The 4 business books everyone should read, according to this former Starbucks executive

Catch Adam Brotman during a rare moment of downtime, and he will almost always have a book in his hand. 

"I love reading and try to do it as often as I can," the former chief digital officer and EVP of global retail operations at Starbucks tells CNBC Make It. 

Brotman spent nearly a decade building Starbucks's rewards program and digital platforms, including its mobile payment and mobile order features. After leaving Starbucks in 2018, the Seattle native served a short stint as J.Crew's president and co-CEO before joining the Seattle-based (and Starbucks-backed) startup Brightloom as its CEO. 

At Brightloom, Brotman and his team are building software to help smaller businesses use tools like digital ordering and personalized marketing, a mission Brotman refers to as his "life's work." Starbucks licensed its mobile and loyalty program technology to Brightloom — the same technology Brotman helped develop during his tenure at the coffee giant — so its customers can use it for their own businesses.

Throughout his career, Brotman says he's always sought guidance and inspiration from books to challenge his worldview and guide his decision-making. "But I almost exclusively read non-fiction business books," he adds. Here are some of his favorite reads: 

'The Antisocial Network'

By Ben Mezrich 

Mezrich is one of Brotman's favorite authors. He's written 20 books exploring the intersections between technology, finance and risk-taking. 

'Antisocial Network' is no different. It tells a gripping account of the January 2021 GameStop short squeeze, where a group of private investors and users on Reddit took down a Wall Street hedge fund. 

"Mezrich's books often tackle the theme of taking on the system, modern versions of David and Goliath," Brotman says. "The reason I love 'Antisocial Network' is because I learned a ton and it's not just educational, it also has a cinematic, page-turning appeal to it." 

'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People'

By Stephen Covey

This 1989 classic is one of the most popular leadership books in the United States and can be found on the bookshelves of presidents and CEOs. 

Covey outlines a step-by-step approach to improving both your personal and professional life with tips on time management, positive thinking and more. After his death in 2012, Covey's sons Sean and Stephen have continued to share his teachings on the author's social media channels and through FranklinCovey, a global consulting organization.

Sean once shared his best leadership advice with CNBC Make It: learn all the requirements of your job, then figure out how to go beyond those responsibilities. "What you can do today is to understand what's expected of you in your role in the organization and how your values, skills and abilities line up with those expectations," he said. "Then, see how you could make the biggest difference in your current role." 

"I've carried Covey's guiding principles with me, and used them my entire life," Brotman says, adding that his favorite lesson from the book is "first seek to understand, then to be understood."

'Shoe Dog'

By Phil Knight 

Nike's billionaire co-founder Phil Knight details how he turned Nike into a brand worth over $30 billion in this memoir. 

"This is the book you need to pick up if you're looking to be inspired," Brotman says. "It really is this incredible story of entrepreneurial determination and vision."

Knight co-founded Nike with his former University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman in 1963 under the name Blue Ribbon Sports. In those early days, he would travel to track meets and sell shoes from the trunk of his car. 

In 2016 Knight told CNBC's Jim Cramer that building Nike was the most fun he ever had, even if people doubted his ability to succeed. "We knew we could fail, we just didn't think we would," he said. "We loved doing what we were doing, and we loved each other." 

'Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time'

By Howard Schultz 

 Brotman swears he picked up Schultz's memoir before he was offered a job at Starbucks. 

Schultz chronicles his quest to grow Starbucks from one store in Seattle to the world's largest coffeehouse chain, including a fun anecdote about how he convinced Bill Gates' dad to invest in the franchise. 

"Howard doesn't just explain what he did, but why he did it, and the 'why' is priceless," Brotman says. "To me, there is no [other] book that combines a story of entrepreneurial success with real lessons that you can apply to your own career and life."

Schultz has been praised for his business acumen and work ethic, but Brotman believes that the memoir captures how big of a heart the leader has. "He has this incredible ability to bring humanity into every conversation and decision." 

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