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Since 1st March, 1999
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Alexander The Great’s Art Of Strategy By Partha Bose, Penguin, Rs 395

Timeo Danaos et Ferentes, roughly translated, means “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. The context of this Homeric phrase is the subterfuge used by the Greeks in the siege of Troy. Over the last two decades, there have been a plethora of books on business management and administration using anecdotes or examples from history. The reason for this is not hard to decipher as the world of business has taken war-like proportions. Rarely has business seen as much uncertainty and opportunity simultaneously. Mergers, acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, bankruptcy and start-ups are the order of the day. Established business adversaries are coming together in improbable alliances. Companies without a tradition of downsizing are laying off people. There is no job security anywhere. Hence there is a definite need for each executive to acquire new skills in management just in order to survive in this cutthroat world.

Many business leaders have completed their career with a book to uncover the mystery of success. It is like giving back to world what they have derived from it. Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy attempts to provide a book on organizational and business strategy.

The author’s admiration for the great warrior king dominates the pages. Alexander’s saga has been used to create a manual for managers. The reader is taken through Alexander’s indoctrination into an Aristotelian value system which is then condensed to management precepts such as “How to think”, “The culture of risk taking”, and so on.

The campaigns of Alexander are covered, beginning with his hegemony over the Grecian states. There are details of his conquest of Persia and his march to India. There is an excellent insight into his persona as well as his interaction with his friends and foes. There is also a fine description of the innovation in tactics and strategy that Alexander ushered into the art of war which powered so many of his conquests in so short a reign.

Various legends regarding Alexander’s life are narrated and make interesting reading, such as the decisive untying of the Gordian knot. There is also an account of his clarion call to his troops prior to the overthrow of the Persian empire. The objective is to contrast the events with current organizational tales and to cover diverse environments and situations such as the Gulf war or the turnaround of IBM.

The book takes the reader through various facets of business and organizational strategy such as globalization, logistics-planning and corporate stewardship. Alexander’s rapid expansion throughout the world and his method of mobilization of resources — men and machines — are used as a road map for the modern day manager. Other leaders from various walks of life are also used for the same purpose — from Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign for independence to Don Bradman’s hunger for making runs.

Like all popular books on management, each chapter has a summary of key themes to reinforce the precepts covered. However, there is really nothing new in this tome. The takeaways are the usual and often clichéd. There is an over-arching interest in cobbling together modern management buzzwords and practices, and finding parallels from Alexander’s legacy. This makes the book appear a bit self-indulgent. The current business world does not carry its heroes for too long. Hence yesterday’s angels invariably turn today’s devils. Quite naturally, the relevance of these how-to-be-successful books written by successful leaders are often lost.

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