When former Wheaton students Julia Wittrock and Grant Hensel decided to ask each of the Fortune 500 CEOs about their favorite books, they weren’t sure what types of responses, if any, they would receive. They hoped that their three-sentence, hand-signed letters ending with the words, “You inspire us,” would bring them around 50 replies at most. What they did not anticipate was 150 CEOs responding, some even sending copies of their book of choice, calling them on the phone or writing letters in return. These 150 recommendations became the basis for Wittrock and Hensel’s book “What the Fortune 500 Read,” which was released this past Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Wittrock explained, “We read the 52 books that have the most recommendations, and summarized them into about two pages. Our book is a compilation of those summaries.” Unlike most outlines you can find online, these summaries contain additional steps for digesting the information and making it relevant. “They have action steps and questions for reflection so that people can actually apply what they’re learning. We chose 52 books because that’s the number of weeks in a year.” The goal, according to Wittrock, is for readers to go through one summary per week and apply the information as they learn it.
Out of the 52 books, Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” received by far the most recommendations, greatly exceeding those of the next most recommended book. Other books on the list include “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Leading Change” and the Bible.
Wittrock and Hensel both graduated from Wheaton College this past May with degrees in business-economics. While studying at Wheaton, they were both involved in starting the business club Delta, which is now the Student Alumni Board. Wittrock is currently working in Minnesota as a sourcing analyst for the company 3M, and Hensel is employed at Slalom Consulting in Chicago. Reflecting on her experience at Wheaton, Wittrock said that Wheaton has helped shape her understanding of networking. She explained, “I realized that there are a lot of older people who really do want to help and want you to learn from them.”
The idea for their book came from a friend and fellow Wheaton student, Miles Veth, who encouraged them to give the project a try. For Wittrock, the most challenging part of the process was the uncertainty that came from not knowing how successful they would be at contacting both the CEOs and the publishing companies.
“It’s hard to plan with a lot of unknowns. We were very reliant on the generosity of others.”
Nevertheless, the generosity and willingness of the CEOs to share with two college students surpassed their expectations and taught them a valuable lesson about people. Wittrock reflected, “I think the world’s a lot smaller place than we think it is. I think we put people in boxes as far as being totally unable to be reached . . . (If you) just show your genuine interest in wanting to get to know someone, most people in the world are reachable.” She also advised that students take advantage of the opportunities and benefits that come from being a student. In their search for publishing companies, Wittrock and Hensel saw how simply using the phrase “student project” in the subject lines of their messages helped get their work noticed. She explained, “You would think, ‘I’m just a student, no one cares,’ but it actually makes them care a little bit more, I think.”
When asked about their goals for the book, Wittrock said, “It would be great if (our readers) could leave the book feeling excited about leadership, business and their own potential.” She also added that their goal in publishing the book is to help connect them with other young people who have an interest in business and entrepreneurship.
“We would love to get a better finger on the pulse of the community of students and other young people interested in business, to be a better network for that community.”
Wittrock and Hensel want to be a resource for students and encourage them to reach out with questions or to learn more about their work. They are also offering a free copy of their eBook to anyone associated with Wheaton College. Information on how to download their book is available below.
Visit www.fortune500booklist.com/wheaton and use the code WHEATON for a free eBook copy of What the Fortune 500 Read. Valid from Nov.ember 20-25, 2015.