Relax and recharge with our 2022 summer reading list
Summer arrives not a moment too soon this year, fresh off the heels of an unusually rocky first half of the year in global markets and economies.
What better way to take a breather from everyday life then by immersing yourself in a good book or two? With that in mind, listed below are this year’s summer reading recommendations from our associate base. Each of these books offers a steady dose of fresh insights and new approaches to some of today’s most pressing issues, including stamping out systemic racism, emboldening our leaders with courage and empathy, democratising financial security and adapting to the tidal wave of changes occurring in society. So curl up in your favourite spot on the couch, deck or beach, pick a book - and start reading. The season for relaxing and recharging is here.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
This is not your parents’ time management book. The author, Oliver Burkeman, a British journalist described by The Guardian as their “resident pursuit of happiness correspondent,” is a kind of beautiful realist about calendars, prioritisation and goal setting. Burkeman admits upfront that procrastination is simply part of being human. He notes that FOMO - fear of missing out - is unavoidable, so we should all just get over it. Your inbox, he admits, will never be empty, no matter whose advice you follow. Burkeman goes so far as to say, “Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster.” On the goal of achieving total time management, he states, “Let’s start by admitting defeat: none of this is ever going to happen. But you know what? That’s excellent news.”
The book does include 10 how-to tips on focusing and such, but the excellent news Burkeman speaks of is the freedom that comes from understanding our limitations and on being willing to ignore how-tos, including his own. That freedom can yield big results. He writes: “If the feeling of total authority is never going to arrive, you might as well not wait any longer to give such activities your all - to put bold plans into practice, to stop erring on the side of caution. It is even more liberating to reflect that everyone else is in the same boat, whether they’re aware of it or not.” Too much planning and organisation can actually inhibit you from reaching for the stars. Sometimes, says Burkeman, you just have to throw your calendar away and reach.
Pioneering Portfolio Management: An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investment
David F. Swensen
Sometimes, we have to celebrate the classics. With the untimely passing of David Swensen last year, we wanted to highlight his seminal work, Pioneering Portfolio Management: An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investment.
An alumnus of Yale University, where he received his Ph.D. in economics, Swensen served as Yale’s chief investment officer for 36 years. Under his leadership, Yale’s endowment grew from approximately $1.3 billion to $42.3 billion (as of June 2021) and produced a staggering return of 13.7% annualised.1 In Pioneering Portfolio Management, Swensen described what is now known as the Yale model, or endowment model - a novel portfolio management approach that altered the global institutional investing landscape, reshaping the investment programmes of endowments and foundations the world over. The model stipulates greater exposure to more volatile and less liquid, but ultimately higher-return, strategies, spread across both public and private markets to minimise risk. For Swensen and Yale, that meant putting money into non-traditional alternative asset classes such as hedge funds, leveraged buyouts and venture capital, as well as real estate and even niche areas such as timber, litigation finance and royalty investing.
The book lays out university endowments’ unique advantages (such as a long investment time horizon and the exemption from certain taxes), needs and missions before establishing a rigorous framework for portfolio construction and manager selection. In the book, Swensen covers asset allocation, takes a deep dive into traditional and alternative asset classes and shares strategies for effective active fund management and manager selection. Employing real-world examples, many from his own experience, Swensen provides practical advice on structuring effective investment committee meetings and building robust relationships with external investment managers - often attributed as cornerstones of Yale’s investment success. The book also emphasises the importance of risk management and risk control at every level of the portfolio.
While the book focuses on educational institutions, we think that Swensen has penned useful lessons for all institutional investors to take home - whether an organisation seeks to support charitable endeavors, pay for capital expenditures, or fund a pension plan. While the broad investment principles remain applicable to all, ultimately, we believe that every solution should be custom-tailored to meet an organisation’s unique objectives and desired outcomes.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
Random House Books
In Dare to Lead, acclaimed professor and author Dr. Brené Brown draws from extensive research and her own life experiences to share the qualities she believes are necessary to build courageous leaders in today’s corporate environment - at a time when many are fearful to step up to the plate. Being a leader, Brown opines in the beginning, isn’t about holding a title of authority. Rather, she contends, it’s about assuming the responsibility of “finding the potential in people and processes, and having the courage to develop that potential.” Armed with this definition, Brown dives into the four skill sets she sees as instrumental in cultivating daring leaders in the workforce: vulnerability, clarity of values, trust and resilience.
Brown places a particular focus on leading with vulnerability, which she says can be done by having the hard conversations with employees, asking the unpleasant questions and providing honest feedback. Vulnerability also means listening, showing empathy and exercising self-awareness around others, she says. At the end of the day, “the courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome,” Brown declares.
Beyond vulnerability, daring leaders also live their values, she writes, by practicing what they preach day in and day out. In addition, Brown points to the importance of establishing trust among colleagues, as well as the ability to rise after getting knocked down. “When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. And, when we don’t own our stories of failure, setbacks and hurt - they own us,” she says. Ultimately, Brown’s key takeaway for aspiring leaders - to choose courage over comfort—provides a practical blueprint on how to rise to the occasion and lead effectively.
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together
I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading this review simply from overexposure to crisis coverage. But The Sum of Us is not about pointing fingers or wallowing in the problems. It’s a volume of astonishing hope.
“This is the book I’ve been waiting for.” So says Ibram X. Kendi, the bestselling author of How To Be An Antiracist, about this book. The author, Heather McGhee, is a Yale graduate and chair of the board of Color of Change, the country’s largest online racial justice organisation. McGhee doesn’t shy away from the reality of racism, but she does so with an optimistic lens. She says, “I’m fundamentally a hopeful person, because I know that decisions made the world as it is and that better decisions can change it. Nothing about our situation is inevitable or immutable, but you can’t solve a problem with the consciousness that created it.” A large part of McGhee’s message is how racist policies impact all of us. On the topic of segregation, she writes, “I learned that although we knew about white people even if we didn’t live with them - they were co-workers, school administrators, and of course, every image onscreen - segregation meant that white people didn’t know much about us at all. For all the ways that segregation is aimed at limiting the choices of people of color, it’s white people who are ultimately isolated.”
McGhee’s notion that, for the U.S., diversity is our superpower, feels like the ultimate opportunity we must not miss. She describes it in the following section, which is too beautiful and too powerful not to share. “For when a nation founded on the belief in racial hierarchy truly rejects that belief then and only then will we have discovered a new world. That is our destiny. To make it manifest, we must challenge ourselves to live our lives in solidarity across color, origin, and class. We must demand changes to the rules in order to disrupt the very notion that those who have more money are worth more in our democracy and our economy. Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper. In short, we must emerge from this crisis in our republic with a new birth of freedom. Rooted in the knowledge that we are so much more, when the we in we the people is not some of us, but all of us. We are greater than and greater for the sum of us.”
The Imagination Machine: How to Spark New Ideas and Create Your Company’s Future
Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller
Harvard Business Review Press
The business world has been flipped on it's side since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Forced to rethink decades-old business models and the overall workplace experience, some companies have thrived while others have struggled to survive. So, what can businesses do in order to gain a competitive advantage in today’s uncertain times?
The answer, according to authors Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, lies in harnessing the power of the human imagination by thinking of it as a tool, or machine. “Though imagination is somewhat unruly, there is no reason we cannot develop a more systemic approach to cultivating and using it, just as business has done in other domains that depend on quirky characteristics of the mind, like advertising or human resources,” they explain at the onset. The authors then go on to share several examples of companies that meet their definition of imagination machines, such as Apple, Google, Pixar and Lego - and how each was able to take a new, inspiring idea from conception to reality.
Written in a light, easy-to-read style, this book is packed with both actionable insights - based on extensive research on companies throughout the globe - and numerous supporting illustrations on how corporate leaders can best tap into their organisation’s creative juices. The authors’ advice comes across as both practical and inspiring - and will likely go a long way in helping companies that have struggled in the era of COVID-19 to reimagine themselves. With more storm clouds gathering on the horizon as recession risks for 2023 increase, the book also serves as a valuable reminder to businesses to not rest on their laurels. After all, as Reeves and Fuller conclude, “even high-performing enterprises need to be reimagined to retain vitality in the face of complex and unpredictable challenges.”
Any opinion expressed is that of Russell Investments, is not a statement of fact, is subject to change and does not constitute investment advice.
1 Source: Yale Investments Office