Book Review: How to Castrate a Bull: Unexpected Lessons on Risk, Growth, and Success in Business

I often like to read books from technology-based companies outside of the biotechnology space because they can yield insights relevant to biotechnology business development. This book’s attention-grabbing title comes from the author’s experience working as a ranch hand prior to co-founding a computer hardware company.

How to Castrate a Bull describes the growth of NetApp, a disruptive entrant in the data storage business that developed a lower-cost data storage product and fought to gain customers from larger firms while simultaneously proactively defending themselves against other small entrants. The author’s style presents a compelling story, sprinkled with vignettes making analogies to his prior experience in raising cattle. One story, very relevant in any growing company, is the fate of an alpha bull who veers off path when leading a cattle drive: “… sometimes this leader had a tendency to veer off to the side, taking the herd with him. Getting the herd back on track was hard work for the cowboys, so if the lead steer swerved too often, there was no choice but to shoot him in the head.” A sentiment echoed in “When should you fire the founder.”

Another excellent story is when NetApp decided to aim for 100% growth. Hitz explains that failure to out-grow the competition can be detrimental, as a larger, faster-growing, competitor can effectively out-develop, out-sell, and ultimately eliminate a slower-growing company from a market. So, sometimes aggressive growth must be baked into business plans. This requires aggressive sales and R&D efforts to ensure sufficient revenues to support the growth. It also creates growth opportunities for employees. If a manager is promoted and is not able to effectively manage their larger team, an new manager can be hired to replace them and they can try their expanded management role again in a few months as their department continually grows.

The lessons in How to Castrate a Bull are relevant to most biotechnology companies. I recommend it highly for founders, managers, and new employees of growing companies.

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