can’t find diverse talent, the point is made that we are looking in the wrong places.
Book: The 100 Year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. I think holidays are a great time for reflection and clarity – this book puts the different facets of our lives into perspective and offers up a new frame of thought for how we can design our own unique chapters.
Currently Reading: I am re-reading The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer. I often re-read, annotate and tabulate books I have loved. For anyone working in a multi-cultural organisation, looking to move internationally or just interested in mindsets, influence and culture, this is a brilliant book that breaks down how we interact and work together. It’s fun, informative and you can also observe your own influences as you look at the charts and read the vignettes and case studies.
Mary Jo Jacobi, Non-executive Director, Weir Group plc & Board Mentor, Criticaleye
I prefer the written word so when I listen to a podcast it has to be brief, entertaining and fun. I like Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It
, a series led by one of the US’ most entertaining storytellers. Mike and his guests give a quirky twist to mostly-American things you think you understand but really don’t.
Book: I love Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation by Philip Norman. I’ve been a Beatles fan since their American debut in the early 1960s and saw them in concert in New Orleans in ‘64. The book isn’t just a history of the Fab Four, it provides the context of the pop music business against the backdrop of the 60s and beyond.
Currently Reading: I’m rereading Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy by the American economist, Thomas Sowell, who recently turned 92. It’s not exactly beach reading, but it’s an excellent refresher course in economics, from capitalism to feudalism and, for the uninitiated, presents a thoughtful introduction to the dismal science.
I tend not to be a huge podcast fan as I listen to a lot of music instead, but I do like Susan Heaton-Wright’s ‘Superstar Communicator
’. It provides masterclasses, tips and advice to help you communicate in a clearer, more concise way, whether that’s in your professional or personal life.
Book: I love sci-fi and technology, so Iain M Banks is a go to for me. I always find something new in his Culture Series and I think it's one of the most intelligent and prescient looks at one of the many ways in which human society could evolve. Starting with Consider Phlebas, The Culture is a space-faring utopian society set in the future, where humans have reached a state of post-scarcity. It's funny, clever and thought-provoking all at the same time.
Currently Reading: I'm currently reading Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan. Again, it’s a look at how humans and artificial intelligence might interact, set in an alternate 1980s – can you spot a theme here?
I recently enjoyed 'The Dropout
' – a fascinating narration of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO of Theranos, who was found guilty of defrauding investors.
Frankly, it was quite shocking and sad in places. The first thing that struck me was how many 'smart' people were taken in by the story of Theranos and the 'celebrity' of Elizabeth Holmes without facts, proof, evidence or data to confirm that her method of blood testing was indeed viable.
It made me reflect on decisions I make each day and made me even more determined to stick to my mantra of 'the data never lies' - I always try to verify what I possibly can before making a big decision and, although I trust my instinct more as I get older, I'm always willing to be corrected by data.
Book: I couldn’t put down The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes. It's a moving story of two women, living in very different times, linked by a beautiful piece of art.
I'm making my way through Ecstasy: The Battle of Rave
. It's a reflection of how Ecstasy and Acid House swept through Britain, alternating between real and fictional stories. This is about more than the title – it’s helping me reminisce about music from my own youth, and the human stories of pain, love and loss that led people to find solace in the community of rave culture. I've shed a tear or two listening to them for sure. Just brilliant.
Jenny McGeough, Senior Vice President Operations, Schenck Process EMEA
I enjoy The Inquiry
by the BBC World Service as a journalistic deep dive into global trends and ideas shaping society. A particular highlight for me recently in this series was an episode about the future demands of lithium and the implications for Western nations to secure supplies for a green future.
Book: I recently finished the memoir of Indra Nooyi, former PepsiCo CEO. She shares stories from her childhood, education and early career in India, her move to the US and challenges to integrate from both a nationality and gender perspective. With a daunting work ethic, she made it all the way to the pinnacle of business, while raising a family. An easy, thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring read.
Currently Reading: I am currently reading Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil by Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger and Francis de Vericourt. It gives a fresh perspective on how asking a slightly different question or thinking about something from a different angle can completely change the approaches and solutions available to you.
Irene Sandler, Global VP Marketing, Cognizant Technology Solutions
I’m enjoying Visible Women
, featuring Caroline Criado Perez. This is a relatively new podcast that digs deeper into the ubiquitous and insidious gender gap first eloquently exposed in Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women
. I have to take it in small doses because of the rage-inducing data she mentions, such as the fact that pretty much all PPE (personal protective equipment) is modelled on something called the ‘Sheffield Man’, which – you guessed it – is a man. This created a real problem during the pandemic, exposing women to far more danger as a result of ill-fitting PPE.
Book: The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. Fiction is a fantastic vehicle for exploring what-ifs and to project out real-life trends and technologies. I love this novel for its highly entertaining, yet erudite exploration of a future United Nations agency charged with protecting the interests of future generations. The author skilfully explores the social, economic, political, technological, and emotional forces that need to be brought together to avert the catastrophic destruction of our planet.
Currently Reading: Anthro-Vision by Gillian Tett. I’m only about a third of the way through and have underlined something on nearly every page. Tett clearly and concisely lays out the need to think laterally when so many things on so many dimensions are undergoing such rapid change. She applies the discipline of anthropology to several of our most vexing problems, such as political polarisation, noting the power of anthropology to see past biases and rigid models to get at the heart of how to solve problems.
And one final recommendation from Criticaleye: a recent podcast from the Asia Podcast series
. Join Managing Director, Charlie Wagstaff
, who speaks to Min Yih Tan
, SVP for Global Mobility Network at Shell, and Bhawna Gandhi
, HR Director of Corporate Service for APAC at Sodexo, in our latest podcast which explores the challenges faced in high performing leadership roles in APAC.