Ben Horowitz What You Do Is Who You Are

Last updated: August 25, 2021


Using four examples of successful leadership from history (including Genghis Khan's cultural inclusiveness and the only successful slave revolt) this book analyzes how these lessons can be applied to build an intentional and purposeful corporate culture in the modern world.

We looked at the top Business Culture Books and dug through the reviews from some of the most popular review sites. Through this analysis, we've determined the best Business Culture Book you should buy.

Product Details

Key Takeaway: Great for history buffs, managers, and those who are a bit of both, this book will transform how you approach business culture.

In our analysis of 12 expert reviews, the Ben Horowitz What You Do Is Who You Are placed 1st when we looked at the top 5 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

From The Manufacturer

Ben Horowitz, a leading venture capitalist, modern management expert, and New York Times best-selling author, combines lessons both from history and from modern organizational practice with practical and often surprising advice to help executives build cultures that can weather both good and bad times. Ben Horowitz has long been fascinated by history, and particularly by how people behave differently than you’d expect. The time and circumstances in which they were raised often shapes them – yet a few leaders have managed to shape their times. In What You Do Is Who You Are, he turns his attention to a question crucial to every organization: how do you create and sustain the culture you want? To Horowitz, culture is how a company makes decisions. It is the set of assumptions employees use to resolve everyday problems: Should I stay at the Red Roof Inn, or the Four Seasons? Should we discuss the color of this product for five minutes or 30 hours? If culture is not purposeful, it will be an accident or a mistake. What You Do Is Who You Are explains how to make your culture purposeful by spotlighting four models of leadership and culture-building – the leader of the only successful slave revolt, Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture; the Samurai, who ruled Japan for 700 years and shaped modern Japanese culture; Genghis Khan, who built the world’s largest empire; and Shaka Senghor, a man convicted of murder who ran the most formidable prison gang in the yard and ultimately transformed prison culture. Horowitz connects these leadership examples to modern case-studies, including how Louverture’s cultural techniques were applied (or should have been) by Reed Hastings at Netflix, Travis Kalanick at Uber, and Hillary Clinton, and how Genghis Khan’s vision of cultural inclusiveness has parallels in the work of Don Thompson, the first African-American CEO of McDonalds, and of Maggie Wilderotter, the CEO who led Frontier Communications. Horowitz then offers guidance to help any company understand its own strategy and build a successful culture. What You Do Is Who You Are is a journey through culture, from ancient to modern. Along the way, it answers a question fundamental to any organization: Who are we? How do people talk about us when we’re not around? How do we treat our customers? Are we there for people in a pinch? Can we be trusted? Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say in company-wide meeting. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe. Who you are is what you do. This audiobook aims to help you do the things you need to become the kind of leader you want to be – and others want to follow.

Expert Reviews


What reviewers liked

Unexpected and delightful. Possibly the least dry and simultaneously most practical book on organizational culture currently on the market. Using a blend of case studies from history and present-day interviews, Horowitz offers insight and suggestions on purposeful actions leaders can take, actions proven to work (or fail!) in a variety of contexts, from feudal Japan to modern-day McDonalds, from revolutionary Haiti to major tech companies like Netflix, Uber, Apple, and Intel.
This book aims to take company culture from nice-sounding mission statements, vague corporate value lists to something very fundamental: The individual actions of the founder or CEO. This is what it boils down to, and I don’t know of any other book that makes it so explicit.
- Medium
What You Do Is Who You Are is arguably the most unique business book I've ever read. Rather than approaching culture with overworn case studies, he supplies fresh stories from slave revolts, prison gangs, and historic battles that emphasize how to create and breed culture within a group.

What reviewers didn't like

This book could have been a blog post and did not need all the long-winded examples that Ben was trying to use to get the message across.
A study in tone-deafness; a white author using Louverture’s rebellion against murderous slave owners to contextualize Amazon’s frugality principle does not land in the place the author seems to believe it will. Readers looking for a testosterone jolt will find it here, as Horowitz lays on the bluster with a trowel in order to frame business as being essentially warlike, but there are plenty of culture books out there that don’t stretch to such bizarre lengths to stand out.
It would be fitting that a book about culture is a bit more — cultured — for lack of a better word. It is much less about himself, and much more about the lessons from history and companies from the a16z portfolio. To me, this makes the book a lot less “raw”, but also quite a bit less gripping than The Hard Thing.
- Medium
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