Mining the books

December 02, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Whew. What a stinker.

Normally primed to debate and disagree, the readers of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Management Book Club don't argue this time.

Maybe Roger Soder could have crammed more literary and pop culture quotes in "The Language of Leadership," but it's not likely.

"I kept walking through the house saying, 'Pompous twit,'" Washington County Free Library Director Mary Baykan cracks.

"What he said is good, but his ego is so hard to get around. He's got Beckett on one page and Eastwood's 'Outlaw Josey Wales' on the other."


Vivian Suffecool, from TBL Packaging in Hagerstown, is relieved she isn't alone in panning the book.

"I really thought that I'd be the odd man out," she says.

Doris Nipps, who organizes the book club, is contrite.

"I'm sorry I picked this," she says.

"No, it's fun to be able to trash a book," Baykan replies.

After intently dissecting "What Went Wrong at Enron: Everyone's Guide to the Largest Bankruptcy in U.S. History" and "Martha, Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia" in successive months, the book club may have hit a dead spot.

Maybe not. Maybe there's something to salvage from this morning's session.

The readers take several jabs at Soder's overreliance on references, but they touch upon several topics from the book.

They talk about "yes men" and eloquence and dictators and campaign sound bites. They even wonder whether Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor was voted out of office because he lost touch with his district.

"This is about rhetoric," Kathleen O'Connell, the assistant library director, says, guiding the conversation back to language. "This is about words."

"Today gave us some very good insights into leading, about isolating oneself from your constituency (instead of) getting support from the people you lead," Baykan says as the hour winds down.

This year's books may or may not provide specific advice pertaining to the readers' jobs. But, each time, the readers talk and think over coffee and doughnuts.

"Some of these are reminders to me," says Nipps, who works for Habitat for Humanity of Washington County and was recently elected a Washington County Commissioner. "You can't isolate yourself. I need honest feedback.

"Some of these things are reminders on how you should treat people. You can't be degrading other people," Nipps says.

"These are not books that I would choose to read," says library employee John Venditta.

He's glad about that, glad to be exposed to other topics and types of writing.

Vikki Nelson, who owns Jarnel Iron and Forge Inc. and Jarnel Crane Rentals in Hagerstown, says she values "the privilege to have a common ground, a common topic. We are all isolated.

"I have few employees, so that doesn't cause me to call upon that kind of book," she says. "But being a political junkie ..."

Some books on the reading list focus on concepts. Others are profiles of compelling figures. Martha Stewart was one; General Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch was another.

Suffecool says it was interesting to hear Welch's theory that 15 percent of GE's employees at any given time are dead wood and should be eliminated.

She also liked reading about Norm Miller, the chairman of the board of Interstate Batteries, and how he injected God into his business.

True to his controversial image, Donald Trump split the group in half when his autobiography was discussed.

"The women enjoyed his style," Suffecool says. "The men were put off."

"Some felt he was a very effective business leader," Baykan says. "Some thought he was a stinker."

The Management Book Club is small, which sparks in-depth debates in which everyone can participate.

"It becomes alive," Nelson says.

"You come here thinking, 'What are the points that I want to discuss?' " O'Connell says.

"It's all the best of being back in school, but not having to write the paper," Baykan says.

The readers laugh as one by one they admit they didn't finish Soder's book.

Nipps is ribbed again for picking it. Some wonder how much she'll rely on "The Language of Leadership" when she becomes a county commissioner.

"You'll be quoting Euripides during speeches," Baykan jokes.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Management Book Club will continue its monthly discussion sessions next year after taking December off.

The remaining schedule:

  • Jan. 15: "Shameless Marketing for Brazen Hussies" by Tom and Marilyn Ross.

  • Feb. 19: "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping" by Paco Underhill.

  • March 19: "Managing Your Boss, Business Success" by Sandi Mann.

  • April 16: "Fun Works: Creating Places Where People Love to Work" by Leslie Yerkes.

  • May 21: "Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts Into Sales" by Bob Burg.

  • June 18: "Changing by Design: Organizational Innovation at Hewlett-Packard" by Deone Zell.

The book club, which is in its second year, meets from 8 to 9 a.m. in the Western Maryland Room at Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown.

The discussions usually have six to eight people. New members are welcome.

To join, call Chamber President Fred Teeter at 301-739-2015, extension 102, or send an e-mail to

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