Volume IX - Issue VII - July 2007

PM Book Reviews





The Modern Firm: Design for Performance and Growth
Reviewed by: Robert Youker, World Bank (Retired)
John D. Roberts
Published by: Oxford University Press, USA
List Price: US$ 45.00 (Hardcover) US$29.95 (Paper)
Date of Review: February 2007
Publication Date: 2004, 2007 (paper)
ISBN:     ISBN:  


Editor’s note:  John D. Roberts is a Professor of Economics, Strategy Management and International Business in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University in the United States.  Published in 2004, his book The Modern Firm was declared the best business book of the year by The Economist.  This review provided by Robert Youker, World Bank (Retired).

One of the key problems in writing a business book with case examples is that after publication the “good” business example may have gone downhill.  This happened with the famous book, “In Search of Excellence” and also happened with the case of BP (British Petroleum) in this excellent book whose sub-title is “organizational design for performance and growth”. Never the less there are many other examples and case studies. This slim volume published by Oxford University Press was selected as business book of the year 2004 by the Economist magazine. “The Modern Firm” written by John Roberts, an economics professor at Stanford Business School, lays out in wonderfully lucid and jargon-free language a framework for thinking about corporate structure, given that any organization is multifaceted, and the range of organizational variables is mind-boggling.

With an economist’s discipline, the author introduces the reader as gently as possible to some demanding and stimulating ideas, ones that have already been tested by the likes of BP.

Nobody, it can now be said, is fully fit to run a modern firm until they have read “The Modern Firm.””    (The Economist December 18, 2004)

When I read this book I came to agree with the Economist that it would become a classic. Roberts has provided the basic economic theories that tie together organizational design, competitive strategy and the business environment. He has presented the theories that lie behind the accelerating movement toward project and program management and the use of teams and networks. The theories of complementary, tight and loose coupling, non-convexity and non-concavity, exploiting vs. exploring, motivation, and the disaggregated model explain how corporate strategy should be designed for high performance. Strategy is a creative act that requires both analytical managerial problem-solving and articulating a vision, but also the communication and persuasion that are the essential features of leadership. Strategic and organizational choices must be made holistically, recognizing the interdependencies.

Read the full text of:
The Modern Firm: Design for Performance and Growth




About the Reviewer
Robert Youker

Robert Youker is an independent trainer and consultant in Project Management with more than 40 years of experience in the field. Mr. Youker is a graduate of Colgate University and the Harvard Business School, and has studied for a doctorate in behavioral science at George Washington University. His project management experience includes new product development at Xerox Corporation and project management consulting for many companies as President of Planalog Management Systems from 1968 to 1975. He is retired from the World Bank where he developed and presented Project Management courses in Washington DC as well as in Africa, China, Pakistan, The Philippines, Turkey and Iraq.  Most recently he was the author of the Instructor’s Resource Kit on The Implementation of Development Projects on CD ROM, released by the World Bank in 2006.



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