Richard Hardy’s ‘The Program Manager’: A book more about communism in the corporate world than business, but well worth the read

You have to understand, I read a lot. A whole lot. And if I could, I’d read even more. Every time we have one of these Holiday seasons and all the people I know send me texts and emails wishing me good tidings and my response back to them is usually short and to the point, it’s usually because I’m rushing back to a book. That’s not all I do of course, I live a very full life, but I think reading a lot and maintaining my rule of reading at least one book a week all weeks of the year is very important. Professionally I am a professional problem solver, and I don’t spend any time looking over my shoulder the way a lot of people do worrying about being knocked off the ladder of success because honestly the root source of my magic is my ability to read and communicate what I have learned. But to be honest, it takes a lot of work. I don’t think there is any book on this planet that can teach people to be successful if they are not willing to do a lot of hard work. I would say to anybody who fantasizes about being successful that unless you are willing to outwork the other person, you will likely always be second place in anything you do, or in a lot of cases, dead last. If you lack drive, curiosity and a quest for knowledge you will not have much of a life, and those are just cold hard facts. My habit is to look at reading as a daily exercise and I do it as much as I can, and the results always give me a competitive advantage not so much over other people, but in the circumstances of challenges that are presented to us all. I like having the answers to questions before they are even asked, so keeping a brain fed is the best way to achieve that function.

Being the Holiday season of Thanksgiving where generally there are four consecutive days off every year it is a time to catch up my ratio for the year and to stay on target, I needed to read seven more books to catch up to my 2018 targets. Some of the books I read in 2018 were big ones so it can sometimes take a week or two longer to read them, which throws off my target, which I always catch up on during the two Holidays at the end of the year. Over this particular Holiday weekend I was able to read four books, some of them 300 to 400 pages, some of them only about 150. And surprisingly it was that shorter book called The Program Manager written back in 1999 and self-published by Richard Hardy formerly of Boeing that I enjoyed the most. Usually books on business topics are boring and the fun of life is not present in them. But its important to suffer through them because always there are little nuggets of information that need polished a bit before you can use them, but are of great value nevertheless.

Much to my surprise Richard Hardy likely nearing retirement hit on a very slippery topic in his book on how to be a program manager, and that is to articulate how much communism is present in the modern world both politically and within corporate structures. It really too me by surprise, but as an older guy it is understandable. But I’m sure within Boeing there was a lot of consternation about his book coming out, even if it was self-published and a little rough on the grammar. The insights are quite good and as you’d expect from someone at the top of their particular field of endeavor. I look at those kinds of books as though you had the opportunity to meet someone and have them tell you their life story and you can extract from that whatever you want. The professionalism of the publishing profession is to put it as bluntly as Richard Haley did, filled with communists. Of course, nobody calls themselves that, and many of the publishers in New York and London think that term is rubbish. They call themselves progressives now, or “environmental activists” but that is only because they don’t know their history. For students of history, not the history they teach you in public education or in college, what is present in almost everything, especially in the corporate world, is varying degrees of communism that people have just accepted over the last 100 years. A book like Hardy’s The Program Manager would never be published professionally by a New York publisher. But sometimes it is those books that are the most valuable to read.

And while we are being blunt, most of the Lean activities that most company’s employ to attempt to mitigate that trend is to get communist thinking of group associations and power from above structures to become more holistic instead of siloed. Cuba for instance as a communist country was extremely siloed meaning they were never open to outside ideas, but only the ones flowed from the top down. Lean concepts are all about decentralizing those sentiments so that the point of emphasis is the health of the company everyone works with. Like most politicians’ power structures within an organization chart become their obsession and they constantly view their workers as middle-class citizens, or even worse, among the poor and they spend a lot of time thinking about that class structure when they should be thinking about running a business. I was curious what Richard Hardy who worked in the very stringent Boeing culture did to solve problems in that environment and was surprised to find him such an Ayn Rand fan, an individualist who understood the nature of all things. After reading his book I’m not surprised that he was so successful and sought after. But I was surprised to learn how consistent it was to my own personal thoughts on the matter.

And that is what reading can do for you, just when you think you know everything that there is to know, you find yourself surprised by something that should be obvious but isn’t. When it comes to business books, most of them are very dry and philosophically dormant. They talk about how to do something but don’t really get into why companies are siloed or how holistic thinking can be good and sustainable for continued profit growth and employee sustainability. But Richard Hardy made his point quite well protecting the names of his fellow workers at Boeing and replacing them with a metaphor of bulls protecting a herd as essentially being the primary objective of the program manager. Most of what he said in his book are things that are easily obtained in other books and college level courses, but in his case he was talking about the development of the Joint Strike Fighter well in advance of our modern times which I remember being a part of, so I had some context to his subject, then to read some of the behind the scenes decisions and the why and hows was quite a treat. It was a very nice surprise that doesn’t come along too often.

I don’t know how well the copies of it that are still out there will be. I bought one that was in good condition arrive, but as I flipped through it the pages were falling out from being dry rotted. I practically had to tape the thing together as I read it to keep the book intact. But if you can get your hands on one not so much for the task of business management, but for understanding how communism entered all our lives and tried to change the nature of American life so subtly and over such a long period of time, it is a very interesting read and well worth the time in doing it.

Rich Hoffman

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