Educate March 2017

Book Review: ‘B.S. Incorporated’ by Jennifer Rock & Michael Voss


Written By: SHARON BROWN, PROSPECT STRATEGY ANALYST, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA OFFICE OF ADV

Can a novel serve as a savvy business guide? Can the story of a fictional company in financial trouble provide insights that are useful in real life? With “B.S. Incorporated,” the answer is absolutely. On one level, this book is an easy read with memorable characters, a classic story line and lots of laughs. But, it also delves deeper, serving up clear examples of how not to behave as a leader and how not to run a business.

This is the story of a company in peril and a band of employees who risk it all to save it. There is an underlying boy-meets-girl storyline, but it is definitely not a romance novel. If anything, it’s a love story about building and sustaining a company. It’s also a spectacular satire that gleefully exposes modern corporate culture.

Business Solutions, Inc. is the corporation created by co-authors Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss. BSI’s co-founders started humbly, with a copier and office supply business and a single warehouse. From there, they grew the company nationwide, but once they took it public, the pressure started. Wall Street’s expectations for constant growth caused panic and the decision to bring in consultants.

Will is the newly promoted communications guy. He came up from the warehouse and has a deep love for BSI and a deep disrespect for corporate BS. Anna is the new hire who, on her first day, gets demoted and assigned to Will’s team. Their task is to work on “Optelligence” — the big idea from the consultants. The new plan points them away from their core business to a new business consulting model, but it goes awry. A delivery driver has a simple idea that builds on what they know, but will the owners try it? Can Will’s team convince the owners to listen?

You would never know the book has two authors — their voice is seamless throughout. The pages turn quickly as the story unfolds, but it’s the characters that shine. Rock and Voss built Will and his team into real people you connect with. Their conversations and banter ring true, and at least one of them will remind you of someone you know. The authors have their fun, too: For every good guy like Will, there is a slightly sociopathic counterpart. The backstabbers and power-hungry climbers are absurd, but sadly, they’re real. “Snakes in Suits” is the title of another book about the high percentage of sociopaths in leadership positions, but that’s another story…

As I read “B.S. Incorporated,” I couldn’t help but reflect on past and current workplaces. BSI is extreme, but it’s unreal how closely the language, programs and initiatives parallel my experiences. I wonder, is all of America throwing fish and pairing up with a lunch buddy?

Are we all swimming in a soup of acronyms? Do we all take more time to track our activities than we spend doing them?

These connections and the familiar personalities make this more than just a novel. There are lessons here, like respecting that your people are unique and deserving of a culture with meaning. Or, finding a way to have two-way communication or forums that include everyone. And, staying with your roots — or getting back to them if you’ve strayed.

“B.S. Incorporated” is a recommended read. It’s a modern American story with heart that will have you shaking your head and smiling at the same time.

 

SHARON BROWN is a Prospect Strategy Analyst with the University of Florida Office of Advancement. A graduate of UF’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, she is happy to have found a career that marries reading, writing and being curious. She and her husband, also a CLAS alum, live in Gainesville

Leave a Comment