How to Proceed in Business

A new program brings humanists together to bridge disciplinary gaps and spark a liberal exchange of ideas.

The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle
by Kathleen Kelley Reardon
Currency Doubleday, $24.95

This may be the book your boss doesn’t want you to read. The Secret Handshake explores what it takes to scale the corporate ladder and break into the inner circle of business.
USC management professor Kathleen Reardon doesn’t look at the technical skills needed to succeed in business but at mastering company politics. Beyond technical competence, she says, that is the key to breaking into top management.
“Many hidden rules in business aren’t spelled out in employee handbooks and aren’t publicly stated,” says Reardon. “The path to the inner circle is purposely left ambiguous because, in some cases, those in power don’t want you to take their jobs. In other cases, they simply don’t take the time to mentor.”
Reardon’s book is based on interviews with more than 100 executives on how they successfully learned the art of organizational politics.
Jack Welsh, CEO of General Electric, and Laura Tyson, former economic adviser to President Clinton, are both featured. Also interviewed are USC President Steven B. Sample and Barry Munitz, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Woven between the interviews with executives are tips from Reardon, a longtime corporate consultant, including how to become more visible to the central players and how to head off such hardball tactics as public put-downs. Reardon and many of the executives agree on a key point: Climbing to the top requires political savvy.
“No matter how high up you go, no matter how much pressure to achieve you’ve put behind you, if you want the brass ring, you need to handle people astutely,” she says.
Navigating the often-tricky road to business success sometimes requires help. Finding a mentor and “seeing entryways invisible to others” is the skill to which Munitz credits his success. Taking chances, however scary, is also key – especially at what Reardon calls “political pivotal moments,” when one’s reputation is on the line or a chance for visibility is at hand.
“You can’t sit around and wait for people to discover you,” she says. “The important thing is to make things happen and shake things up. If you can’t move your office, you can get out of your office and mingle with key players.”
Interestingly, a quarter of the corporate executives Reardon interviewed for Secret Handshake asked her to disguise their identities, proving that “even those at the top worry about their positions and stability,” she says. “Inner circles are constantly shifting. That is why no matter how high you go in business, politics is never-ending.”

– Gilien Silsby


Tierney Sutton: Unsung Heroes
a CD by Tierney Sutton
Telarc, $16.97

In this release, USC jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton invokes the great instrumentalists whose compositions are seldom sung. Using trumpet-like phrasing, the clear-voiced soprano renders Joe Henderson’s “Remember Me,” Wayne Shorter’s “All for One,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” and a half-dozen other jazz standards with “an almost unearthly clarity,” in the words of one reviewer.

Managing the Dream: Reflections on Leadership and Change
by Warren Bennis
Perseus Publishing, $16

In this volume of personal reflections, USC futurist Warren Bennis turns away from making predictions and dwells on such present-day themes as the problem of ageism, the implicit social contract between employers and employees, how to get a balance between work and home life and the “churning out of CEOs.”

A Friend of the Earth
by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Viking, $24.95

The year is 2025, global warming is a reality, the biosphere has collapsed and most major mammalian species are extinct. From this premise, novelist and USC English professor T.C. Boyle weaves a darkly funny novel about love, activism and the future of the planet. Ty Tierwater is a 75-year-old ex-environmentalist and ecoterrorist who now manages a rock star’s mini-zoo. “To be a friend of the earth,” the protagonist quips, “you have to be an enemy of the people.” In what one critic calls “an extended homage to early Vonnegut,” Boyle satirically renders a Sierra Club nightmare that’s “gritty and surreal, frightening yet touching.”

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How to Proceed in Business

Photograph of book by Rick Szsechowski

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