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The Secret Lies in People - Book Review

1 March 2015
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"The Secret Lies in People: About Management and Leadership," originally titled "It's All About Who You Hire, How They Lead... and Other Essential Advice from a Self-Made Leader," was authored by Morton Mandel in collaboration with John A. Bern in 2012. Morton Mandel, a prominent figure in philanthropy, shares his leadership and management principles in the book. He and his brothers achieved immense wealth by embracing integrity and philanthropy as core values. While the book emphasizes the importance of people, it recognizes that they are not the sole contributors to success.

This autobiography, presented in the first person with the assistance of a ghostwriter, doubles as a practical guide, offering numerous recommendations across various topics. This summary provides an overview and should only replace reading some of the book.

Mandel celebrated his 91st year when the book was published, yet he remained vigorous and engaged in his work. Learning from such a remarkable individual in business and life offers invaluable insights. Enjoy your reading.


People constitute the foremost and most pivotal element in Mendel's philosophy of success. He ardently advocates selecting the best individuals, bypassing those who are merely competent or nearly so. He advises patience in waiting for these exceptional talents, even if the process takes longer. Conversely, he encourages recruiting outstanding individuals who cross one's path, even if a vague position is available at the time of hire. The qualities to seek in people, in order of priority, are:

  1. Intelligence

  2. Values

  3. Passion

  4. Work ethic

  5. Initiative

The best counsel he gleaned, attributed to his advisor Peter Drucker for a time, was to position the most capable people where the most significant opportunities emerge.

Key takeaways include:

  • Individuals unable to meet the demands and unwilling to strive for improvement should be let go.

  • Create appealing roles and offer competitive salaries to attract top-tier talent.

  • Ensure challenges and opportunities for achievement.

  • Reward excellence.

The organization reflects its people and the prevailing culture in which it operates. The paramount aspects of the recommended culture are:

  • High moral standards, emphasizing integrity and fairness.

  • Positive leadership.

  • Adherence to principles and transparent communication regarding this adherence.

  • Respect and courtesy for each individual.

  • Accessibility is characterized by attentive listening to individuals, not solely at the direct subordinate level.

  • Prioritizing the individual and their family within the organization's hierarchy of importance.

Customer Service

Outstanding customer service constitutes the second key ingredient for success. While professing the virtues of exceptional service is simple, the practice is rare.

Mandel maintains that a company can flourish by focusing on low costs or superb customer service (adjusting prices as needed). He attributes his success to the latter model.

Specifics of the concept encompass:

  • Concentrating on products/services that the customer deems hard to come by.

  • Even if it necessitates investing more, delivering exceptional post-purchase service to the customer ensures that the service remains at the same high level without additional charges.

  • Eschewing price discounts can retroactively diminish the need to curtail service to maintain profit margins.

  • Maintaining an inventory that consistently delivers.

The principles may be few, but unwavering commitment to them is always imperative.

Striving for Excellence

Morton Mandel provides keen insights into the management methods he firmly believes in. These encompass:

Current Management:

  1. Operating by well-defined policies and procedures.

  2. Conducting meticulously planned and well-organized meetings.

  3. Employing a centralized management approach, which some might cautiously describe as micro-management:

I.Employee meetings are conducted with clearly defined agendas and objectives.

II.Managers closely monitor the progress of their employees' tasks and, to some extent, the tasks of subordinate levels.

  1. Maintaining a high level of attention to detail.

  2. Continuously streamlining ongoing work. When everything is well-defined, Mandel believes he can decentralize the work with the confidence that it will be executed as expected.


  1. Focusing on progress and development in areas where the company lacks a presence instead of pursuing market dominance through acquisitions of similar companies.

  2. Avoiding the acquisition of competitors due to cultural disparities.

  3. Embracing small, measured acquisitions and deliberate development without hasty, significant steps. This approach extends to handling small mistakes.

  4. Acquiring businesses with untapped potential that faltered due to poor management.

  5. Demonstrating great patience and persistence in acquisition attempts, even revisiting the same company with acquisition offers after extended periods.

Partners and Suppliers:

Cultivating long-term relationships.

Change Management:

  1. Acknowledging that everyone can navigate change, provided they believe in themselves and others and wholeheartedly commit to this pursuit.

  2. Fostering self-confidence and a persistent "I can" attitude to drive progress and achieve objectives.


This chapter on contributions to the social sector may not be an integral part of Morton Mandel's philosophy of excellence and success. Yet, it plays a significant role in his worldview and activity approach. As a result, it is extensively discussed in his book. Mandel refers to donations as "candle lighting" and underscores their importance. As detailed above, he believes in managing charitable giving using the same principles that guide his corporate management.

Mandel contends that every individual should aspire to make the world a better place. Therefore, it is crucial to consider how donated funds can be utilized most effectively and beneficially. This naturally necessitates personal involvement, not solely financial contribution.

Regarding his philanthropic efforts, Mandel expresses:

  • A penchant for tackling complex problems with no quick or easy solutions. He is engaged in education, management, leadership, and community revitalization.

  • Acknowledgment of the need for patience in long-term contributions. Progress is essential, but it is vital to recognize that it takes time.

  • He commits to involving individuals of the utmost integrity in the various initiatives he champions.

  • Exact sciences, technology, and medicine often overshadow belief in advancing the humanities.

Mandel concludes his book with an inspiring passage:

"I have no intention of retiring. There are still too many exciting and meaningful endeavors to pursue, numerous candles to light, and a long journey searching for purpose. The torch is in my hand, and I intend to hold it as high as possible, for as long as possible."

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