Queen Esther has a lot to tell todays Jewish businesswomen

What does the story of an ancient Queen of Persia have to do with women in corporate America? Plenty, according to Connie Glaser, author of "What Queen Esther Knew: Business Strategies from a Biblical Sage."

Glaser, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish household in suburban Detroit, had been acquainted with the Esther story since she was a little girl. But as a consultant on issues facing women in business, Glaser found something new in the story in recent years.

"Hearing the Megillah read about two years ago, I had a much deeper appreciation for Esther and how she really evolves as a person throughout the course of the story," says the Atlanta resident in a phone interview during her current book tour.

In Esther's transformation from a passive, naive young woman into a smart, courageous heroine — a true queen — Glaser sees an inspirational archetype for women today. "This story was so compelling for me that I was really interested in going back to it with a fresh perspective, to see if there were indeed valid parallels" with the latest insights on business success. She and her co-author, Barbara Steinberg Smalley, knew the obvious lessons for today's businesswomen — such as confronting unethical practices — and were delighted that through a closer reading other lessons emerged, as well.

All these lessons — from making a royal first impression, fighting for what you believe in and communicating with the clout of a queen to dealing with life's Hamans, keeping the faith and celebrating your personal Purim — form the larger outline of the book.

And in each chapter, corresponding in chronological order to an episode in the Esther story, the authors spell out the parallels between Esther's wisdom and modern truth. The chapter on palace gossip, for example, notes that Esther was able to increase her credibility with King Ahasuerus by telling him of the assassination plot that Mordecai had overheard and shared with her. The chapter quickly moves on to explain how tapping into the office grapevine can enhance your career — and gives specific tips on doing just that.

In another chapter, the authors point out that to get what she wanted, Esther had to approach the king unsummoned — a risky act because it was against Persian law.

"She had no choice but to break, or at least bend, the rules — and only by doing so, was she ultimately successful," they write. In modern bureaucracies, too, working around the rules is often helpful, but women are less likely than men to stray from the rulebook.

In contrast to the terse wisdom of the Esther text, the modern versions of the same truths receive heavy buttressing from dozens of experts (especially authors of other popular business books) and businesswomen that Glaser has met through her consulting work. On questions of textual interpretation, the authors defer to biblical scholars, particularly Michael V. Fox, author of "Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther."

Glaser had not set out to mine the Esther story for corporate wisdom. Rather, as the author of three previous books aimed at helping women empower themselves, she had been asked by her editor to consider for her next book the theme of best practices for women in business. As she thought about that question, Glaser kept being drawn back to the Esther story.

"It's very contemporary," says the author, citing the three women who blew the whistle on fraud and cover-ups at the FBI, Enron and WorldCom. The trio became Time magazine's Persons of the Year last year, just months after Glaser had identified them as modern-day Esthers in the course of research for her book.

Perhaps the harshest criticism the book has received is that it offers nothing new. Glaser's poised and diplomatic response to this criticism shows that she's taken Esther's lessons to heart. "Maybe there is nothing new under the sun," she concedes, but she adds that "maybe there is something valuable in taking these age-old, wise lessons and showing how they are relevant today. Tying it back to something that is so ancient gives it a sense of being timely — and also being timeless."