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"The Book on Business"
June 2003
by the Business Librarians at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Previous Issues


The Accidental Zillionaire: Demystifying Paul Allen
by Laura Rich. John Wiley and Sons, 2003.

Dorothy Parker once said "If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to." And we do look at them with a guilty fascination, wondering how they became so fortunate and what they do with their fortunes. We want to find out what makes them tick.

Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft with his high school friend Bill Gates when he was 22. He left the company in 1983, but retained his Microsoft stock. Today, he is number 3 on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people in America, worth over $20 billion.

Author Laura Rich attempts to shed some light on the life of this enigmatic billionaire. This is always problematic in an unauthorized biography, but particularly so with Paul Allen, who is an obsessively private person. So fanatical is he about his privacy that he requires all employees, as well as all guests at his sumptuous parties and on his yacht, to sign legal documents stating that they will not discuss him with anyone.

However, Rich pulls together a lot of information from various sources and presents it cogently. Allen's working-class childhood in Seattle, his ambitious parents' scraping up the money to pay for a fancy private high school education; his friendship with the nerdy crowd there, and budding interest in early computers. Later biographical information is sketchy but suggestive: his successful battle with Hodgkin's disease and subsequent departure from Microsoft; his close relationship with his mother and sister, both of whom have their own mansions in his Seattle compound; his long string of failed romances; his "friendships" with sports celebrities and Hollywood bigwigs.

Also interesting is the chronicling of Allen's investments. Once he left Microsoft, he began casting about for some other businesses to get involved in. He saw himself as a leader and innovator in the high tech industry, with his vision of the "wired world." Unfortunately, none of the products he dreamed up, or the companies he founded or invested in, hit the bull's-eye the way Microsoft did. Some of them were complete flops; others were good products that were soon beaten by copycat Microsoft products (an example is the slideshow presentation software Compel, which was quickly beaten by Powerpoint.)

Not all of his investments turn out poorly: his investment in the fledgling AOL boosted it into being a major player, and when he sold out, he netted a hundred million dollars. His investment in Dreamworks, with David Geffin, Steven Spielberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, eventually proved to be a hit. But Paul Allen comes across as a man with an awful lot of money burning a hole in his pocket. He's an impulse buyer of Brobdingnagian proportions. Yachts, sports teams, jets, islands… he's got it all. The general impression one is left with at the end of the book, though, is that none of it has done him much good.

In the end, Allen's intense privacy defeats Rich. He would not speak with her, and he was proactive in stymieing her attempts to get personal information about him. We finish the book feeling that we haven't gained many insights into Paul Allen as a human being - what he thinks and feels. But it's the most we probably will ever know about a secretive man whose very life symbolizes the excesses, eccentricities, and sheer dumb luck of the high tech boom.

Flex Time: A Working Mother's Guide To Balancing Career And Family
by Jacqueline Foley. Marlowe & Company, 2003.

Your baby was born several months ago. You love being with him and take joy in every new step in his development. But now you're finding that you often miss the stimulation of the workplace, the companionship of other adults, and the extra income. You are thinking about making a transition from full-time mom to dividing your time between home and the workplace. Where can you turn for guidance?

When Jacqueline Foley found herself in this situation, she was unable to find advice for women in this dilemma, so she decided to do something about it. She interviewed over 100 women who created flexible work arrangements in order to have more time with their children and found that it is often possible to achieve "best of both worlds" solutions.

There are several difficult questions that you must be able to answer before you pursue a flexible work arrangement. What kind of childcare arrangements will you have in place? Can you count on your partner to help out when needed? How many days per week do you want to work? Do you want to go to the office or work out of your home? Are you willing to put aside your fast track ambitions for the time being?

If flex time has never been tried in your workplace, a carefully thought-out proposal is essential to get your employer to consider this, even if it is on a trial basis. You'll need to present a clear picture of what you're trying to accomplish, how your present responsibilities can be rearranged, cost savings to the company, and how you can make it work. You'll find out how to overcome objections such as "we've never done this before"; and "if we let you do this, other employees will want to do it too." In addition, it's very important to have the support and understanding of your co-workers; otherwise, they can be resentful of your perceived "special treatment" and assuming part of your workload.

The author incorporates many of her own learning experiences in her book. She found that it is essential to set boundaries that will be respected by your company, your clients, and your family so they'll know beforehand what they can expect from you in this new role.

Setting up a flexible work situation is not simple, but those who read "Flex Time: a Working Mother's Guide to Balancing Career and Family" will have an excellent blueprint to follow. In addition to offering dozens of practical tips, Ms. Foley recommends using a proposal template that can be found at www.workoptions.com to organize your thoughts. She also encourages women to share their stories or work through their own work/family dilemmas with other women at www.getflexappeal.com. Just click on "links" to find many websites of interest to working mothers.

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Also recommended are:

The Maverick and His Machine : Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM
by Kevin Maney. John Wiley & Sons, c2003.

The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples & Cash : How to Handle Money with Your Honey
by Dayana Yochim. Motley Fool, 2003.

Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money, and work, at (412) 281-7141 or at www.carnegielibrary.org/locations/downtown/contact.cfm.


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