Book Review: One Last Great Thing by John Burke
I’ll start by telling you how the story ends: The Big Guy dies. However, this spoiler does not ruin the story this book tells. Who is The Big Guy, and why should you care? Click through to see the story this book has to tell, and what difference it might make to you…
Dick Burke, aka The Big Guy, was a driven working-class guy from Wisconsin who helped found Trek Bicycle Corporation in 1976. Author John Burke, the Big Guy’s son, worked his way up through the company to succeed his father as head of Trek Bicycles. John Burke wrote this slim volume as a tribute to his father, telling the story of The Big Guy’s sometimes-bumpy path to growing what is perhaps the largest, most successful bicycle manufacturer of his day. Along the way, son John reveals what characteristics made The Big Guy so successful, and just as importantly, takes us on a personal trip through his own experience as son, successful employee, and eventual leader of Trek.
From comments received upon announcing the publication of this book, I know that feelings run strong and deep about Trek Bicycles, both for and against. Those looking for an inside peek at the technical aspects of innovations introduced by Trek on their march to the top will find little satisfaction in this book. Likewise, those looking for reasons to further hate Trek because of their smaller company acquisitions and endorsement deals will find little fodder for their broadsides against the company.
What you will find in this book is a very warm, surprisingly moving story of the illness and unexpected death of an inspiring father and company leader. To the end, The Big Guy took charge. Growing Trek into an industry leader was not at all a smooth, easy path. When quick early growth revealed deep flaws in the structure of the management of the company, Dick Burke stepped in to take responsibility (and blame) and set things straight. He didn’t romp and stomp and kick ass; he rationally set choices before his team and led them to come up with ways to get the company back on track and provide excellent products and service.
Certainly a biography by a loving son will show a mostly-positive spin, and that’s fine – I have warned you that this is the case. This isn’t meant to be a warts-and-all comprehensive biography of Dick Burke; this is a work intended to reveal what made the man successful and well-loved, and to set precepts down for readers to learn and follow. The 10 “lessons” revealed at the end (follow your dreams, set goals, etc) will be no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has read such books or sat through management classes at work.
For me personally, I generally avoid “10 steps to improve your life” type books. But I admit to finding myself very moved at the end of this fairly short book. The Big Guy didn’t die suddenly; instead, an infection during a relatively routine operation caused a coma that, when the up until then-very active 73-year-old emerged, left him unable to speak, too weak to communicate beyond simple spelling, and slowly dying. The story of the author and his family coming to terms with the realization that The Big Guy was not going to recover is very emotional, without being overly sentimental.
It is likely that most of us have or will face end-of-life issues, and stories such as this help us see that some good can come from such situations – One Last Great Thing.
This book can be found at many book sellers such as Amazon.