‘Wars, I hate to say it, are pretty fascinating'

Longtime retail boss John Cato can't remember the last time he cracked a novel, but he's a big reader who especially enjoys the strategy of military books.

“Wars, I hate to say it, are pretty fascinating,” said Cato, CEO of Charlotte's Cato Corp., the women's clothing retailer his family started in 1946.

This month, he read “Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times,” by George Crile, also a movie. He was also working through an oldie, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” by Robert Caro, who wrote several books Cato has read about President Lyndon Johnson.

“Charlie Wilson's War reads like a novel,” Cato said. “The Power Broker is a little slow.”

Three other recent favorites: “King of the Club: Richard Grasso and the Survival of the New York Stock Exchange” by Charles Gasparino, “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom,” by Slavomir Rawicz, and one he calls almost must reading, “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets,” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Cato, whose grandfather, father and uncle started the chain after World War II, gets his news from the Observer and the Wall Street Journal as well as Fortune and Forbes. Daily, he also reads news stories generated by Yahoo based on his stock list.

Growing up, the native Charlottean recalls riding in the back seat while his grandfather and father, Wayland Cato, talked business as they visited stores. That was his early business schooling, and he particularly remembers his father stressing the need to think ahead as part of strategic planning.

“When you make a decision or choice, you need to think through the ramifications several steps out,” Cato said.