Truth Is Just Perception

Book Review: “Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down” By Vineet Nayar (2010, 208 Pages)

Employees first, customers second, readers last.

Vineet Nayar is the former CEO of HCL Technologies, a $5 billion IT services company headquartered in India.

In this book, he recounts the development and implementation of the “Employees First, Customers Second” management philosophy within HCL Technologies and the very deep transformation of the company along the way.

As he explains in the introduction of the book, “in any services business, the true value is created in the interface between the customer and the employee. So, by putting employees first, you can bring about fundamental change in the way a company creates and delivers unique value for its customers and differentiates itself from its competitors.

Employees First, Customers Second

I was very excited to read this book about a management philosophy that had interested me for years.

Unfortunately, compared with other CEO books that I have recently read (Pixar’s Ed Catmull, Intel’s Andy Grove, Opsware’s Ben Horowitz, Whole Foods Market’s John Mackey, Kaufman & Broad’s Eli Broad, Continental’s Gordon Bethune, Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard), “Employees First, Customers Second” has two major weaknesses:

  • It is the least inspiring book on the most inspiriting management philosophy. It lacks passion, introspection, humor, and any spark or edge.
  • Nayar never questions himself. The story always goes the same way: “I had an idea, my management team argued against it, I implemented it throughout the company, and it was a huge success” (repeat). That makes it difficult for the reader to learn much from the book. When other CEOs teach us in part by identifying and analyzing their mistakes, Nayar recounts success after success. It soon becomes predictable and unexciting.

The Employees First, Customers Second management philosophy is brilliant. The eponymous book is not.


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