Book Review – Derailed

I received a copy of Derailed by Dr Tim Irwin from my Catalyst Filter membership. They tend to send good quality books and music so I was excited to read it. Derailed is the story of six high-profile CEO failures and provides a few ideas about how avoid their mistakes. Dr Irwin has a simple idea: character trumps competence. Throughout the book he shows that while these CEOs were all extremely competent, they made major mistakes in their leadership and relationships with employees and boards.  For example: Bob Nardelli of Home Depot installed a private elevator so that he wouldn’t have to share an elevator with regular employees.  Carly Fiorina was abusive to the son of one of the founders of HP as she pushed for a merger with Compaq.  The list goes on, and it’s pretty startling to see the “cream of the crop” make some stunning mistakes.


  • Great subject material.  Although I hadn’t heard of each CEO, many of the stories were familiar enough that I was instantly engaged
  • Dr. Irwin does a great job of outlining what character traits are important, and their negative counterparts that can lead to derailment.
  • While very much a business book, Derailed has a great deal of cross-genre relevance.


  • While the CEO accounts are engaging, the stories are basically a compilation of news reports with no first-hand interviews.  Leaves a little something to be desired.
  • While making good suggestions, some of Dr. Irwin’s ideas are a bit simplistic.  For example: he recommends having a mentor.  That’s a good idea, but he doesn’t dive any deeper into how the mentor can help you, what your interactions should look like, etc.

Overall, the book was a good read, and because it’s fairly short, Derailed can be read quickly.


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