Siemens USA CEO: What I Read This Summer

Siemens USA CEO: What I Read This Summer

Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

When I was thinking about what to read this summer, I didn’t start with a syllabus or consult with anyone regarding any particular topics. I actually took recommendations at random from friends, employees and business partners – especially Alan Murray at Fortune.


And while the words “summer reading” evoke images of hammocks and beach chairs, I opted to listen to these titles – and to listen only when I was on the move. This strategy kept me exercising all summer long with morning walks through DC, weekend bike rides along the Potomac and lifting weights at the gym.


I also should mention a key detail: I sped up the audio so I had to focus intently on the spoken words to prevent my mind from wandering. And it worked! As I listened to multiple titles, and logged the miles and reps, I learned something about how my memory works: words and images locked together as I moved around the city. Driving along the path of one of my walks will now trigger memories from my reading. My plan is to put this knowledge to work by doing more of my one-on-one meetings on the move.


So, here’s what I read:


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

Scientists may be critical of this account of the evolution of humans from the stone age to the 21st century, but I reveled in Harari’s ideas. Was the original purpose of human language to gossip? Is it possible to have an unbiased society? How are religions, political structures, trade networks and legal institutions related? Harari asks the critical question about our future, “What do we want to want?” Read this book and let’s work on this question together.


Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight

I wore my first pair of Nike trainers as a sprinter on my high school track team. None of us had seen anything like the flexible sole and the lighter-than-air upper. We couldn’t have guessed how much grit was involved in bringing these shoes to market. If you ever doubted the effect of a leader on an organization, read this story. When passion, know-how and integrity align, it’s magic.


Becoming, by Michelle Obama

We know former first lady Michelle Obama’s voice from her time in public service. Now we get to hear her tell more of the story of her life. There’s a lot to learn from Michelle’s insights, but a highlight for me was the question of the “work-life blend.” How can we view our work and personal lives as a continuous whole rather than two separate existences that need to be balanced?


Churchill: Walking with Destiny, by Andrew Roberts

Okay, so I might not have picked this one myself. I promised to read it in preparation for a meeting later this month – and I’m glad I did. What emerged in my mind is a picture of an imperfect leader who played a pivotal role in world history. The issues of his day were vastly different in how they were handled politically, but eerily the same as those we face today in terms of the depth of their consequences.


The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This was book No. 2 in my preparation for this month’s meeting. Many of the major advancements in our understanding of the gene have occurred during my lifetime. I remember hearing the news or reading articles about this subject, so it was fun to hear the story as a continuous thread. It got me thinking: As we continue to unpack the building blocks of life, as we learn about the gene, what discoveries are in store regarding the building blocks of human intelligence?


Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Taleb

What is the opposite of fragility? Turns out there is no word for it, but it plays a role in our health, our businesses and our societies. We need to embrace disruption because it will help us learn how to grow stronger, but we have to be careful not to be “antifragile” at the expense of another’s fragility. I’ll be going back to this book in the coming months, because there’s a lot in this title that got me thinking.


AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, by Kai-Fu Lee

I don’t know why I didn’t read this when it was first published last year. There is real risk and opportunity on the path ahead for artificial intelligence. The societies, cultures and political systems of China and the U.S. are vastly different, and that affects how we are approaching the use of AI. Lee has experience in both countries and presents his views as well as advice for the future. This is a title with great relevance both for individuals and businesses, because the impact of AI is going to be universal, and it’s already in motion.