Read like the Chief: CEO Ken Peterman’s Favorite Books on Leadership and Business

It’s that time of year! During the holidays, there’s nothing better than cozying up by the fireplace with a good book. If you’re traveling to visit friends and family or for fun, a book can help time spent traveling fly by, and once you get to your destination, reading is a great way to unwind (while working on your tan or avoiding your least favorite relative). In case you’re looking for something to read this holiday season, we asked Comtech’s CEO to share his favorite books on leadership and business. 

A well-developed business strategy has always been critical to the success of a company, regardless of its size or the markets it serves. There are many different approaches to developing a successful strategy, but there are often core elements and common themes that stand the test of time.  

For modern enterprises, there is no such thing as a “perfect” strategy. The global business environment today is far too dynamic to expect that identifying and sticking with the “perfect” strategy will work, and continue to work, over time. I believe a great business strategy is constantly evolving—informed by changes in the market, technologies, and people, among other factors.

While my professional experiences have helped inform a variety of successful business strategies over the years, I’ve found that I continue to return to a set of books for clarity and inspiration. In fact, the One Comtech strategy we developed has been deeply informed by the information and ideas I’ve absorbed from reading some of these books.

Below you will find a list of the Top Five Business Strategy Books (with a description from the publisher) I recommend every professional read at least once. These books provide valuable lessons, insights, and actionable strategies individuals can apply at any stage of their career.

Thinking Strategically: A Short List of Great Business Books

Blue Ocean Strategy, by W Chan Kim & Renee Maiborgne

“Recognized as one of the most iconic and impactful strategy books ever written, Blue Ocean Strategy presents a systemic approach to making the competition irrelevant.  

It argues that cutthroat competition results in nothing but a bloody ‘Red Ocean’ of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool by competing on price.  Based on a study of 150 strategic moves (spanning more than 100 years across 30 industries), the authors argue that lasting success comes not from battling competitors in price shoot-outs, but from creating ‘Blue Oceans’ – untapped new market spaces that are ripe for growth and profitability, because they create value for customers in new and innovative ways, essentially ‘changing the game.’” 

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The Innovator‘s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

“A classic best-seller, and one of the most influential business books of all time, the author shows how even the most outstanding companies can do everything right – yet still lose market leadership.

Christianson explains how easy it is for most incumbents to miss out on new waves of innovation.  No matter the industry, successful companies with established product positions can get pushed aside unless business leaders know how and when to evolve, transform and perhaps even abandon traditional business practices to constructively disrupt the status quo.  

Offering both successes and failures from leading companies that we all know, The Innovator’s Dilemma offers a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation, explores why market leaders are often set up to fail as technologies and industries change, and discusses what incumbents can do to secure their market leadership for the long term, and in an enduring way.”  

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The Innovator’s Manifesto, by Michael Raynor

“In this compelling work, the author shows that Disruption, (Clayton Christensen’s landmark theory that explains how fringe ideas come to redefine entire markets), not only explains why new companies emerge as traditional incumbents fail, Raynor actually shows that Disruptive Innovation, the theory posited in the Innovator’s Dilemma, helps predict the future success of new ventures more accurately in a statistical context.  

In fact, Raynor argues that Disruption theory is the only theory which has been statistically proven to be an effective predictive tool of the success rate of new business initiatives.  

Importantly, The Innovator’s Manifesto is recognized as the most significant advance in understanding the mechanisms and implications of Disruption theory since Christensen’s 1997 landmark work.”   

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Zero to One, by Peter Thiel

“This work provides completely new and refreshing ideas on how to create value in the modern world by focusing on a new way of thinking about innovation – starting by learning to ask questions that lead us to find value in new and unexpected places.      

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we are too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice.  Information technology has improved rapidly, but doing something that somebody else already knows how to do simply takes the world from ‘1 to n’, adding more of something already familiar.  But when you do something totally new, you take the world from ‘0 to 1’, which entirely changes the game!  

Tomorrow’s champions will not win simply by competing ruthlessly in today’s existing marketplace.  They will find ways to escape competition altogether, by bringing forward differentiated capabilities that offer unique customer value, and enable unprecedented customer outcomes in totally new and innovative ways.”

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Good Strategy Bad Strategy, by Richard Rumelt

“Good Strategy / Bad Strategy clarifies the muddled thinking that underlies too many business strategies and, instead offers a clear way to create a powerfully differentiated way to create and implement an action-oriented strategy for the real world.    

Developing and implementing a strategy is the central task of a good leader.   A good strategy is a specific and coherent response to overcoming the obstacles of progress.   Further, a good strategy works by harnessing and applying power where it will have the greatest effect. 

Bad strategy fails to identify the true nature of the challenge (ie. the root ‘problem to be solved’).  Critically, if you don’t know what the root problem is, you can’t evaluate alternative approaches, creative solutions or innovative actions to take, and you also can’t adjust or evolve your strategy over time as you gain new insights.

In this work, the author debunks the common elements of a bad strategy, and awakens an understanding of the enormous power inherent in a good strategy – introducing nine core elements that are eye-opening, yet also characterizing a variety of pragmatic tools that can readily be put to work.”   

Applied Reading: How These Books Impact Our Strategy as One Comtech

There’s no clearer application of the idea of “strategy as a continuum” than Comtech, which has been in a state of transformation since the beginning of my tenure (you can read more about the ongoing work we’re doing in Signals posts from our “Meet the Chief” series, authored by Anirban Chakraborty, Maria Hedden, and Jennie Reilly). Central to our progress in becoming “One Comtech” is establishing and following a clearly defined strategy. 

While clearly defined is one thing, what actually makes for a good strategy? 

According to Richard Rumelt in ‘‘Good Strategy Bad Strategy,’ a good strategy is “a specific and coherent response to, and a thoughtful approach for, overcoming the obstacles to progress.” 

Rumelt argues that insight is at the heart into three key strategic components: 

  1. the true nature of the situation, 
  2. the hidden power in the situation, and 
  3. an appropriate response that accomplishes progress toward the ultimate objective. 

When I took the reins at Comtech, myself and fellow senior leaders embarked on a roadshow to connect with employees across all our offices at all levels to gain insight into these three core strategic components. A big part of leadership is learning and listening, and the results of taking the time to connect with folks from every aspect of our business continue to bear fruit for Comtech today. 

It’s encouraging to see how much interest our employees have expressed in our larger business strategy. As we move forward together, we’re working on articulating the various ways that we are leveraging our individual and team spheres of influence and exploiting – as Rummelt would say – our unique ‘customer relational capacities’ to address customer ‘problems to be solved’ in ways that create ‘enduring opportunities’ that align with our high-level enterprise strategy, our financial objectives and our growth trajectory.

Looking Ahead

As we approach 2023, key strategic insights from these books, and many others, will influence our path forward as One Comtech. We’ll continue focusing on being “masters of our domain,” referring to our core technology sectors of satellite & space, and terrestrial & wireless network infrastructures

Specifically, Comtech is committed to demonstrating the ways we deeply understand the customer environment better than anyone, better than our competitors, and in some instances, even better than our customers. Mastering our domain empowers us with the opportunity to serve our customers like never before, creating new technology-enabled solutions, capabilities, and services that are designed specifically to address their needs, and solve some of their most challenging problems—some of which they didn’t fully understand themselves, or even know they had. 

In 2023, we will also think more precisely about how we segment the markets we serve at Comtech. In my experience, market segmentation is often a lens through which opportunities for competitive differentiation are revealed. Through this understanding, we will develop tailored strategies that exploit these opportunities more rapidly, and effectively than ever before.

As a company, I look forward to thoughtful discussions on how we might segment markets in ways that identify where our capabilities are (or can be) differentiated from all other customer alternatives—creating customer value in ways that are totally independent of price. This enables us to identify where we are, or where we can be most profitable. Once we have differentiated our value proposition, we can deliver incredible value to customers in innovative ways—changing the game not only for our customers, but also the technology landscapes of the markets we serve. 

Finally, I am always mindful of the enduring lessons in The Innovator’s Dilemma. It is always amazing to read about so many successful, even dominant incumbent companies, across so many different industries, being utterly and unexpectedly disrupted by agile new businesses. The disruptive businesses that succeed most often, don’t focus on offering incremental improvements to the status quo (doing the same thing a little bit better). Instead, these new businesses bring forward innovative capabilities that completely change the game by solving the problem a totally new way.

There are many examples of new businesses successfully disrupting industries by solving new problems. Take the way the digital camera disrupted traditional film photography, or the introduction of the smartphone disrupting flip phones as two examples.

This new business disruption is why one of my first initiatives at Comtech was establishing EVOKE, our Innovation Foundry. We must never be afraid, as an enterprise, to constantly challenge the status quo by creating innovative solutions and pursuing new technology-enabled capabilities. It is these bold actions and ideas at Comtech that will set ideas free for our customers, and fundamentally change the landscapes of the markets we serve around the world.

Thanks, Happy Holidays, and Good Reading!

I always enjoy thinking and talking about business strategy. For those with a little extra time during this holiday season, I strongly recommend any of the books above, as I expect they will contribute, in an important way, to your own strategic thinking. Wishing everyone a safe and healthy holiday season, and I am looking forward to engaging with you as we forge ahead as One Comtech in 2023 and beyond.  

Ken

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