"It may be the best book ever written about marketing and advertising,"
Sun Tzu is required reading in "Great Books in Management," a popular elective for second-year students at the University of Virginia's Darden School.
Though modern best-selling business gurus such as Tom Peters and Lee Iacocca dominate the reading list, "The Art of War" is consistently among the most popular books, according to John L. Colley Jr., who teaches the course.
Colley learned about the book a decade ago when the president of a company in Cleveland sent him a copy.
While many current management guides "are sort of self-serving," books such as "The Art of War" and Machiavelli's "The Prince" offer eternal truths, Colley said.
"These books are about leadership and human nature."
Sun Tzu teaches careful planning, knowing one's terrain before beginning a campaign and "knowing the most you can about your competition," said Colley, Almand R. Coleman professor of business administration.
"There are many combative situations in business."
Brian Cors, who took the course this fall, said he thought many strategies in the book would be outdated.
But he was so impressed that he wrote his final paper comparing the book with two '80s management guides, Tom Peters' "Thriving on Chaos" and Peter Drucker's "Innovation and Entrepreneurship."
Cors, 27, plans to become a management consultant or general manager of a firm. He said "The Art of War" will have a prominent place on his bookshelf throughout his career.
"It's sort of like the Bible. It's the bible of business."
The book has become a fixture in the American military and is required reading for officers in the Marine Corps. Marine officers discovered Sun Tzu while stationed in China during the 1930s, according to Col. Michael Wyly in Quantico.
Wyly came across the book as a young first lieutenant in 1964, assigned to teach counterguerrilla warfare to Americans fighting the growing conflict in Vietnam. The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, like the Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung, were students of "The Art of War," Wyly said.
In the post-Vietnam era, Marines have begun to take the book much more seriously.
"We refer to it in every one of our courses that teaches tactics," said Wyly, vice president of the Marine Corps University at Quantico.
The book has become so influential that when the Marines issued their "War Fighting" handbook last spring, the first handbook of military philosophy produced by the corps in decades, the handbook was heavily influenced by Sun Tzu, Wyly said.
"The memory of Vietnam and the lessons of Vietnam drive our thinking.
What did we do wrong? What could we have done better?"
Dr. Edwards said he believes the Western infatuation with Sun Tzu stems from recent business successes of Japan and other nations of the Pacific Rim.
"My guess is people are saying, 'Gosh, these Asians are doing so well.
They must be doing something we don't know about.'
"It's 'instant Asia,' without having to spend all that time learning how Chinese and Japanese thought developed."
He also cautioned against applying much Chinese thought to the way Japanese business leaders operate. "You have to remember that the Japanese are as different from the Chinese as we are."
He suggested Western leaders might do better to find inspiration in their own cultural back yard.
"Read Emerson, Thoreau, maybe even Henry Ford."
SUN TZU SAYS: