How To Invest

The top 5 must-read business biographies for investors

The world’s most successful investors are intellectually curious in many aspects of their life, continually endeavouring to find out how the world works – especially in the world of business. While not everyone is likely to become an investing legend like Warren Buffett or Peter Lynch, we can still become more like them by reading a wide variety of materials across different industries and disciplines.

These materials can include annual reports, earnings transcripts, newspapers, magazines, and books – all of which can help you gain insights that the wider market may have missed. The more you are able to piece a diverse set of information together, the better you will be at spotting opportunities – and, truly, all we need is a couple of good ideas to do well in the stock market.

In my search for the next Google or Microsoft, reading business biographies has helped me better understand the elements of a great business. Through these literary adventures, I get to live a thousand lives, walking in the shoes of larger-than-life entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and many others as they forge treacherous paths fraught with challenges — often financially devastating ones — in pursuit of their dreams.

More than the stories that keep you at the edge of your seat, business biographies give you a good sense of the ‘DNA’ of successful businesses, and the factors that allowed them to adapt in an ever-evolving competitive landscape.

However, it is important not to take everything at face value. While reading, ask yourself these four questions:

  • How did the entrepreneur spot this opportunity?
  • How did the business become a dominant force in the market?
  • How has the competitive landscape changed?
  • How likely is the business going to thrive in the current environment?

Once you do this enough, you will be able to recognize patterns and tell whether a company is on the cusp of a breakthrough. I can’t guarantee that you will score a 100-bagger, but you can quickly determine whether you have a gem in your hands.

In the meantime, I have put together five titles that have captivated me right from the start. They are:

1. Onward by Howard Schultz

You can never go wrong starting the list with a cup of joe. In the book, former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, recounted the time he came out of retirement to save Starbucks that had been growing for the sake of growing, rather than truly serving the customers that got them there in the first place.

Customers are not there just to close a transaction. Now, more than ever, customers expect a wonderful personal experience when they interact with a product or service. You’ll get to see how Schultz creates these moments to reconnect with customers and fill the air with the distinct aroma of coffee once again.

2. The Everything Store by Brad Stone

‘I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic… Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.’ – Jeff Bezos

The Everything Store shows you how Jeff Bezos built Amazon from an online book delivery service to the largest e-commerce company on the planet, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. And it doesn’t stop there. Jeff Bezos emphasizes the importance of the Day 1 philosophy — that Amazon should continue to operate with a start-up mentality, constantly pushing the boundaries of the operation, and venturing into new markets to delight their customers.

3. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

If you want to find out about the man who founded Apple and the first trillion-dollar company in the world, this is the book for you! Steve Jobs is a renaissance man, melding creativity with technology. He revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

He poured his passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism into the iconic products and services that we interact with in our daily lives. People either love him or hate him, but they can all agree that Steve Jobs left his indelible mark on the world.

4. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Just do it!

Clearly, that’s the mantra Phil Knight lives by. Having graduated from Stanford University with an MBA, Knight decided to sell shoes out of the trunk of his green Plymouth Valiant instead of working for a big corporation. He mission was to import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan, securing an exclusive distribution rights from Onitsuka Tiger for the Western United States.

But in 1970, Onitsuka pulled the rug from under him and picked a rival on the East Coast to become its new U.S. distributor after Knight had already signed a three-year contract. This betrayal planted the seed for Nike. Many crushing setbacks, ruthless competitors, and hostile bankers later, Nike has grown to become the largest sportswear company with US$37 billion in annual sales today.

5. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Want to go to the moon and beyond? Whether it’s in the stock market or Mars, you can always count on Elon Musk to get you there. From a young age, Elon Musk worried about the future of mankind, seeing it as a personal mission to save the world.

The book talks about how he went from a South African-born sci-fi fan to becoming a self-made millionaire in his late 20s after selling PayPal and reinvesting his profits to launch SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City. Today, Musk is a multibillionaire on a mission to save the Earth and colonize Mars to preserve our species in the event of a global extinction event. This is a must-read if you’re excited about the businessman behind humanity’s push to become a spacefaring civilization.

The fifth perspective

The worlds of business and investing are inextricably linked. After all, investing is about placing your money (and trust) with businesses, the most successful of which are usually helmed by visionary leaders and CEOs.

I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did. Finally, if you have any recommendations, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Kenny Quek

Kenny Quek is a research analyst at The Fifth Person. He graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA with a major in finance and previously managed a fund in the U.S. before returning to Singapore.

4 Comments

  1. That’s a great list, been searching up some good biographies. These are great finds, thanks Kenny.

    Books are paper ships, to all the worlds, to ancient Egypt, outer space, eternity, into the childhood of your favourite musician, and — the most precious stunning journey of all — into your own heart, your own family, your own history and future and body.
    – Anne Lamott

    1. You’re most welcome, Amanda!

      Thanks for the beautiful quote! Hope you enjoy these books as much as I did!

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