When your average businessman thinks Boston and MBA, what probably comes to mind is Harvard's illustrious business school. What doesn't come to mind at all is Red Auerbach, legendary guru of basketball's Boston Celtics, arguably modem sports' most successful professional team.
That's unlikely to change with the publication of Red's new book, MBA: Management by Auerbach (Macmillan. $19.95). Auerbach's treatise on management practices is meant to be an antidote to today's corporate mumbo jumbo. No "highfalutin language," promises Chrysler's Lee Iacocca in his foreword. In fact, it's barely low falutin. Red is strictly from the business/schmizness school: if you can run a basketball team and win 16 world championships, you can run anything. The principles involved in motivating million-dollar athletes like Larry Bird to bust their butts, he insists, are the very same that can convince minimumwage earners to take pride in their work.
Auerbach's catechism is delivered under the rubric "Red Sez." Now, Red Sez may be almost as catchy as Bo Knows. The problem is that Bo and everybody else with any common sense already knows everything Red Sez. It's hard to believe that what passes for wisdom around the National Basketball Association these days is "the number one reason why one team outperforms another is people." And that's positively earth shaking when compared with such Auerbach originals as: communication is a two-way street, learn from your mistakes and practice makes perfect.
How did harried executives cope with stress before Red offered such revolutionary tips as the value of exercise, a hot bath or a massage? What borders on the offensive is the sneaking suspicion that Red doesn't even believe every trite thing he sez. Just three pages after he preaches how essential it is to embrace change, he vows that the Celtics will never feature popular NBA "gimmickry" such as cheerleaders and mascots "as long as I'm around."
Auerbach is a regular on the businesslecture circuit, so he does deliver a few good lines. He warns managers who motivate Knute Rockne style that "you can only win one for the Gipper once." And he wonders aloud why there seems to be so much more "burnout" ever since that term was invented. Still, one suspects his audience appeal stems more from the twinkle in his eye, his trademark cigar and his locker-room anecdotes than from any insights he provides. Provocative questions (for example: do its discipline and teamwork make "the Celtics family" more like Japanese firms than American companies?) are barely broached in his book. Indeed, Auerbach contends that the Japanese have stolen their business maxims from America. The Japanese deserve as much credit for developing the emphasis on quality control, he writes, "as the Russians do for inventing basketball."
Red Auerbach is an icon in Boston, the only living person with a statue in the city dedicated to him. He has earned that honor over four decades by outhustling and outsmarting his NBA rivals. If there is such a thing as a basketball genius, Auerbach deserves that designation. But even a genius makes mistakes, In the book, Red admits to one "bonehead" move, wasting a first-round draft choice on a player who was afraid to fly. Sad to say, "MBA" is another. Perhaps Red should take one piece of shopworn advice that he gives at the end of the book: stick to what know!