Steve Coll, a two time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, president of the New America Foundation, current staff writer for The New Yorker, and managing editor at The Washington Post from 1998 and 2004, has one more accolade to add to his long list of achievements. On Thursday night, after what Andrew Hill at The Financial Times described as “the closest contest in the history of the prize,” he took home the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for his excellent study of ExxonMobil, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.
The chair of the judging panel, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber, said of Mr. Coll’s book:
Private Empire is forensic, nuanced and extremely well written. It is the story of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s most powerful companies. Through a series of compelling narratives, it covers Exxon’s huge geopolitical footprint and its influence. No other book on this year’s shortlist exposes so much information that we did not know.
Andrew Hill had this summary of Coll’s Private Empire:
The winning book, published by The Penguin Press [in the US] and Allen Lane [in the UK], focuses on Exxon’s development over a 21-year period between the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It examines in detail the management style of Rex Tillerson, chief executive, and his predecessor Lee Raymond, as well as the company’s political influence around the world and its controversial contributions to the debate on climate change.
As an added twist, one of the judges on this year’s panel is also a chairman of one of ExxonMobil’s chief rivals. That judge, Jorma Ollila of Royal Dutch Shell, said the book “told the reader how, in the 21st century, you manage a truly global company and the relationship between business and society”.
Now, most of us will never manage a global company and our businesses probably don’t have nearly as big an impact on, or implication for, the larger society they exist in. But if you need a different kind of endorsement, consider this: Most of the books I put on our founder and president Jack Covert’s desk these days end up on a table in the main office that we all pick through for further review. It’s an informal but effective process we have for culling just some of the many books that arrive here everyday. You know a book is really good if Jack tells you to look for it or brings it directly back to your desk, and Jack liked this book so much that he hand-delivered it back to my desk, raving about how good it is.
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is as big a fan of biographies and business narratives, or who has read as many of them over the past thirty years, as Jack Covert. Heck, he wrote a book entitled The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. If he’s raving about Private Empire as much as he has, we’re confident that you will be when you’re through with it, as well.
If you’d like to learn more about the book, I think Mr. Coll’s conversation with Charlie Rose should do nicely.