Theory vs practice, Colin Knox

The Intangibles of Managing
A J (Tone) Borren
Dunmore Press, $29.95
ISBN 0864692390

The New Zealand Small Business Guide
Richard Higham and Sara Williams
Penguin, $29.95 (revised edition)
ISBN 0140132201

Marketing In New Zealand
Alyse Boaz
Longman Paul, $29.95
ISBN 058287808X

Tone Borren is lucky enough to be the New Zealand manager of a very large international company which allowed him the luxury of sabbatical leave. Mr Borren took his sabbatical in France, during which time he contemplated life and politics and work in New Zealand during the previous 10 years. Included in his holiday reading was some management literature and Mr Borren started to write down what he thought were the important differences between the way he managed an organisation and the way the books he was reading thought it should be done.

Mr Borren starts from the point of view that it is impossible for one manager to tell another what definitively should be done in any situation. As he says: “This becomes apparent when one considers the different points of view of the different people associated in different ways with each different manager’s success or failure.”

As an experienced change manager Mr Borren has a lot to offer in explaining the different expectations there are of a manager and the need for judgment and insight in developing successful relationships. His book covers the sometimes conflicting interests of management and staff, the application of available resources to the production of outputs for the stakeholders, structure, style, problem solving, information and communication, measurement, and learning.

The book is concerned to probe beneath what Mr Borren regards as the rather arid and mechanistic discourse on planning, organising, coordinating, motivating and so on which is the meat of most texts on management. It admits the complexity and (sometimes) confusion created by different personalities and expectations, and seeks to provide useful insight to our understanding of how organisations should run and how they should evolve.

The New Zealand Small Business Guide was first written by Sara Williams for the British market in 1987 and was first revised for New Zealand readers by Richard Higham in 1990. The 1994 edition takes into account areas of rapidly changing law. The foreword by Sir Michael Fay pays handsome tribute to this “how to” book for small businesses, saying: “The value of this book is that it gathers so much information into one neat locker of knowledge.” Praise indeed.

The writers are determined to convince the would-be entrepreneur that it is “hard slog” followed by more hard slog. Not that the advice is heeded, because we are informed that over 10,000 businesses are formed in New Zealand every year. The usual source of catastrophe is overtrading, undertaking too much business for the cash available. Not surprisingly, the first chapter puts the reader through a catechism of analysis and planning before taking the plunge.

Excellent examples of what various elements of business documentation should look like abound. Business plans, forecasts and book keeping are illustrated, but the real value of the book lies in its ability to lead the reader by the hand through the various aspects of running a business. The instructions are simple and the summaries helpful. The authors don’t hesitate to give blunt advice, which makes the book a useful guide for experienced business folk as well as beginners. I turned immediately to the chapter headed “How To Increase Profits” and found the glaringly obvious answers: “Cut costs, increase prices, sell more”. What could be simpler?

Choosing a name, finding the right premises, getting the right equipment are all covered in this guide. Getting the right staff and the right professional advice has the mystery taken out of it as well. The section on raising money should be well thumbed by the serious reader. The book is full of excellent advice, plainly presented.

There are no cartoons, few illustrations, and hardly any jokes. This is no frivolous work. We’re not here to have fun. But if you want to find out how to improve the way you do things in your small business, if you want to be taken through all the essential steps before making an important business decision, this is the book.

Marketing in New Zealand comes recommended by the New Zealand Institute of Management and is a training resource with revision questions at the end of each chapter. The author is a tutor in marketing in the department of applied business management at Christchurch Polytechnic. It draws on New Zealand business experiences to illustrate the material, and makes excellent use of layout and artwork to make it more accessible.

The book begins with straightforward explanations of various concepts and terms used in marketing. It goes on to explain the various factors in the business environment which marketing seeks to bring under greater control. Big markets are made up of lots of little markets and information can be gathered about these market segments from a variety of sources. Research techniques are explained in considerable detail.

Understanding consumer behaviour from the point of view of people’s reactions to different approaches is obviously important. Spending patterns have a big influence on what a business offers to attract customers and the explanations of social positions, family and group influences are explained very simply and economically. The book has plenty of examples which are immediately relevant, even to the hitherto uninformed reader.

Important information on pricing goods and services, with sections on “skimming”, “psychological pricing” and other means of setting prices with particular marketing objectives is a little disquieting to the reader who thought that price reflects costs and a bit more for profit. Marketing internationally as well as in New Zealand is also covered in this comprehensive work.

From product life cycles to distribution channels, all the bases are covered comprehensively and in a style which presents the information in a welcoming rather than a daunting, textbook style. The summaries and review will allow the reader to contemplate the ideas and explanations and check understanding along the way. While expressly intended as a book to accompany a training programme, as guide to an essential business subject it deserves a place on the reading list for anyone wanting to understand marketing in any depth.

Colin Knox has held several high management positions and is a management consultant.

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