The four finalists for this year’s $20,000 National Business Book Award were announced today: Double Double, by Douglas Hunter; Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland; The Power of Why, by Amanda Lang; and True North: A Life in the Music Business, by Bernie Finkelstein. PricewaterhouseCoopers and BMO Financial Group are co-sponsors of the award; The Globe and Mail is the media sponsor. The winner will be announced May 28. Following are reviews of all four books:
After reading Double Double there’s a good chance you’ll never casually grab a box of Timbits or nip into a drive-through lane for a breakfast sandwich again.
Instead, every future coffee run will leave you pondering the societal role of community gathering places, franchisee profit margins, proprietary coffee bean blends, the impact of shifting demographics on fast food trends, the significance of introducing WiFi to doughnut shops, corporate re-engagement strategies or maybe even how Tim Horton earned a 93 in Grade 9 geography.
Those are just a few of the many topics Douglas Hunter has painstakingly researched and analyzed with his encyclopedic enthusiasm for all things Tims.
While the narrative of Double Double can get cluttered with distracting detail, it provides a solid socioeconomic history of post-Second World War Canada refracted through the prism of Tim Hortons’ growth, success – and more recently – challenges. The early prototype of the fast food chain mirrors the development of Toronto’s first suburbs, the relative affluence created by a booming, post-war manufacturing sector, the proliferation of cars and an increasingly mobile population. All of these elements quickly converged to create new appetite for fast(er) food, greater convenience, increased discretionary spending – and a template for national expansion.
Like Tim Hortons, Double Double has something for everyone. For sport fans, there is insight into the very average lives led by Original Six hockey stars: Mr. Horton sold used cars before starting the Tim Hortons business to help make ends meet.
For business junkies, the saga of the company’s efforts to establish a base in Manhattan addresses the perennial conundrum of why and how the expansion of so many established Canadian brands into the U.S. market so frequently fails.
Should Double Double inspire you to seek a Tims franchise, be warned: even if you meet the criteria, there are about 3,000 names ahead of you on the waiting list.
Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
To her credit, Chrystia Freeland has written a book about the growing divide between rich and poor without a hectoring agenda.
Instead of indignantly clattering on about the immorality and injustice of economic disparity – or, conversely, trying to justify it – she attempts to explain how the gap came to be and what it portends for both ends of the spectrum.
Her foundational thesis is that the world is currently experiencing two concurrent Gilded Ages in emerging and developing economies respectively.
The original Gilded Age (roughly 1887 to 1900) was the result of the Industrial Revolution and the shift from an agrarian to urban society. This time around, it’s being driven by the convergence of technology and globalization, amplified by the collapse of Communism and the rise of new market economies.
Today, as it was in the first Gilded Age, a limited segment of the population has extreme material success, while the fortunes of the majority are languishing or declining.
The “New Rich” are described as “hard working, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats” who are “increasingly a nation unto themselves.”
Plutocrats explores how technology and globalization have combined to create unprecedented opportunities for these “superstars” who also command superstar premiums for their work.
The greatest challenge these international mercenaries face is to institutionalize the disruption that has spawned them. Most companies, according to Ms. Freeland, still respond to the seismic shifts that are taking place with “creative inertia.” In other words, they do the same thing as always – only more of it. And, she notes, “what works in ordinary times is a recipe for disaster in revolutionary ones.”