Genre: Nonfiction (hybrid)
Format: E-book (but it is also available in paperback)
Madame Alexandra Borodinskaya ran a very highly regarded maison close in 19th-century Paris. She was very successful, and she eventually retired to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Turns out she was also a savvy real estate investor. Years later, she wrote an account of her business rules, and thanks to Claude Roessiger you can now read this account and learn a thing or two about business and getting ahead in the world. So the story goes in this book that is a bit fiction and a bit nonfiction.
The book is organized into 15 thematic chapters with topics ranging from "House Rules of Business" to "On Integrity." Each chapter gives a rule followed by Madame's illustration of the rule via an explanation, a story, and/or a personal anecdote. A foreword serves to provide some context for the book.
Madame Alexandra could really teach a thing or two about how to care for customers and how to carry oneself with integrity, class, and good manners. Her politics, especially at the end of the book when she is corresponding with relatives, do lean over to a libertarian bent (as we would define such term today); this was a bit of a turn off for me, though not totally surprising given her social position. However, much of the advice here is solid and people today can learn from it. The prose can be a little dry at times, and she can get a bit long winded in writing at times.
In the end, I liked the book well enough, so I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.
As noted above, I have included the link to the book's official website, where you can even Ask Madame to ponder and expound on today's business world. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MAlexandraRules.
Book could be of interest to public libraries, especially if they already collect other business books geared to general readers or readers looking for something unique in their business books. In others words, if they want more than the usual book written by some modern business guru. For academic libraries, I could consider the book optional for academic libraries. I certainly can see some business professor picking it up as a supplemental text for a class.
Disclosure note: I read this as a review copy from NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, we have appeased The Man once more.
I did jot down some quotes I wanted to remember, along with some comments and thoughts about them along the way.
"Always maintain sufficient funds that you may support yourself in a moment of distress, that you may seize an opportunity, and that your banker may remain your servant and not become your oppressor" (16).
Sadly today, given the bad economy and common worker exploitation, folks are lucky if they have the often suggested three months of funds for an emergency.
"The entire flow of life is change. Do not resist it; be its agent" (21).
Not bad advice, although one some people, including a few overeager librarians, tend to take a little too literal. That's when you get change for the sake of change. What she is saying is to be adaptable.
"Right is right and wrong is wrong. We all know this as we all know which is which. What distinguishes a man of integrity is that he acts upon this knowledge" (22).
That statement should be branded everywhere. Integrity is really that simple. There is right, and there is wrong, period. I may not be wealthy or have much, but I do strive to maintain my reputation for integrity.
This next one goes to what more workplaces, including libraries, should do:
"Hire employees of character and intelligence only" (22).
This should be obvious, but it rarely is. As I've said before elsewhere, managers support what they are willing to tolerate:
"An owner who behaves without honor will soon find that his employees do the same" (23).
"A good reputation is years in the making and only painstakingly acquired. A poor reputation is the fruit of a single ill-considered night and is almost impossible to be rid of" (24).
On appearances: A lot of worthless men and women in high dress with famous family names are out there:
"Therefore be on your guard and do not allow appearances to deceive you; the worth of a man is neither his family's name nor in his dress" (26).
The next is an important concept that I wish more people and businesses really lived by:
"If an error has occurred for which you are responsible-- and if it is within your establishment, you are obligatorily responsible-- accept the responsibility fully and promptly" (29).
And this certainly applies today, now amplified by social media. I wonder what Madama Alexandra would make of social media. I am sure savvy as she was she would want to take advantage of it, though on the other hand, for the establishment she ran where discretion was paramount, maybe it is not a good idea for her. But I am sure she would monitor social media for mentions of her place of business at least:
"Word of mouth is better advertisement than a bill upon every street corner" (47).
The next item is a nice principle, though some places like public libraries do not have that option. I do wonder if that well be a good thing in business. True, we can quote libraries' ideals of openness, so on, but let us be blunt: some "clients" we really can do without. I am sure some public librarians who have dealt with their latest difficult (to put it mildy) patron will concur, but I would bet a few other librarians could get their panties or briefs in a bunch for me saying what many think (or say under a pseudonym):
"Do not accept everyone as a client and let it be known" (48).
"Leave room in your heart to bestow charity and kindness from your success, but expect no thanks in return" (70).
And last this is one of the quotes I found problematic in that sort of libertarian bent. Over time, we have seen the whole self-interest thing is just not true and has turned out to be the cause of many woes:
". . . the world operates best from the self-interest of man. . . " (78).
The problem is more often than not self-interest simply becomes selfish greed, as we see today in such times of deep poverty and income inequality, caused more often than not by that selfish interest and greed.