book covers the art of business wars

A 5 Minute Overview Of

The Art of Business Wars

Battle-Tested Lessons for Leaders and Entrepreneurs from History's Greatest Rivalries

About the Author

David Brown is the host of the award winning Business Wars and Business Wars Daily podcasts. He formerly anchored the public radio business show Marketplace, and has worked as a radio journalist for more than 30 years. He is an experienced public speaker, and a contributor to shows including NPR's Morning Edition and CNBC's Power Lunch. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and the Washington and Lee University of Law.

The Main Idea

Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola. McDonalds vs. Burger King. Pizza Hut vs. Dominos. Starbucks vs. Dunkin' Donuts. Uber vs. Lyft. Who doesn't love a great business war? When two big brands go to battle, some great stories emerge. Business wars are battles, every bit as intense as when nation goes against nation.

What's really interesting about business wars, however, is the fact the same strategies which military leaders have used for centuries, work in business wars as well. In particular, military strategists have long studied the Chinese general Sun Tzu, who lived and waged war sometime around 500 B.C. Even though he included tips about chariot-fighting which might not be all that relevant or useful today, much of what he wrote applies to business wars.

Experience is the greatest teacher. If you want to wage and win a business war, look to the valuable strategic lessons of history's greatest military strategists. You might be fighting for market share rather than your life, but careers and livelihoods are on the line.

The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.
Winston Churchill
Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The 9 Principles of Business Wars

1. Never expect a warm welcome from other players when you start a war.

The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his mind before that battle is fought.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

2. Being first to market is not as key as striking at the right moment.

In war, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

3. It's logistics and the strength of your supply chain that wins wars, not rousing speeches or great leaders.

To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

4. Positioning your business in the spot that matters most is very important.

The skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

5. Be nimble, and ready to change whenever and wherever the market goes: nothing is forever.

Take advantage of the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

6. Look for a single, timely stroke which makes competitors irrelevant.

In war, avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

7. Be willing to be ruthlessly deceptive if that's what it takes to win.

There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, and special days for starting a conflagration.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

8. The best marketing is to give your customers a product they believe in.

He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

9. There is always business to be done — even in the worst of times.

Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Key Takeaways

Experience is the greatest teacher. Look to what has won business wars in the past and learn.

The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward
Winston Churchill
Opportunities multiply as they are seized
Sun Tzu

Summaries.Com Editor's Comments

Hey, what a great book. Reading about these business wars was incredibly fun and engaging. I've always felt a little bit uneasy about using warfare metaphors for business, but this book positions them exactly right. These commercial wars might not have been life and death, but to the people who fought them, they had far reaching economic consequences. I also liked how Sun Tzu's oft quoted principles were interwoven into the stories.

My personal favorite? I loved the story of the battle to build "New York's Tallest Building" in the late 1920s / early 1930s. The designers of The Manhattan Bank Building at 40 Wall Street had redesigned their building to be two feet higher than the Chrysler Building then under construction, giving them the title. Then, on May 27, 1930, the builders opened the dome at the top of the Chrysler Building and erected a 185-foot stainless-steel spire they had hidden there. Within two hours, the Chrysler Building rose above The Manhattan Bank's building by 121 feet, making the Chrysler Building the world's tallest building. As Sun Tzu said: "Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him".

Loved it. The other business wars described in this book are equally engaging and fascinating to read about in retrospect. I highly recommend buying The Art of Business Wars. It's a great read. It reminds me business is fun, and a chance to stick it to your competitors in unexpected ways. Awesome.

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