12 Most Motivating Business Memoirs of Our Time

12 Most Motivating Business Memoirs of Our Time

Business biographies are insightful. They give us an understanding of how our marketplace and our world was shaped. But there’s something even more powerful and compelling when the biography is written by someone who had a stake in the business. These business autobiographies or memoirs, if we may call them that, providing not only information but also inspiration.

Business, at its heart, is about making stuff that others benefit from. It’s about innovation — creating value and progress from scratch. We are privileged to have many successful business people in our world who were willing to leave behind some advice on how they made a difference.

These stories are not just about how the world was changed; they are about how we can change the world as well by following the examples before us. Time to be inspired!

1. The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley

In the corporate world, IDEO is synonymous with design. The design and innovation consulting firm has serviced companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, and Ford — just to name drop a few. This book by general manager, Tom Kelley, is a story of the company and a treatise on creativity.

2. Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff’s company, Salesforce.com, is known for taking customer relationship management (CRM) systems into the cloud. The book is the story of how he made it happen… and how you can do the same for your business.

3. Onward by Howard Schultz

This is the second book from Starbucks’ CEO, following his first title, Pour Your Heart Into It. Onward is a book about rebounding, brand revitalization, and keeping a good thing going. If you’re struggling with reinventing your company or keeping customers engaged in a changing economy, this book is for you.

4. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

A lesson in turning your passion into profits from CEO of Zappos.com, the wildly successful online shoe retailer. The book focuses heavily on creating the right kind of corporate culture to be successful.

5. Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson

Richard Branson is one of those CEOs who just can’t stop writing. This book though, seems to be his most iconic. It’s all about being the renegade in business — being willing to throw caution to the wind and try things out. Branson advocates writing your own rules instead of conforming to the status quo.

6. Car Guys vs. Bean Counters by Bob Lutz

In this book, long-time executive for General Motors, Bob Lutz, presents to us a manifesto on the battle between the creative people in business and those only worried about the bottom line. Lutz blames academia for infiltrating the corporate business world and taking control from the engineers and productive people that make any business successful.

7. Made in America by Sam Walton

Who hasn’t had an experience (good or bad) with Wal-Mart? It’s pervasive in our everyday lives and has completely reinvented the way we shop. This book is Wal-Mart from the perspective of the man who started it.

8. Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc

Did somebody say McDonalds? The global fast-food chain has reinvented the way we eat and has set the precedence for a whole industry that has sprung up to accommodate our increasingly busier schedules. Like #7, this book is the story of McDonald’s from the man who envisioned it and made it happen.

9. Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch

Many people probably recognize Jack Welch as a business advice author more so than a CEO, but his roots are at General Electric — the company that makes just about everything. In this book, Jack discusses some of the trials he had in growing GE and how he overcame them. Great book on developing leadership and management skills.

10. Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy is known as the father of advertising. Written in the 50s, the book set the precedence for much of the advertising we still see today. The “confession” is set up as more of a how-to book on advertising, with personal and professional anecdotes woven throughout.

11. Business at the Speed of Thought by Bill Gates

Do you want to be wealthy? Well, you might want to start by looking into what one of the wealthiest people in the world has to say. Bill Gates’ book, written in the late 90s, is about a trend that we see all the more as time passes — business going digital.

12. Brewing Up a Business by Sam Calagione

This is probably the most inspiring book you can read on building a business from the ground up, because it’s what you are passionate about. Sam Calagione shares how he developed Dogfish Head Craft Brewery as a grassroots movement and created a culture around his brand that many would come to love.

What about you? What business memoirs have you read that have changed the way you think, live, or do business? If you were to write a memoir about your business, what would you call it? Let us know in the comments below…

Featured image courtesy of cobalt123 via Creative Commons.

Doug Rice


Douglas E. Rice is a marketer, writer, and researcher who blogs regularly. He is the author of The Curiosity Manifesto, a provocative guide to learning new things and keeping an open mind.

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I've read several business advice type books, but not business biographies. Looks like a few more I have to add to my ever-growing list of must-reads. :) 


I keep meaning to read Onward. Of course, I already have 3-4 business books queued up, and I still like reading some fiction at night, too!!


Great list, Doug. Some I have read while others I have not. Look forward to many hours of entertaining and edudational reading because of you list. Thanks so much.


You had my 3 great business heroes in here Doug! Howard Schulz, Richard Branson, and Jack Welch.  I don't think I have the stomach to read Made in America when all Walmart sells is Made in China.  Great list though - saving it.