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Billion-Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  605 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Welcome to Business Failure 101

In the 1960s, IBM CEO Tom Watson called an executive into his office after his venture lost $10 million. Watson asked the man if he knew why he’d been called in. The man said he assumed he was being fired. Watson told him, “Fired? Hell, I spent $10 million educating you. I just want to be sure you learned the right lessons.”
In Billion-Dolla
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published September 11th 2008 by Portfolio
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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David Hooper
Dec 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book, as I'm a person who believes you can avoid mistakes yourself by learning from the mistakes of others. Unfortunately, after going through about 20% of this, I realized that it was I who had made this mistake here, so I decided to move on to something else.

Don't get me wrong... There are some good lessons here; I simply found an increasing level of diminishing return with each page and didn't feel like putting so much effort in for something with such little appl
Karen Zhang
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author made his point very clearly: companies want to pursue growth for many reasons, and M&A is one of the fastest ways to achieve growth, however, the growth may not be sustainable over the long term given that few M&A have real synergy. He used many examples to illustrate how perceived synergy doesn’t lead to real synergy in reality. I think it’s a valid point and we should be mindful when analyzing companies that expand into new business/geography through M&A.
Himanshu Agrawal
Jan 02, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: abstracts
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amr Swalha
Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great book with many lessons that will benefit any reader.
Timothy Chklovski
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm a big fan of the "mistakes to avoid" genre, and this book is an excellent representative of it.
The authors romp through a broad spectrum of industries, outlining cases of how companies incurred big losses -- everything from metal ore shippers to film photography -- and delve into the dynamics that make these large failures possible.

From an investing point of view, both the examples and the insight into dynamics behind them are very valuable. One of the several patterns the authors highlight
Anandh Sundar
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Academic approach but rigourous to minimize any anecdotal/other bias. Some good quotes
-We may care deeply about customers but feeling often non reciprocal(eg insurance from utilities)
-Scariest villains are the good folks who turn bad(eg CEOs)
-Independent thinking can help middle managers avoid projects headed for disasters
-Cause linked products like craft beer or Snapple risk distributor misalignment if new owner
-Synergies should be adjusted for implementation/change management costs, and checke
Mohammad Ali Abedi
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
This took a very long time to finish listening to. I’ll tell you why. It has absolutely no relevance to me and could imagine it would be far off when I could make use of this book. I couldn’t even make it smaller to be relevant to just me, because it really seemed just lessons regarding BILLIONS, not millions.

The authors have written a book about bad decisions multi-billion dollars made and how I, as the reader, should be careful not to make.

Sure, first let me reach my multi-dollar status and I’
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm honestly surprised more people don't rate this book 5 stars. After reading some of the reviews I was a little worried that I wouldn't find much relevance in this book. As I'm finishing it up, however, I've got to say that I've learned an awful lot of not just company failures but how anthropology mixes in with corporate culture.

If you're a fan of business, key metrics, or corporate anthropology, this book is for you. If not, you may find the writing too dry for your tastes as it cites count
A book which explores and points out reasons why firms fail (not just on engaging in mergers and acquisitions, but also for other things they do or do not do!). A really comprehensive and educative look. Full of lessons for business leaders, managers (especially those who, one day, aspire to reach the top), and entrepreneurs. Also for, the policy makers (government and regulatory bodies), in fact.
Nick Hernandez
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
Great book about strategy and how to avoid errors. Much more practical view of companies' strategies than the failed "Good to Great" and I would highly suggest strategy consultants take this volume to heart. I would also recommend MBA professors who teach strategy look to this book as a supplemental text for their course readings. ...more
Sep 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Some good stories in here, that hopefully will help us to avoid some basic common sense...though of course we all know how common that really is...mistakes.

Enjoyable through and through, though the last hundred pages is pretty simple preaching about the authors' solution which gets a bit dull.
Harsh Thaker
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of few books which dissects business failures and shows a way on “ how not to run a business “
Good business anecdotes which shows how humans under biases, preconceived notions, irrational thinking leads to business failures leading to “billion” dollars bankruptcy.
Abu Kamdar
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anybody involved in business in any way.
Ke Lun
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Key learning:

Good judgement is usually the result of experience. and experience is frequently the result of bad judgement.

Setup a devil's advocate panel to hear the alternate story.
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must read if you run a company or invest in shares
Lone Wong
“People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels - people you don't want to resemble when you grow up”

This is the Aphorism by Nassim Taleb that engrossed inside my mind forever that changed my perception of successful people. Business books routinely look at success and suggest how readers can emulate their strategies. But no one looks at failures and layout methods for how not emulate them. Look at the shelves of Business section in our bookstore. There is numerous publ
Boni Aditya
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Three fourths of the book deals with various ways in which Billion Dollar Empires collapse. The last one fourth of the book deals with a solutions to tackle the pitfalls of strategy. The three fourths of the book that deals with how Corporations kill themselves, through acquisitions, chasing wrong technologies, with biases, mergers, expansions, industry consolidations and dreams of grandeur etc... is the best part of the book. A very good collection of Billion Dollar Bankruptcies over decades ca ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5. There's factors that make this a super read, and that make it more of the tunnel vision it pummels.

The thesis highlights are so well-organized, and at some point towards the end of the book's first half, it points out just how wicked and pessimisticly depressing its text surely is, with a comment something to the effect of how the engaged reader may look to stay inside to avoid any such flying anvils. (Covid-19 certainly drew an okay time to get from start to finish, in this light!) It doe
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
So many takeaways, so little time. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but also cringed while listening to the stories, having read the audiobook. This book suffers somewhat from that of many business books: the facts are great but the prescriptive advice questionable or unrealistic. These billion dollar mistakes occur because people don't listen to advice, so an ego-stuffed mis-compensated c-level putz and her servile minions aren't likely to read info-rich books like this. They are especially not ...more
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When thinking about leadership or strategy, I find that is is better to understand failure than success. In Billion Dollar Lessons, Carroll explains multiple ways in which businesses fail at a spectacular level. The mental traps that CEOs and their businesses fall into correlate into how military and government planners fail in strategy. More than just describing the mental traps and anecdotal failures, Carroll provides recommendations on how to mitigate these risks. Paramount in the mitigation ...more
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is a book about Strategic Planning. It points out the "traps of strategy" -- which are flawed but seemingly make sense. Building 'devil's advocacy' in decision-making and 'escalation path' in execution is critical. ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Solid business books that has a great scope and plenty of examples. Well suited to strategic thinkers, consultants and executives working on a decision making or evaluation framework.

Doesn't change your thinking though, so I can't recommend it
Sep 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Two books in one, showing examples of large mistakes by category - quite interesting - and then the solutions for how to combat these - less original/a rehash of several other authors work. Basically, get a devils advocate.
Will Clausen
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good business stories/case studies and analysis. A bit dry at some parts, and some sections felt overly simple. But overall happy to have read it.
Enrique  Martinez
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mark Kelley
One word review: NextWave
Samuel Kemp
May 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
Limited new info, mostly reorganizing existing content in other strategy/behavioral science books.
Doug Kerwin
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Valuable but depressing. I thought the lessons were very important to hear and remember but after hearing example after example of failed strategies and logic and knowing that for every story in the book there are many more similar tales not represented, the pessimism began to creep into my subconscious. You've heard that you are the average of the five closest people to you. I also believe you are the average of the five most recent books you've read. After reading this I literally had a dinner ...more
Colin Liang
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I once heard a saying: “A smart person learns from her mistakes, a dumb person repeats them, but a genius learns from the mistakes of others.”

This is a wonderful book about failure (and therefore a great chance to learn).

Billion Dollar lessons definitively debunks some of the most popular business strategies from synergy through acquisitions, roll-ups, to expansions to adjacent industries. The authors give example after example of how smart and capable CEOs repeat the same mistakes repeatedly, d
Jul 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Not a total waste of time, but limited value.

If you buy a company, you should get a good deal, just like buying ANY other asset. If you overpay, then your destroying the value of your own company. Usually the professional management crowd when given enough control over a pile of other people's money will overpay for companies because of the "synergies" that the deal will create.

Don't let stupid or crooked people manage your money, and don't trust what they tell you.

The fundamental problem is non
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