From time to time, we at More Hardball like to offer our readers suggestions on baseball related books to read. Today, I have the privilege of reviewing ESPN: The Company by Dr. Anthony F. Smith with Keith Hollihan. I must admit, I personally do not watch a lot of ESPN, and therefore knew very little about the product or the company, but this book provided great insight into this surprisingly fascinating organization. Anthony Smith has over 20 years of insider knowledge while working as a consultant with the company's leaders as they developed the brand. He describes in appropriate and exciting detail the people and strategies behind ESPN.
Smith and Hollihan chronicle the development of the ESPN franchise from its humble Connecticuit origins to the world-wide brand it is today. The book itself is divided into eight chapters, each one a guiding principle of ESPN's business philosophy. In doing so, it provides the reader with practical advice on how to run a successful business, or, by extension and perhaps the most applicable, being an effective leader. According to Smith, "It is easy to get mystical about leadership. To generate alchemical formulas to explain its wondrous power. The reason is simple. Leadership is confusing and messy as hell. It comes in many difference circumstances and personalities. So we want to distill it." In describing the story of ESPN, the reader can easily glean important qualities, habits, and knowledge a leader must possess. Also included is a "Key Points" section at the conclusion of each chapter which highlights and summarizes the
Smith also provides a candid look at the personalities of the many people involved in such detail, it is almost as if the reader is in the meetings with them. The people behind ESPN are essentially a family, and despite the company's expansion, they have been able to remain very close, and dedicated to the rigorous work ethic that made the company successful. The chapter entitled "Right Leader at the Right Time" provides and intimate look at some of ESPN's key personalities. Smith takes care to highlight what makes them both effective leaders, and human beings. For example, throughout the book, Smith provides evidence of current ESPN CEO George Bodenheimer's "humble and self-effacing" leadership style, but he also illustrates his often adversarial nature.
I highly reccommend this book. It has so much information in 218 well-written pages. The reader will learn a lot not only about ESPN, but the history of cable television, business psychology, and effective leadership development. It is an entertaining case study of a very efficient and successful company. The lessons taught throughout the book can also be applied to anyone, regardless of profession. While you are waiting for the baseball season to begin, go to the nearest bookstore or library and pick up a copy of ESPN: The Company.