Mike Baker seems to have lived three different lives in the span of one: He started as a CIA officer, then launched his own private intelligence firm, and today hosts Black Files Declassified, a show where he investigates secret government programs. Now, he’s adding “author” to his already impressive resume with the release of his Scribd Original, Company Rules, which outlines nine lessons he learned in the CIA that have helped him run a successful business.
With his business acumen and his access to information that most people can only imagine (quite literally), we asked Baker about the accuracy of spy shows, what business books he recommends, and more in the video below.
Transcription: Talking Fictional Spies/CEOs with Scribd Originals Author Mike Baker
Scribd: What spy trope in movies or TV shows really grinds your gears?
Mike Baker: Sitting with me during a spy show, like The Americans, or Jack Ryan, 24, Alias — pick one — or any movie about spying or espionage, is an exercise in how long can you put up with sitting next to me while I go “ugh, God, ugh, argh!” Or I just grind my teeth. Or [I just] look and kind of stare off into the distance and just go “I can’t believe that that’s what they came up with.”
It’s taken me a long time to realize that there’s the creative entertainment world and then there’s what actually happens in the business that I was in.
And you know, hey, I’m a big fan of the Bourne series, right? I love the books and I know some of the folks who put the movie series together. And, you know, is it realistic? Eh, no.
But to be fair, if you actually wrote a movie about how it actually works, I think people would tune out after a short while. Because you can sometimes have long periods of inactivity, followed by a short burst of something extremely entertaining, and then followed by filing your receipts and submitting paperwork to explain how you lost money or hardware.
Favorite fictional CEO?
Mike Baker: You know, I can’t remember the last time I was stumped on a question. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a great fictional CEO.” So if I had to say favorite chief executive, I would say Martin Sheen from West Wing. But I’m kind of cheating there a little bit, because I’ve moved into the public sector.
Favorite fictional spy?
Mike Baker: It would be a toss-up, and these are two polar opposites. It would be George Smiley from the John le Carré novels or Jason Bourne.
Favorite business book?
Mike Baker: It’s the one that always kind of stands out, was that old book: In Search of Excellence. And I’m sure that people have a dozen others that they’d put on top of this one, just because of its age, but it’s still the one that I kind of pull off the shelf and reread a passage or two from.
Favorite spy book?
Mike Baker: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It really digs into the mechanics of spying, and it’s obviously stuck right into the Cold War, and I’m old enough that when I joined the outfit, the Soviet Union was still our prime concern, prime enemy. So yeah, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy would be it.
Learn actionable lessons about business in Mike Baker’s very real Scribd Original.
A former CIA operative lays out nine rules he learned while working for America’s human intelligence agency that helped him successfully launch his own business in this Scribd Original. Company Rules provides practical advice for entrepreneurs (spy skills not required but can come in handy) alongside insightful and humorous stories of Baker’s transition from the public to the private sector.
About the Author: Ashley McDonnell
Ashley is a Senior Editorial Associate at Scribd who loves Ernest Hemingway, “The Hunger Games,” and ice hockey. When she’s not reading or at the rink, she’s making nerdy podcasts about anime and manga.