Education CEOs Pick Favorite Books and Share How They Shaped Business Strategies

books-bookstore-book-reading-159711Originally published in EdWeek Market Brief – December 20, 2017


What makes a compelling read for a CEO in the world of K-12 education?

EdWeek Market Brief polled about 30 company leaders to see what captured their attention this year. We received responses from the CEOs of some of the largest education companies—John Fallon of Pearson, Bill Goodwyn of Discovery Education, Jack Lynch of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Stuart Udell of K12, Inc., and Buzz Waterhouse of McGraw-Hill Education.

Our outreach included CEOs of long-established companies like Randy Wilhelm of Knovation, and some of the up-and-comers—like our Startup Blogger Monica Brady-Myerov of Listenwise, and Marc Netka of STS Education, which has earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list for six consecutive years.

The top pick? The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers was cited by three CEOs. Learnosity’s Gavin Cooney said it “encompasses all the struggles of building a real business,” and he’s read it a few times at different stages of running his company. The other four rounding out the “top 5,” with two votes each, were:

  • The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t
  • Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
  • Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business

Three fiction books even made it onto our list, because the stories inspire the CEOs to think differently. Rob Waldron of Curriculum Associates chose a Civil War novel because it made him think boldly about leadership, and serial entrepreneur John Katzman of The Noodle Companies picked a John Le Carré spy novel because it inspired him consider who he could trust, and the importance of rejecting unethical people.

Company leaders are using their favorite reading materials in very different ways:

  • Stuart Udell at K12 hired Kevin Chavous, the author of Building a Learning Culture in America, to be K12 Inc.’s president of academics, policy, and schools;
  • Jess Gartner of Allovue sent copies of Radical Candor to her clients—school superintendents and CFOs—as a way to foster relationships and show how many challenges they share in their leadership roles.
  • Kevin Stoller assigns Traction to anyone interviewing for a job at, and used the book to get an alignment of values, goals, and communication in his company.
  • Marc Netka of STS Education started a book club at his business, paying employees to read books he recommends. He’s invested $12,000 so far in payments alone, and far more than that in book purchases.


To read the full article, and a full list of books that resonated with the CEOs surveyed by EdWeek Market Brief, click here.

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