Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review: Big Brown

The book is actually Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS and it was written by a retired UPSer that spent his whole career there. I picked up this book after being on the Underground Tour in Seattle. As an aside that was neat, but the guide mentioned UPS was started in Seattle delivering drugs (I never knew either one of them).

While we were in Seattle at a Barnes and Noble, I saw this on the shelf and took a picture of it on my phone. I don’t mind supporting Barnes and Noble, but I also don’t want to carry more books than I have to and this was a reminder to get a copy on my Kindle later.

The book starts with a bit of the author’s career and how he came to work at UPS and love it. He definitely shows his enthusiasm for the company and culture and his admiration for the way that the company is run.

From there it goes back and talks a bit about Jim Casey, the founder of the company, or one of the founders and how he got his start as a kid in Seattle delivering packages for retail stores at the beginning of the 1900s. Some interesting things I’ve learned:

  • Prior to the late 20th century (sometime in the 70s), only the USPS could deliver packages person to person. UPS fought for exceptions state by state.
  • UPS started delivering retail packages, becoming more efficient than the retailers and putting their fleets out of business.
  • UPS was a private company, employee owner, until 1999.
  • UPS gave out stock for most of it’s history to employees and managers.
  • Very few employees were hired above package handlers.
  • The founder, Jim Casey, never married and lived in hotels for most of his life as he traveled and ran the company.

I recommended this to my business partner, Andy Warren, and he wrote a review as well. He didn’t like it as much as I did (I think), but it’s a good read and I think it’s a good company.  I’d like to build a company like UPS, though not exactly. I’m not sure I completely agree with all the things said about the company, but they have done things the right way from what I’ve seen.

The book isn’t all a rah-rah book on UPS. There are definitely some issues and the author does a good job of bringing them out, showing that he doesn’t like it, but it’s a part of the history.

I know my delivery guy loves the company and I need to see if he’s read the book.

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