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Greenville Business Magazine

Success Stories: Local Leaders Share What's On Their Bookshelves

By Amanda Capps

We often turn to great writers and artists to help us dream and plan for the future. Shortly after our first list of recommended reading was published in early 2020, goals and designs for the rest of the year were upended by an unprecedented pandemic that continues to impact almost every aspect of daily life. In the final quarter, with the holidays on the horizon, we again share what business and community leaders across the state found meaningful in recent months. We hope their favorites – whether fictional or factual – serve as a reminder that treasured “stories” can hold timeless messages, offering beauty and guidance in the most troubling of times.

Leesa M. Aiken

Agency Director, South Carolina State Library

Recommended Reading: “Beloved” by Toni Morrison

Summary: “Beloved” is an older novel but a relevant one, especially as it relates to some of the issues facing our nation today. The setting is America shortly after the Civil War, and the story is told from the perspective of Sethe, a woman who escapes with her children from Sweet Home, the Kentucky plantation where she was enslaved. When the plantation owners find her in the free state of Ohio, she makes the most shocking choice a mother could make.

Who Should Read It: This book will resonate with anyone seeking to understand immediate and residual trauma and pain passed generationally. People who enjoy history, psychology or biographies may also appreciate it.

Why It Speaks to Me: I have a tendency to read autobiographies or biographies because I am interested in people as individuals. Morrison possesses the unique ability to describe the deeply personal situations of individuals who were enslaved in poignant yet poetic detail. While “Beloved” is fiction, it is based on a true story; readers feel as though they have been provided with an actual account of someone’s life. Morrison gave Sethe the dignity and humanity she was not given by her captors. The novel presents an incredibly deep well of historical information and emotion, which could lead to greater understanding in our present world.

Noteworthy: Inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, an African-American who escaped slavery in 1856, “Beloved” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and was a finalist for the 1987 National Book Award.

Polly Buxton 

Owner/Bookseller, Buxton Books 

Recommended Reading: “How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers” by David M. Rubenstein 

Summary: A master interviewer, David Rubenstein brings us illuminating advice and wisdom from some of the most successful pioneers in their fields – from government to tech to sports and entertainment. Through their stories, we learn that the best leadership is more art than science. 

Who Should Read It: I recommend this book to just about any reader of any age. No two readers are the same – and, in this book, we learn that no two leaders are the same. 

Why It Speaks to Me: We have so much to learn from one another. I love the spectrum of ideas and approaches to decision-making, innovation and crisis management. I think about and reference these extraordinary stories frequently.

Noteworthy: Host of “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations,” Rubenstein is the co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. He chairs the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Board of Trustees and is a recipient of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

Buxton Books was the bookseller for Rubenstein’s speaking engagements with The Charleston Library Society. 

Tim Conroy

Poet, Retired Educator

Recommended Reading: “The Age of Infidelity and Other Stories” by Valerie Sayers

Summary: In “The Age of Infidelity and Other Stories,” Valerie Sayers surges with subversive imagination through a collection of stories aligned with our worst fears of authoritarian control, environmental collapse and dejection – even dogs become suicidal. In oppressive and desperate circumstances, the human spirit struggles but not without the luminous presence of hope.

Who Should Read It: This collection is for readers compelled to examine the complexity of fidelity to personal responsibility, family, faith, government, career, leadership and a degrading planet. Ultimately, we must ponder why and how we make choices.

Why It Speaks to Me: As a poet, I love the way Sayers pours a compulsion for perfection into her sentences. A professor of English at Notre Dame University, she is an artisan of a flawless craft and has been for many years the standard for a writer’s writer. Ultimately, as she prepares us for the worse, she offers radical hope in the goodness of broken human spirits. To me, her stories howl with consciousness.

Noteworthy: Tim Conroy is a former special education teacher, school administrator and vice president of the South Carolina Autism Society. His poetry and short fiction have been published in literary journals, magazines and compilations. The author of “Theologies of Terrain,” he is a founding board member of the Pat Conroy Literary Center, established in his brother’s honor.

Blaine Owens

Professional Photographer, Blaine Owens Photography

Recommended Reading: “The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills” by Earl Shaffer (Jenna Samelson, editor; Bart Smith, illustrator)

Summary: After serving in the Pacific with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, young veteran Earl Shaffer became the first to trek the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one continuous journey. Marking the 50th anniversary of that hike, in 1998, he did it again at age 79. In addition to Shaffer’s prose and poetry, the book features the photography of Bart Smith, a long-distance hiker and professional photographer from Tacoma, Washington, whom Shaffer met on the trail.

Who Should Read It: Those who enjoy outdoor adventures and appreciate the beauty of nature should read it.

Why It Speaks to Me: It speaks to me as I spend many hours in the outdoors photographing the scenic beauty of our region.

Noteworthy: Text for the 2007 hardcover book was taken from the original “Ode To The Appalachian Trail” written by Shaffer in 1998 and includes original and unpublished poetry that he wrote over a period of years.

Jensine Reeder

Senior Project Manager for Community Impact, United Way of Greenville County

CEO, The Source Unlimited, LLC

Recommended Reading: “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Empire” by Reginald F. Lewis and Blair S. Walker

Summary: This is the story of Reginald F. Lewis, who rose from modest beginnings in East Baltimore to become the first African-American man to create and run a multibillion-dollar business empire.

Who Should Read It: I believe it’s a great read for anyone and everyone, specifically African-American men and women with relentless work ethics who appreciate a no-nonsense approach to success and aspire to be the very best at their craft.

Why It Speaks to Me: It speaks to me resoundingly because of Lewis’s determination to succeed despite the many obstacles he faced along the way. The boldness and authenticity he displayed as he found his voice and stayed true to himself and his beliefs parallels my journey as an African-American woman in corporate America. The question that serves as the title of the book isn’t meant to be derogatory; Lewis simply didn’t subscribe to the notion that he could be left out of any aspect of business that he wished to pursue – for any reason.

Noteworthy: This book is based on Lewis’s unfinished autobiography. When he died of brain cancer in 1993, he was reported to be the richest African-American male in the United States. Freelance writer Blair Walker is a former journalist whose career includes writing for the Money section of “USA Today.” He finished the book after interviewing Lewis’s family, friends, colleagues and employees. It includes Lewis’s concerns about work, family, race and his own death. The title is said to have come from a remark made by six-year-old Lewis when he overheard his grandparents discussing employment discrimination against African-Americans.

Katie Stagliano

Founder & Chief Executive Gardener of Katie’s Krops

Recommend Reading: “The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember” by Fred Rogers

Summary: This is a book filled with short anecdotes, quotes, song lyrics and life lessons from Mr. Rogers himself. It covers four seemingly simple topics: the courage to be yourself, understanding love, the challenges of inner discipline – and the fact that we are all neighbors. 

Who Should Read It: This book is a great fit for everyone! It relates the simple lessons we sometimes forget, and it is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face. 

Why It Speaks to Me: I feel that as a society we become so wrapped up in certain things, we neglect the principles and characteristics of being good neighbors. This book is a gentle reminder of the best way to live and a great pick-me-up.

Noteworthy: The children’s show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” debuted in 1968 and aired for over thirty years on PBS. A new edition of “The World According to Mister Rogers” became available in 2019.

Avery Martin

Associate Director, State Government Affairs & Grassroots 

Vertex Pharmaceuticals 

Recommend Reading: “The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line” by David Horsager 

Summary: The book focuses on trust as the most crucial factor in any business relationship and identifies eight pillars of trust on which all successful businesses are founded: clarity, compassion, character, competence, commitment, connection, contribution and consistency.

Who Should Read It: Anyone in leadership should read this book, but I believe individuals seeking their first opportunity to lead a team will benefit most from it. It gives a reasonable roadmap of clear objectives and shows what success looks like.

Why It Speaks to Me: As a young leader, I learned that building trust was the most important thing I could do. This book provides practical insights on how to build trust and evaluate your progress.

Noteworthy: Horsager’s Trust Edge Leadership Institute conducts research around the world and offers complimentary white papers at The 2020 report tells leaders how to create “a sought-after business culture even amidst change.”