5 books recommended by NUS MBA professors

We spoke to MBA professors from one of the world’s top business schools to hear which books you need to read before (or during) your MBA.

In short

1. “Why Startups Fail” by Tom Eisenmann

Albert Einstein once said that “failure is success in progress,” and nowhere is that more true than in business. It’s why it’s every bit as important to learn about failed businesses as it is to learn about successful businesses.

Ng Weiyi is the Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Management and Venture Capital at NUS Business School in Singapore. His first MBA book recommendation is Why Startups Fail by Tom Eisenmann, and it’s about the underexplored topic of business failure.

“I think this is an amazing book because very often you would go to an airport bookstore, let’s say, and you hear so many success stories and it’s sort of very one-sided,” he says.

“But in reality, the majority of people who try to start up, fail,” he adds. “This is a book that documents startup failure in a way that is both illuminating and analytical and teaches us a lot and sort of gives a nod to the more common phenomenon that is startup failure.” (00:19)

2. “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou

Theranos was a pioneering healthcare company in Silicon Valley that hit a peak valuation of US$10 billion in 2014. The problem? It was built upon false scientific claims, resulting in the company’s founders being charged with wire fraud and conspiracy.

Ng Weiyi’s second book suggestion covers the Theranos scandal and its subsequent fallout. It may not be your typical MBA book, but there’s a lot to learn here about the perils of having grand business ideas without being able to execute them.

“This is [about] the Theranos scandal, and it’s fascinating to look at sort of a delusion and like how it can go really wrong,” he explains. “And the notion of intellectual honesty and scientific resistance becomes very salient in a book. I think it’s brilliant and a page-turner. A very exciting read.” (00:55)

3. “The Art of Strategy” by Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff

Game theory isn’t exactly a simple concept to understand. It is, according to Investopedia, “a theoretical framework for conceiving social situations among competing players.” It concerns strategy, decision-making, and a lot of complicated mathematical models.

That’s why The Art of Strategy by Princeton economist Avinash Dixit and Yale economist Barry Nalebuff is such a standout book. Jo Seung-Gyu, the Deputy Academic Director of the NUS MBA and Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Policy, explains why he recommends the book to his MBA students:

“Our general perception amongst the students about the game theory is: ‘Come on, it’s complicated mathematical models’ and so on. But this book was written in plain language without any numbers and equations…[it] is full of interesting insights and, you know, diverse episodes, all based on our daily business.” (01:28)

4. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

The second book recommended by the NUS MBA Deputy Academic Director is Thinking, Fast and Slow by psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

For all intents and purposes, it is a book about economics written by a psychologist. And that unique angle on economic theory marks the book out as essential reading for MBA students.

“He shares a lot of experiments, experimental studies he himself conducted with his colleague Amos Tversky. And not only his experimental research, he shares basic behavioral insights regarding why this systematic behavioral or cognitive bias are occurring,” says Jo Seung-Gyu. (02:31)

5. “The Gambler” by William C. Rempel

Nitin Pangarkar is the Academic Director of the NUS MBA and NUS-HEC Paris Double Degree MBA. He says that The Gambler by William C. Rempel is much more than a study guide – it has been one of his guiding philosophies in life.

The Gambler tells the story of Kirk Kerkorian, a real-life rags-to-riches story who went from extreme poverty to become one of America’s wealthiest men. Nitin says the value of the book lies in how you perceive it, and how you understand its relevance to you.

“In that book, there is the protagonist – the rich guy – and his fiancée,” Nitin explains. “He dies early and leaves her a fortune. But before he dies he tells her, he says: ‘You know what the secret to my wealth is?’ And he says: ‘I control my operating expenses.’” (02:56)

“Many of the world’s great companies, and many of the world’s great leaders – they were very tightfisted on operating expenses,” he continues. “Like, you take Sam Walton of Walmart or Ingvar Kamprad from IKEA. They are all super tightfisted on operating expenses and day-to-day expenses. So, these are the insights that you get, but you have to be perceptive to that. So not just read, but think about what does this mean, you know? Does this resonate with me?” (03:22)

It is an engrossing story that should be illuminating reading for any prospective MBA student.

For more MBA book recommendations, why not get in touch with one of our MBA ambassadors? They’ll be happy to share the books – and more insights – that shaped their studies.

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