Some of the world’s greatest leaders are also among the world’s most avid readers, and we’re certain that it’s no coincidence. Whether you’re reading business books or history novels, reading offers great opportunities for learning and perspective that can build a foundation for greatness. We’re inspired by these 18 business leaders who have a deep love of books, and we’re sure that their passion for literature and reading has a lot to do with their success in business.
Media magnate Oprah Winfrey has done a lot to share her love of reading and bring book clubs into the mainstream. Over a span of 15 years, Oprah’s Book Club recommended 70 books to viewers for reading and discussion, and Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 continues to share books online. Books have always been a major love for Winfrey, as she learned to read at age three, finding that it gave her a chance to learn about the world beyond the small Mississippi farm where she was raised.
- Steve Jobs:
The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once remarked that the Kindle would fail because “people don’t read anymore,” but that’s not a reflection of his own personal life. Jobs was reported to have an inexhaustible interest in William Blake’s books.
- William Randolph Hearst:
It’s fitting that a legendary American newspaper publisher loved to read. In fact, Hearst was such a voracious reader and collector of printed material that Casa Grande, his castle, was built around his collection of art, books, and antiques. His home had not one, but two hugely ornate libraries, but even they were not enough to contain all of the books he held so dear, so Hearst had many bookcases throughout the castle.
- Phil Knight:
For Phil Knight, co-founder and chairman of Nike, it’s obvious that shoes are important. But shoes aren’t nearly as important to Knight as books, as evidenced by one important rule of his formerly private library on the Nike campus: in order to enter, visitors were required to remove their shoes and bow. Full of Asian history books, collections of art and poetry, the Knight collection is still alive and well at Nike headquarters. But these days, Knight’s love of books and reading is on a much larger scale. In 1994, the University of Oregon, Knight’s alma mater, added a $27 million renovation to its library, a project partially funded by the alumnus. For his assistance, the University of Oregon changed its name to the Knight Library.
- Martin Scorsese:
Martin Scorsese has found fame as a filmmaking powerhouse, but film is not his only love. Although much of his reading is focused on scripts, Scorsese has a soft spot for fiction novels. His favorite books involve history, and he often finds himself reading pre-20th century fiction.
- Sidney Harman:
The late American businessman and chairman emeritus of Harman International Industries Sidney Harman left his mark on business, journalism, and even politics as the former U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce. But with a deep love of reading and poetry, Harman left his mark on literature as well, endowing the Harman Writer-in-Residence Program at Baruch College because the world needed more “poet managers.” Although he was not able to find his own poet manager, Harman still believed in writing as discovery and poets as the original systems thinkers, explaining, “They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.”
- J.P. Morgan:
The legendary American businessman J.P. Morgan was a major collector of books and other art objects, housing much of his collection in his own private library. In fact, his collection was so vast that it eventually became the Morgan Library & Museum, home to rare books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, and other literary artifacts. The Morgan library is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
- Michael Moritz:
Sequoia Capital venture capitalist Michael Moritz has a personal connection with books: he’s married to American novelist Harriet Hayman, and enjoys writing himself, once working as a reporter for Time, and writing two books about Apple’s Little Kingdom.” In his personal library, Moritz’s love of books is clear, as he shares that he has never been able to part with even one,” gradually accumulating thousands of volumes in his Bay Area home library.
- David Leach:
David Leach, CEO of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division has a soft spot for Aristotle, and has filled his North Carolina cabin with his works. Joining Aristotle in Leach’s coveted spot are T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Andy Grove’s Swimming Across.
- Michael Milken:
American business magnate Michael Milken was once sentenced to prison for racketeering and securities fraud, and found common ground in literature with Galileo, who was similarly jailed but redeemed. Milken’s library collection is reported to be full of Galileo works, including biographies, papers, novels, and plays.
- Shelly Lazarus:
Chairman Emeritus at Ogilvy & Mather, Shelly Lazarus is responsible for some of the most successful branding campaigns in retail history. But her inspiration certainly didn’t come from business books, although she admits that she once felt guilty for skipping over many of the latest business books. Instead, Lazarus prefers novels, finding that they’re a better tool for learning about human interaction. She’s reported to be a voracious reader, and loves to give books as gifts.
- Jay Walker:
Internet entrepreneur and founder of Walker Digital, Jay Walker has a library that’s become the stuff of online legend. His amazing library has a little something for everyone, whether you’re a geek, book lover, historian, or something in between. Like William Randolph Hearst, Walker’s home was specifically built around his library, and Walker worked with an architect to painstakingly build a model and visualize the library’s space using miniature cameras. At 3,600 square feet, Walker’s library is bigger than many homes, and it uses nearly every inch to pack in books and other items of amazement, including tomes bound in rubies, historic Bibles, and medieval works.
- Dee Hock:
The founder and former CEO of Visa, yes, that Visa, is a big lover of books. An author himself, Hock has found great inspiration in reading, particularly in Omar Kayyam’s Rubáiyát poem that warns of the downfalls of greatness and fortune. You’ll find this book, among so many others, in his 2,000 square foot library wing in his California mansion, full of works and reflections from great philosophers and novelists.
- David Rubenstein:
Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein has read four or five books per week since he entered high school, and
speed reads at least six newspapers per day, but it’s obvious that his love of books and reading hasn’t stopped at the personal level. Rubenstein has made extensive purchases and donations for the love of books, including a collection that boasts a copy of the Magna Carta valued at $21.3 million and a $2 million copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, and his book related philanthropy includes a $5 million donation to the Library of Congress, and $13.6 million for Duke’s special collections library, renamed the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
- Karl Lagerfeld:
German fashion designer and creative director for the house of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld is an icon of the fashion business. But fashion isn’t Lagerfeld’s only love. He is an apparently avid reader, even once using a verse from the Qur’an in a couture collection for Chanel. Not at all surprisingly, Lagerfeld boasts a large and appropriately stylish personal library, with two story, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, seemingly endless magazines, and plenty of comfy seating room to cuddle up with a great book.
- Bill Gates:
Co-founder of Microsoft and tech icon Bill Gates has made no secret of his passion for books. Gates loves to read, and loves to share what he’s reading with others through the Gates Notes Bookshelf, full of book reviews, books he’s read, and books he wants to share with the world. Beyond recommendations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made it a mission to bring and keep more useful technology in U.S. libraries and even libraries around the world. On a more personal level, the Gates home stands as a testament to his love of reading, with a 2,100 square foot private library, complete with a domed reading room, and a Leonardo da Vinci notebook valued at nearly $31 million.
- George Lucas:
For George Lucas of Star Wars fame, it’s clear that a love of books is the driving force behind film ideas. At Skywalker Ranch, a gorgeous research library is used to research new film ideas, with heavy weighted attention given to books on history, geography, and world cultures. In books alone, there are more than 27,000 titles spanning from the 1880s until today, with additional materials including thousands of feature films, periodicals, press clippings, picture files, scripts, music scores, and company yearbooks.
- George Peabody:
America-British entrepreneur, philanthropist, and supporter of education George Peabody’s legacy of book love lives on most notably in a library that bears his name, the George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University. This legendary library is one of the most beautiful and revered library buildings in the world, with five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies and a historic collection of more than 300,000 volumes, cementing George Peabody’s place in reading history.