Book club: rule breakers

A new book and an award-winning documentary hold some invaluable lessons about how to behave in business, says Keely Lockhart

The Rule Breaker's Book of Business: Win at Work by Doing Things Differently

by Roger Mavity

Piatkus, 2013

Roger Mavity knows how to make an impression. In the 1980s he founded his own advertising agency and won contracts with Honda, Burberry and Nestlé, to name a few. After selling his agency, he took on a number of boardroom roles at Granada Group, Citigate and Conran Group. The Rule Breaker's Book of Business is his second book and although the title promises a stack full of punchy, original advice about how to make your mark in the office jungle, it's not as impressive as Mavity himself.

The book is punchy in so far as it's divided up into three sections of brief chapters punctuated with to-the-point examples of ways to improve your business image. The first section "How to deal with money" is perhaps the most useful reading. It contains chapters on how to distinguish between a balance sheet and a profit and loss account; the difference between profit and cash; and a rather more cerebral examination of whether the profit a business makes is inversely proportional to its moral behaviour.

A suggestively titled chapter, "PVC: fetishism or finance", outlines Mavity's approach to successful business strategy (price, volume, cost) while including references to fetishism, which, although creepily entertaining, is a worryingly recurrent theme within the book (the word fetish is mentioned more than once, which is more than enough when talking about business).

But sadly The Rule Breaker's Book of Business is not quite as rebellious and revolutionary as it promises to be. At times Mavity's style borders on the quixotic and the tone in which many of his points are delivered resembles a machine-gun party in a pillow factory - they hit the mark but you wonder if there wasn't a less aggressive way of making a point.

Top tip

Profit is not the same as having cash in the bank.

Bonus fact

Mavity is also an art photographer and his work has been exhibited in London, Paris, Brussels, Ghent and Amsterdam.

The Gateway rating 3/5

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Directed by Alex Gibney

Released April 2005

It took sixteen years for Enron to become the world's largest energy trader and just twenty four days for it to go bankrupt. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is a documentary that skillfully examines the corrupt practices and hubristic personalities of Enron executives that led to its collapse in 2001. It features interviews with those in the inner circle of chairman Kenneth Ley, chief executive Jeffrey Skilling and chief financial officer Andrew Fastow, who were all tried and found guilty of fraud.

For those who know little about the details of the collapse of America's seventh largest corporation, Gibney provides viewers with a chronological tale that touches on the major themes and key points in the scandal. Although the film does appear dated in parts with over-dramatised reconstructions, its well-placed use of archive footage and spread of intriguing interviews with key Enron employees and attorneys makes this a captivating watch.

The success of Gibney's film is down to his focus on the human drama of the story, as he presents the Enron scandal much like a Greek tragedy, focusing on the flawed personalities of its executives. In particular, Gibney's presentation of Skilling is cleverly managed to paint a picture of a man who is both despicable and easy to sympathise with. Gibney also successfully highlights the greedy and amoral behaviour of Enron traders through use of leaked trading floor recordings.

Overall, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is an excellent analysis of how human behaviour and morals have the potential to be corrupted, and the dangerous free fall that ensues when a failing business traps itself in a web of white lies.

Top tip

Just because everyone else does it doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Bonus fact

The documentary is based on a bestselling book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, two Fortune reporters who first raised suspicions about the accounting practices at Enron, and the documentary features interviews with both.

The Gateway rating 4/5