If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court ruled in 2010’s Citizens United decision, it’s only natural that they should have biographies. Forthcoming narratives about businesses new and old offer a window onto each company’s history as well as the social and economic contexts out of which they arose and which they in turn have influenced. Readers “want to know more about the individuals behind these companies,” says Paul Golob, executive editor at Holt, which will publish Billion Dollar Brand Club in January. And business people, he says, may find them instructive. “There are lessons and examples to learn from.”
Billion Dollar Brand Club
Disruption, that vaunted shibboleth of Silicon Valley, is the goal of the direct-to-consumer companies featured in this book by former New York Times deputy managing editor Ingrassia. Focusing on brands and market segments including Dollar Shave Club (razors), Warby Parker (eyeglasses), Casper (mattresses), and Third Love (lingerie), Ingrassia shows how, in aggregate, these startups are changing how consumer goods are created, marketed, and sold, and how they are challenging the dominance of their legacy counterparts.
Bickers, a professor of history at Bristol University, relates the history of the Swire Group, a conglomerate that began two centuries ago as an import-export concern in Liverpool and eventually gained a major foothold in China; today, it operates out of Hong Kong, but its registered headquarters are in London. The history of the group dovetails with the history of China—an earlier iteration shuttered its offices in that country after the formation of the People’s Republic—and has timely relevance: among the group’s properties is the Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific, which ran afoul of the Chinese government earlier this year when its employees expressed sympathy for protesters in that city.
Founded in 1870 and headquartered in Germany, Deutsche Bank is among the largest banks in the world. It has also, owing to a string of scandals, become something of a symbol for high-financial corruption. Enrich, finance editor at the New York Times, provides an account of the bank’s numerous misdeeds, including its financial support of the Nazi Party, its flouting of international sanctions, and its involvement in a Russian money-laundering scheme. He also details the bank’s risky push to enter the American financial market; the 2014 suicide of one its executives, Bill Broeksmit; and its longtime association with Donald Trump and his family, a relationship that has recently attracted scrutiny.
Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has fundamentally altered how people communicate, shop, and even eat, writes Sarah Frier, who reports on social media companies for Bloomberg News. Drawing on interviews with the app’s founders and employees, as well as with public figures including Anna Wintour and Kris Jenner (whose daughters have some of the app’s most-followed accounts and who has more than 30 million followers herself), Frier leads readers through the company’s early days, its billion-dollar sale to Facebook in 2012, and the 2018 departure of its founders amid crises involving Facebook’s handling of user data and its failure to stem alleged foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Samsung began as an agricultural enterprise, dealing in such nontechnological goods as produce, beer, and fertilizer. But amid the rise of the PC industry, and with advice from a young Steve Jobs, the company’s then-chairman, Lee Byung-chul, set out to transform Samsung into the tech heavyweight it is today. Cain, who has reported on Samsung from South Korea for the Economist and other publications, focuses on the company’s continued competition with Google and Apple, in which it appears to have an edge: the company has 369,000 employees to Apple’s 80,000 and, worldwide, its Galaxy line of smartphones outsells the iPhone.