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Gary Sutton, Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coalminer's Secrets


Crescent Blues Book Views Nelson Business (Trade Paperback) ISBN 0-7852-1299-X

Book: Gary Sutton, Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coalminer's Secrets
Business turnaround expert Gary Sutton writes a fascinating little volume for managers and/or investors interested in evaluating and avoiding businesses destined for a financial disaster. Of equal importance, he provides the detailed steps necessary to avoid such disasters should the reader detect the telltale warning signs in his or her own business.

The book's title alludes, of course, to the practice of placing canaries in cages along the length of early coal mines to detect the presence of poisonous gas. When the canary toppled from its perch, the miners realized they must change their path and head for a less lethal environment. Using this allegory, he discusses five potentially lethal business practices that should trigger a caution signal for managers or investors. He introduces each of the five practices with a relevant story taken from his grandfather's experiences working in a Harlan, Kentucky, coal mine. These tales compare and contrast various business environments and decisions and serve to explore the consequences of those long ago business practices. They prove a terrific way to grab the attention of the reader and drive the lessons home.

While the homespun stories comprise the glitz to keep the reader focused, the meat of the book appears after he carefully outlines the dangers of the applicable "canary warning". Sutton then provides specific examples related to the experiences of some of today's best-known corporations such as Sears, Enron, Wal-Mart, WorldCom and Merrill Lynch, and offers his analysis of how and why a specific corporation found itself in financial difficulty or how it avoided the problem through good management practices. Each chapter ends with a succinct recap of the pertinent warning signal and a brief review of his recommendations of what the company must do to eliminate the fatal flaw.

Corporate Canaries is truly a fascinating little volume unlike any other business related book I've ever read. The author proclaims its main theme in the first sentence of the introduction: "Ducking catastrophe is the key to success." And he proceeds with wit and wisdom to prove his thesis true. His confidence in the value of his advice prompts him to include a guarantee that it will help managers detect a serious problem in their or their competitors business within three years of its reading or he will refund the price of the book and throw in an extra dollar for good measure.

I have a feeling that his bank account will remain virtually intact.

Clint Hunter

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