3 Must-Read Books on Corporate Turnarounds

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Having been involved with turnarounds at larger companies as well as startups needing to refocus before running out of money, these are the three books that have proven to be most helpful.

  1. Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Satya Nadella

This book is unique in how much it stresses leading with empathy and, not surprisingly, how real change starts with cultural change. Nadella also introduces the concept of a “refounder,” which almost all companies inevitably need at some point.

“So when I was named Microsoft’s third CEO in February 2014, I told employees that renewing our company’s culture would be my highest priority. I told them I was committed to ruthlessly removing barriers to innovation so we could get back to what we all joined the company to do — to make a difference in the world. Microsoft has always been at its best when it connects personal passion to a broader purpose: Windows, Office, Xbox, Surface, our servers, and the Microsoft Cloud — all of these products have become digital platforms upon which individuals and organizations can build their own dreams. These were lofty achievements, and I knew that we were capable of still more, and that employees were hungry to do more.”

*Nadella’s podcast with Reid Hoffman for Masters of Scale is also fantastic.

2. Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Leading a Great Enterprise Through Dramatic Change by Lou Gerstner Jr.

This book is a bit older but timeless. It’s filled with sage advice but probably none more than how culture trumps all else, always did and always will.

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like… I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

3. Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz

This book differs from the other two in that it’s told from the perspective of an iconic founder who reassumed leadership of the business. This also happened with the likes of Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, but a major takeaway is how the company must not only refocus the team but also rededicate itself to its core customers.

“Protect and preserve your core customers,” he [Jim Sinegal, cofounder and CEO of Costco] told our marketing team when I invited him to speak to us. “The cost of losing your core customers and trying to get them back during a down economy will be much greater than the cost of investing in them and trying to keep them.”

Kai Sato is the founder of Kaizen Reserve, Inc., a venture capital advisory firm for corporations and family offices, helping align their existing assets with synergistic startups. He is currently the co-president & chief marketing officer of Crown Electrokinetics, a smart glass technology that combats climate change and is publicly-traded on Nasdaq. He is the author of “Marketing Architecture: How to Attract Customers, Hires, and Investors for Any Company Under 50 Employees.” He is also a fund advisor and the former entrepreneur-in-residence of Hatch, a global startup accelerator focused on helping feed the world through sustainable aquaculture technologies. He is the creator of Caddyshack to Corner Office, a media platform that profiles successful people whose lives were transformed by caddying. Previously, he was the chief innovation officer of Rubicon Resources, which was acquired by High Liner Foods. Prior to that, he spent several years as a co-founder and board member of FieldLevel, where he was recognized in the Los Angeles Business Journal’s “Twenty in their 20s.” He has been a contributor to publications like Inc., Entrepreneur, and HuffPost; he has also spoken at an array of industry conferences, including SXSW. Kai was an independent board member of SportTechie, advises a range of startups, and serves as a mentor to various accelerators, including Techstars. He is also the board chairman of the University of Southern California’s John H. Mitchell Business of Cinematic Arts Program.

For more diatribes and propaganda, follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter, where he’s reluctantly tweeting more because he lost a bet to his wife…




Off for summer. Helped grow companies in #sportstech #foodtech #climatetech. Wrote for Inc., Entrepreneur, Huffpo but got sick of the link bait nonsense.

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Kai Sato

Kai Sato

Off for summer. Helped grow companies in #sportstech #foodtech #climatetech. Wrote for Inc., Entrepreneur, Huffpo but got sick of the link bait nonsense.

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