"The Best Advice I Ever Got"
Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, A.G. Lafley, and 24 other luminaries on the people who most influenced their business lives.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Warren Buffett, 74
CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
You're right not because others agree with you, but because your facts are right.
"I had two mentors: my dad, Howard Buffett, and Ben Graham. Here were these two guys who I revered and who over the years gave me tons of good advice. But when I think about what they said to me, the truth is, the first thing that comes to mind is bad advice.
"I was not quite 21 when this happened, in 1951, and just getting out of business school at Columbia. I had just taken Ben's class there--and I was the most interested student you ever saw. I wanted to work for Ben at Graham-Newman Corp., and I had famously gone to him and offered to work for nothing. He said no.
"But I still was determined to go into the securities business, and that's where Ben and my dad gave me the bad advice. They both thought it was a bad time to start. One thing on their minds was that the Dow Jones industrials had been above 200 all year, and yet there had never been a year when it didn't sell below 200. So they both said, 'You'll do fine, but this is not a good time to start.'
"Now there's one thing that may have influenced my dad, and maybe Ben too. I was so immature. I was not only young-looking, I was young-acting. I was skinny. My hair looked awful. Maybe their advice was their polite way of saying that before I started selling stocks, I needed to mature a little, or I wasn't going to be successful. But they didn't say that to me; they said the other. Anyway, I didn't pay any attention. I went back to Omaha and started selling securities at my dad's firm, Buffett Falk.
"My dad was a totally independent thinker. I suppose the fact that he was has influenced my own thinking some when it comes to buying stocks. Ben instructed me some there too. He said, 'You're neither right nor wrong because others agree with you. You're right because your facts and reasoning are right.'
"Now, Ben--I started learning from him when I read his books on investing at the University of Nebraska. I had tried all kinds of investing up to then, but what he said, particularly in The Intelligent Investor, just lifted the scales from my eyes--things like 'margin of safety' and how to use 'Mr. Market' rather than letting him use you. I then went to Columbia just to take his class and later got that turndown when I asked him for a job. But I kept thinking about that idea when I went back to Omaha. I kept trying to sell Ben stocks and pestering him, sort of. And finally one day in 1954 I got a letter from him saying something to the effect of the next time you're in New York, I'd like to talk to you about something. I was elated! And I made a point of getting to New York immediately.
"I went to work for Ben in August 1954, without ever having asked what my salary would be. It turned out to be $12,000, plus the next year I got a $2,000 bonus. I worked for both parts of the business: Graham- Newman was a regulated investment company, and Newman & Graham Ltd. was what we'd today call a hedge fund. But together they ran only $12 million!
"Walter Schloss and I--though he left before long to start a hedge fund--worked together in a little room. We had a lot of fun with each other, plus we kept poring through the manuals, looking for cheap stocks. We never went out to visit any companies. Ben thought that would be cheating. And when we found something terrific, Ben would put 50,000 bucks into it.
"By early 1956, Ben was planning to leave the firm to go to California. And I had already decided by then to go back to Omaha. I had a terrible time telling Ben about that: I'd go into his office and come back, and then go in and not do it, for a really long time. But his reaction was kind of the same as my dad would have had: whatever's best for you.
"I had $9,800 at the end of 1950, and by 1956 I had $150,000. I figured with that I could live like a king. And I didn't know what I was going to do in Omaha. Maybe go to law school. I did not have a plan. I certainly didn't know I was going to start an investing partnership. But then a couple of months later, seven people wanted me to invest their money for them, and a partnership was the way to do it. And that began it all."
Richard Branson, 54
Founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and the Virgin Group
Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won't survive.
"The person who had the biggest impact on me was Freddie Laker. He had been an aviator involved in the Berlin airlift and had made his money flying goods into Berlin at the end of World War II. He started a low-cost airline [Laker Airways, in 1966] that flew over the Atlantic. He was forced out of business by British Airways. I don't know whether I would have gone into the airline business without seeing what happened to him. He was a very charismatic figure. He was taking on the big guys. He would fly his own planes. He created a lot of excitement.
"At the time, I was running a little record company; I was about 17 years old. The first time I met him was some years later. I was thinking about setting up my own airline. He gave me this advice: 'You'll never have the advertising power to outspend British Airways. You are going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won't survive.'
"The other advice he gave me: 'They [British Airways] will use every trick in the book [against you]. When that happens, three words matter. Only three words, and you've got to use them: Sue the bastards!'
"I suspect if I hadn't sued British Airways [in 1992], Virgin Atlantic wouldn't have survived. And if I hadn't used myself to advertise the airline, then it also wouldn't have survived.
"I named one of my airplanes after him: the Sir Freddie."
Howard Schultz, 51
Chairman of Starbucks
Recognize the skills and traits you don't possess, and hire people who have them.
"Warren Bennis is one of the most respected scholars on leadership. And I was under a lucky star one day--I heard Warren speak at an event, and I was so impressed by what he said that I sought him out for advice. This was in the late 1980s, long before we were a public company.
"Over the years, Warren has been a valued advisor and mentor, and he has become a trusted friend. It's hard to pinpoint just one piece of advice that he gave me, because his guidance was valuable on so many levels. Early on, I remember his words--he said this many times--that I needed to invest ahead of the growth curve and think beyond the status quo in terms of the skill base, the experience, and the quality of the people around me. He also told me that the art of becoming a great leader is in developing your ability to leave your own ego at the door and to recognize the skills and traits you don't possess and that you need to build a world-class organization.
"This was harder than it sounds, because I wanted to build a different kind of company--a company that had a conscience. So it wasn't only that I needed people with skills and discipline and business acumen that complemented my own qualities, but most important, I needed to attract and retain people with like-minded values. What tied us together was not our respective disciplines, and it was not chasing an exit strategy driven by money. What tied us together was the dream of building a company that would achieve the fragile balance of profitability, shareholder value, a sense of benevolence, and a social conscience."
A.G. Lafley, 57
Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble
Have the courage to stick with a tough job.
"My mom, a strong, proud Irish woman who died last year at 82, told me to have the courage of my convictions. She encouraged me to be independent and to be myself, and her advice was in my mind when I almost left P&G in my sixth year. It was 1982, and I decided to go to one of those boutique consulting firms in Connecticut. I even bought a house in Connecticut. I was getting out of P&G because I thought the bureaucracy was so stifling and the change was so slow. I was an associate--between a brand manager and a marketing director--and I was running a bunch of laundry brands. Steve Donovan was in charge of the soap business, and I handed him my resignation.
"He tore it up. I said to him, 'I made a copy.' He said, 'Go home. Call me tonight.' Which was smart, not to negotiate with me right there. When I called him that night, he said, 'Don't come into the office for the next week. Come and see me every night.' So every night, I went to his home, and we'd have a beer or two. He kept working me over until he got to the root of my problem with P&G, which was the bureaucracy. He said, 'You're running away. You don't have the guts to stay and change it. You'll run from the next job too.'
"That really ticked me off. I stayed. And from then on, every time something didn't work, I spoke up. I realized that you can make a difference if you speak up and set your mind to changing things."
Sumner Redstone, 81
Chairman and CEO of Viacom
Follow your own instincts, not those of people who see the world differently.
"In my business career, I frequently turn to Ace Greenberg of Bear Stearns. I've known him for well over 15 years. In connection with all the transactions in which I have been involved, starting with the Paramount acquisition, Ace was one of my advisors. He has consistently advised me that you must follow your own instincts, rather than the views of naysayers or others who see the world in a different way.
"I put that advice into practice with Viacom. I had a terrific battle--most people forget it--a really vicious battle with Terry Elks for Viacom. People said at the time that I overpaid. They said MTV was a fad. They said Nickelodeon would never make it. I knew so little at that time about our businesses. But I saw MTV not as just a music channel but as a cultural channel, a generational channel, and a channel that could travel around the world. As for Nickelodeon, my instincts as a parent and as a grandparent told me, What's more important to people than a kids' channel? My instincts also told me that children are pretty much the same all over the world. They have the same issues with their parents, with their teachers. Everyone said I overpaid. My investment was $500 million. And even at the low price of our stock today, my stock is worth many, many billions. And that is a great illustration of why Ace's advice has been so valuable."
Meg Whitman, 48
CEO and President of eBay
Be nice, do your best--and most important, keep it in perspective.
"Several pieces of advice I've gotten in my life have really made a difference.
"'Be nice to people.' This sounds like a platitude, but I'll never forget my father telling me that. I was 10, and I had been mean to someone. He said, 'There is no point in being mean to anyone at any time. You never know who you're going to meet later in life. And by the way, you don't change anything by being mean. Usually you don't get anywhere.'
"Remember that you can do anything you want to do. Don't let anyone say, 'You're not smart enough ... it's too hard ... it's a dumb idea ... no one has done that before ... girls don't do that.' My mom gave me that advice in 1973. And it allowed me to never worry about what others were saying about my career direction.
"'Always do the best job you can do at whatever you're assigned, even if you think it's boring.' Jerry Parkinson, an assistant advertising manager and my boss at P&G, told me this in 1979. Here I was fresh out of Harvard Business School, and I was assigned to determine how big the hole in the Ivory shampoo bottle should be: three-eighths of an inch or one-eighth of an inch. I did research, focus groups ... and I would come home at night wondering how I had gone from HBS to this. But later I realized that any job you're given is an opportunity to prove yourself.
"'Don't be a credit hog. If you're constantly in the neighborhood of good things, good things will happen to you.' Tom Tierney, who was my boss at Bain in 1981 and is now on the eBay board, told me this. It's true--you get ahead by crediting other people.
"Finally, in 1998, I was in New York watching the ticker as eBay went public. My husband is a neurosurgeon. I called into his operating room and told him the great news. And he said, 'That's nice. But Meg, remember that it's not brain surgery.'"
Jack Welch, 69
Former chairman and CEO of General Electric
"It was 1979 or 1980. I was on the board of GE for the first time. And I was in Seattle for one of those three-day director outings. I had just gone to my first or second board meeting, and at a party for the directors afterwards, Paul Austin, the former chairman of Coke, came up to me. He was a reserved, formal man. Anyway, he must have noticed my starched shirt and how quiet I was in the meeting. I was all prim and proper. He said to me, 'Jack, don't forget who you are and how you got here.' I gave him an embarrassed 'Thanks.' But I knew what he meant. I had always been myself except in this instance. I had never been quiet. He hit me in the nose with it, and it was startling. Next meeting, I think I spoke up a bit."
Sallie Krawcheck, 40
CFO of Citigroup
Don't listen to the naysayers.
"When I was a kid I was 'that kid' --freckles, braces, and very unfortunate glasses. If I wasn't the last chosen for the team, I was the second to last. There are so many heartbreaking stories I remember, like the time I finally managed to kick the ball in kickball. I was running for first base all excited, and then my glasses fell off and I had to go back and get them. The teasing was really tough. I wasn't just crying in class; I was falling apart at school. My grades went from A's to C's.
"One day when I was really down, my mom sat me on the sofa. She spoke to me as though she was speaking to another adult, telling me to stop paying attention to the girls who were teasing me. She told me that they were naysayers who would sit on the sidelines and criticize those who were out there trying. She said that the reason they were doing it was because they were jealous. Looking back, I know they weren't really jealous, but at the time, I believed my mom. My grades went back up, and I never let the naysayers bother me again."
Vivek Paul, 46
President and CEO of Wipro Technologies
Don't limit yourself by past expectations.
"The best advice I ever got was from an elephant trainer in the jungle outside Bangalore. I was doing a hike through the jungle as a tourist. I saw these large elephants tethered to a small stake. I asked him, 'How can you keep such a large elephant tied to such a small stake?' He said, 'When the elephants are small, they try to pull out the stake, and they fail. When they grow large, they never try to pull out the stake again.' That parable reminds me that we have to go for what we think we're fully capable of, not limit ourselves by what we've been in the past. When I took over Wipro in 1999, we were the first to articulate that an Indian company could be in the global top ten [of technology services firms]. As of 2004, we were.
"The second-best piece of advice was something I learned from Jack Welch on one of his trips to India. He was commenting that every time he lands in New York he imagines that he's just been appointed chairman and that this is his first day in the role, and the guy before him was a real dud. He said, 'Every time, I think, What would I do that was different than the guy before? What big changes would I make?' I took that seriously. You should always think, 'How do I regenerate myself?' I don't do it religiously every time I fly internationally. But over Christmas break time, I set aside a day to zero-base myself. I force myself to do it every single year.
"But the person I rely on most in terms of advice is somebody in my Young President's Organization group: John Donahoe [former managing partner at Bain & Co., now president of the eBay business unit]. John has been a life coach for me, helping me sort out the many conflicting business and personal priorities. He has given me great advice about raising high school kids. His suggestions are invaluable."
Dick Parsons, 56
Chairman and CEO of Time Warner
When you negotiate, leave a little something on the table.
"The best business advice I ever received was from Steve Ross, who used to run this company. Steve was a friend. It was 1991 or 1992, and I was on the Time Warner board. I was going to be coming over to the company from the banking industry, and we were talking about how to get things done. Steve said to me, 'Dick, always remember this is a small business and a long life. You are going to see all these guys come around and around again, so how you treat them on each individual transaction is going to make an impression in the long haul. When you do deals, leave a little something to make everyone happy instead of trying to grab every nickel off the table.'
"I've used that advice a thousand times since, literally. When I got to this company, for the first seven or eight years I was here I was the principal dealmaker, and I always took that advice with me into a negotiation. Most people in business do not follow that, though. Maybe there was a time when they did, but I don't think most people do now. I think people get hung up with their advisors, investment bankers, lawyers, and others, and every instance becomes a tug of war to see who can outduel the other to get the slightest little advantage on a transaction. But people don't keep in mind that the advisors are going to move on to the next deal, while you and I are going to have to see each other again."
Andy Grove, 68
Chairman of Intel
When "everyone knows" something to be true, nobody knows nothin'.
"The best advice I ever got was from Alois Xavier Schmidt, my favorite professor at the City College of New York. A saying of his stayed with me and continued to influence me as the decades unfolded. He often said, 'When everybody knows that something is so, it means that nobody knows nothin'.'
"Our little research group at Fairchild [Semiconductor] some 40 years ago started to study the characteristics of surface layers that were the heart of modern integrated circuits. At that time, 'everybody knew' that surface states, an artifice of quantum mechanics, would interfere with us building such chips. As it turns out, nobody knew nothin': We never found any surface states; what we found was trace contamination. When we identified and removed this, the road opened up to the chip industry as we know it today.
"I remembered professor Schmidt's words again ten years ago, when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 'Everybody knew' what treatment would be best for me. I thought that perhaps this was another case where common wisdom might be suspect and decided to do my own research, comparing all the known data about various treatment outcomes and coming up with less-than-conventional conclusions. Time and again, professor Schmidt's saying prompted me to think for myself, go back to first principles, and base knowledge on facts and analysis rather than on what 'everybody knew.'"
Anne Mulcahy, 52
CEO of Xerox
Remember the parable of the cow in the ditch.
"One piece of advice I got has become a mantra at Xerox. It came from a very funny source. It was four years ago, and I was doing a customer breakfast in Dallas. We had invited a set of business leaders there. One was a plainspoken, self-made, streetwise guy [Albert C. Black Jr., president and CEO of On-Target Supplies & Logistics, a logistics management firm]. He came up to me and gave me this advice, and I have wound up using it constantly. 'When everything gets really complicated and you feel overwhelmed,' he told me, 'think about it this way: You gotta do three things. First, get the cow out of the ditch. Second, find out how the cow got into the ditch. Third, make sure you do whatever it takes so the cow doesn't go into the ditch again.'
"Now, every time I talk about the turnaround at Xerox, I start with the cow in the ditch. The first thing is survival. The second thing is, figure out what happened. Learn from those lessons and make sure you've put a plan in place to recognize the signs, and never get there again. This has become sort of a catchphrase for the leadership team. It's just one of those incredibly simple commonsense stories to keep people grounded. I bet that businessman had no idea what kind of legs his story would have."
Brian Grazer, 53
Academy Award--winning movie and TV producer, Imagine Entertainment
All you really own are ideas and the confidence to write them down.
"I've spent the last 18 years soliciting advice from people outside the movie business. Before that, I sought advice from people in the entertainment industry. So I've collected advice from close to 1,000 people over 30 years. Every month I create a new list of people to call. I call it my 'interesting people list.' I call, on average, five people a week--I'll personally call Eliot Spitzer or Isaac Asimov--and may end up meeting with one every two weeks. Ideally I like to meet these people in my office. And I ask them to tell me about their world. I meet these people to learn ultimately how to be a more efficient filmmaker.
"My whole career has been built on one piece of advice that came from two people: [MCA founder] Jules Stein and [former MCA chairman] Lew Wasserman. In 1975 I was a law clerk at Warner Bros. I'd spent about a year trying to get a meeting with these two men. Finally they let me in to see them. They both said, separately, 'In order for you to be in the entertainment business, you have to have leverage. Since you have none--no money, no pedigree, no valuable relationships--you must have creative leverage. That exists only in your mind. So you need to write--put what's in your mind on paper. Then you'll own a piece of paper. That's leverage.'
"With that advice, I wrote the story that became Splash, which was a fantasy that I had about meeting a mermaid. For years, I sent registered letters to myself--movie concepts and other ideas--so that I had my ideas officially on paper. I have about 1,000 letters in a vault. To this day, I feel that my real power is only that--ideas and the confidence to write them down."
Rick Warren, 51
Minister, founder of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose-Driven Life
Regularly sit at the feet of Peter Drucker.
"In life you need mentors, and you need models. Models are the people you want to emulate. I recommend that your models be dead. I'm serious. You don't know how people are going to finish up. A lot of people start out like bottle rockets. They look great, but then the last half of their life is chaos. That can be quite devastating.
"In my life, I've had at least three mentors: my father, Billy Graham, and Peter Drucker. They each taught me different things. Peter Drucker taught me about competence. I met him about 25 years ago. I was invited to a small seminar of CEOs, and Peter was there. As a young kid--I was about 25--I began to call him up, write him, go see him. I still go sit at the feet of Peter Drucker on a regular basis. I could give you 100 one-liners that Peter has honed into me. One of them is that there's a difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Efficiency is doing things right, and effectiveness is doing the right thing. A lot of churches--not just churches, but businesses and other organizations--are efficient, but they are not effective.
"Another important thing that Peter has taught me is that results are always on the outside of your organization, not on the inside. Most people, when they're in a company, or in a church, or in an organization, they think, Oh, we're not doing well, we need to restructure. They make internal changes. But the truth is, all the growth is on the outside from people who are not using your product, not listening to your message, and not using your services."
Jim Collins, 46
Author of the bestseller Good to Great
The real discipline comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.
"It was 1994. [My book] Built to Last had just come out. I mean, I was nobody. But a colleague knew Peter Drucker, and one day I got a message on my voicemail: 'This is Peter Drucker. I would be very pleased to meet you for a day in Claremont [Calif., where Drucker lives].' I call back, very nervous, and he says, 'Speak up! I'm not young anymore!' So I'm like, 'PETER DRUCKER, THIS IS JIM COLLINS!' And then he actually set aside a day. Think about the value of a day with Peter Drucker at age 85. The interesting thing is that he absolutely changed my life that day. In one day.
"I was at a point where I could have started a consulting firm, Built to Last Consulting, or something. The first thing he asked was, 'Why are you driven to do this [start a consulting firm]?' I said I was driven by curiosity and impact. And he says, 'Ah, now you're getting in the realm of the existential. You must be crassly commercial.'
"For a moment I had this image of going to Yoda for wisdom, and having him say, 'Have a Coke!' But he was either testing me, or it was a joke. I'm not sure which.
"The huge thing he said to me was, 'Do you want to build ideas to last, or do you want to build an organization to last?'
"I said I wanted to build ideas to last.
"He said, 'Then you must not build an organization.'
"His point was, the moment you have an organization, you have a beast to feed--this army of people. If you ever start developing ideas to feed the beast rather than having ideas that the beast feeds, your influence will go down, even if your commercial success goes up. Because there's a huge difference between teaching an idea and selling an idea. In the end, what are you in a battle for? You're battling to influence the thinking of powerful, discerning people. If you ever abuse that trust, you can lose them. So the moment that arrow changes direction, you're dead.
"He said something else important: 'The real discipline comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.' Growth is easy. Saying no is hard.
"I'll never forget asking, 'How can I ever pay you back?' and his saying, 'You've already paid me back. I've learned so much from our conversation.' That's when I realized where Drucker's greatness lay, that unlike a lot of people, he was not driven to say something. He was driven to learn something.
"I feel proud that I followed the advice. It's a huge debt. I can never pay it back. The only thing I can do is give it to others. Drucker had said, 'Go out and make yourself useful.' That's how you pay Peter Drucker back. To do for other people what Peter Drucker did for me."
Peter Drucker, 95
Get good--or get out.
"The most important instruction I received was when I was just 20 and three weeks into my first real job as a foreign affairs and business editor of the large-circulation afternoon paper in Frankfurt. I brought my first two editorials to the editor-in-chief, a German. He took one look at them and threw them back at me saying, 'They are no good at all.' After I'd been on the job for three weeks, he called me in and said, 'Drucker, if you don't improve radically in the next three weeks, you'd better look for another job.'
"For me, that was the right treatment. He did not try to mentor me. The idea would have been considered absurd. The idea of mentoring was post-- World War II. In those days [before World War II] you were hired to do your job, and if you didn't do it, you were out. It was very simple."
Ted Turner, 66
Founder of CNN and former vice chairman of Time Warner
"The best advice I ever got came from my father. He told me to go to work at his billboard company when I was 12 years old. I worked 42 hours a week, just like an adult. I worked the first summer as a water boy, a runner, and an assistant to the construction crew. Over the next 12 summers, I worked in a different area every year. I learned sales and leasing. I could paint billboards. I can post bills. My father would explain how the business world works--how a good business depends on good labor relations, enthusiastic leadership, making a profit and reinvesting it. When I was 21 and went to work in the company full-time, I was ready. He passed away three years later, when I was 24, and I was able to take it over without a hitch. People couldn't believe how successful I was. This turned out to be the best business course I could have gotten."
David Neeleman, 44
CEO of JetBlue
Balance your work with your family.
"I'm a God-fearing guy. And the best advice I ever got came from the head of our [Mormon] church, Gordon B. Hinkley. It was when we were going public in 2001, and I was caught up in the money, power, and glory. He cut me right down to size. In a conference where he was speaking, he reminded me, 'It's all about your family, your relationships. You've got to balance that with your work.'
"So I set rules to be with my family and to keep everyone from encroaching on my time. I keep weekends as free as humanly possible. I try to make it home in time for nightly Scripture study and prayer as a family, and I try to make sure to take some good vacations when my kids are out of school. Those rules have had a positive effect on the business. I've seen so many people who have neglected their families. Now their kids are giving them trouble, so they're distracted. If you have a closer family, you can be a lot more focused when you're at work."
Mickey Drexler, 60
CEO of J. Crew
Bail out of a business that isn't growing.
"It was 1980. I had been working at a department store [Bloomingdale's] for 12 years, and I knew I had to get out. There wasn't really a future there for me. I was offered the job of president at Ann Taylor [the women's-wear chain, a division of a now defunct corporation called Garfinckel Brooks Brothers Miller & Rhoads]. I thought about it--and when you are changing jobs, you think of all the reasons you should not do it. Then you get a little nervous. I said no.
"That night I was having dinner with someone who was older and wiser, Arthur Levitt [then chairman of the American Stock Exchange], and I told him about the offer. He said, 'I would grab that position at Ann Taylor. Department stores are a nongrowth business.'
"He was right. The next morning I told the corporation I was interested after all. I resigned the next week. That was by far the best advice I've gotten in my life. If I didn't have dinner with him that night, I don't think I would have called back and said I wanted the job. And I am not sure I'd be where I am today."
Brian Roberts, 45
CEO of Comcast
Let others take the credit.
"My mentor is my father, Ralph, who turns 85 this month. When I wanted to start my Comcast career at corporate headquarters, my father wisely insisted that I learn the business from the field, even though that isn't the way he started. One of my first summer jobs in college was as a cable installer in New Kensington, Pa., near Pittsburgh. I struggled to climb the telephone poles, strung cable, and went into people's homes to wire them. I really learned the ropes from people at the system level. That experience drove home how important our technicians and customer service representatives are, and how dangerous some of those jobs are at times. That empathy and understanding was something Ralph knew couldn't be taught in corporate headquarters.
"Ralph is a great listener. He doesn't feel the need to direct the conversation. Usually, when you come in, there's the problem and then there's the real problem; there's the agenda, and there's the hidden agenda. Just by listening and asking questions, he lets you get to the heart of the issue that you are chewing on. He's not looking to take credit for anybody's work. In fact, the single best piece of advice Ralph ever gave me was to let others take the credit. 'You're in a lucky position, and you know it,' he told me. 'You don't need all the glory. If you let others take the credit, it makes them feel like they're part of something special.' He's right. That's just the way Ralph is with me, and that's the way I try to be with others."
Marc Benioff, 40
Founder and CEO of Salesforce.com
Incorporate philanthropy into your corporate structure.
"I was on a panel about business and philanthropy at a conference in 2001. Alan Hassenfeld, who at that time was CEO [now chairman] of Hasbro, took me aside afterward and told me I had a lot of good ideas, but I had to give them more structure. He said I should also incorporate the ideas of volunteerism [into Salesforce.com]. To meet somebody who had already fully integrated something like this into his company was critical. Hasbro has one of the richest philanthropic programs of any U.S. commercial organization. One of the many things they do is make toy donations to children's hospitals. It wasn't something Hasbro did by writing a check; it was part of their culture.
"We ended up putting 1% of our equity into the nonprofit Salesforce.com Foundation, as well as 1% of our profits, which of course at the time were zero. But following Alan's advice, we also put in 1% of our employees' time. That's six days a year of company-paid time for volunteerism. Employees want to work for us because of these programs --they want to reach out and do volunteerism anyway, and we give them a structure. Also, we let nonprofits use our service for free. Alan's advice ended up being really important, because this is what sets Salesforce.com apart from being just another company."
Hector Ruiz, 59
CEO of AMD
Surround yourself with people of integrity, and get out of their way.
"In my adult years as a manager, Bob Galvin, the former CEO of Motorola, was my most influential leader. He told me, 'A good leader knows he is doing a good job when he knows with certainty that he can say yes to anything his staff asks and feel totally confident that they will do the right thing.' If you surround yourself with the right people who have integrity, and they all understand well the goals and objectives of the organization, then the best thing to do as a leader is to get out of their way. I use this advice quite a bit at work. The right people will feel far more pressure to perform well when they are trusted.
"I was given another piece of wisdom that has made a huge difference. When I was at Texas Instruments [from 1972 to 1977], my boss's boss, Al Stein, who was running the semiconductor business, one day asked me, 'What's the worst thing that could happen if you make a decision that doesn't work out?' I remember thinking, 'I guess I could get fired.' I realized that in the scheme of things, that seems so insignificant. It was almost like an epiphany."
Donny Deutsch, 48
CEO of Deutsch Inc. and host of CNBC's The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch
If you love something, the money will come.
"Back in 1983 I went to work as an account executive at my dad's ad agency, David Deutsch Associates. I was a fuckup from the beginning. I was supposed to be taking care of clients, but I was 24 years old, still partying, not ready to grow up. And he fired me. My dad said, 'You know, you're not passionate about what you are doing here. So get the fuck out of here! You don't love this, and I don't want you around here, because I love what I do.' Then he said, 'Look, whatever you do in life, find something you love--I don't care if you're a garbage man--and everything else will fall into place. If you love something, you'll be great at it, and the money will come and everything else will fall into place.'
"It was hard to take. But he knew I needed a kick in the ass, and I did. So what else could I do? I cleaned out my desk, and I went out to the West Coast. I kicked around, went on Match Game [a TV game show] and won $5,000. Then I came back East, sold jeans in a flea market. I thought about law school. In the process, I found myself.
"Six months passed, and I found out my dad was thinking about selling the business. He had an offer, for not a lot of money, but it would have allowed him to stay on for a few years after the deal closed. He was in his mid-50s. So this was what he wanted. And I said to him--I don't know how, in hindsight, I had the balls or stupidity to do this--I said, 'Don't sell it. I want to come back. I just don't want to be an account guy. But put me in a corner and leave me alone. I'll work on new business. Just let me build my own little thing here.'
"From that point on, I went to the wall. I started pitching new business instead of holding clients' hands. As luck would have it, I had a real skill for it, and I loved it. Seven years later I became CEO, my dad retired happily to become a painter, and we're now one of the ten largest ad agencies in the country."
Klaus Kleinfeld, 47
CEO of Siemens
Keenly visualize the future.
"The best advice I ever got was from an old friend of the family's, and it goes like this: Whenever you take on a new position, before you jump in and get bogged down in the details, sit down, lean back, close your eyes, and think about what you really want to achieve and how you want things to look in a couple of years. And only then--once you have a clear vision in front of your inner eye--start executing so that things will move in that direction. I was in my early 20s at the time, and the family friend, Georg Brandl, was probably in his mid-80s. He had been born in Bavaria, and after receiving a manual education as a construction worker, he went on to lead large construction projects around the world.
"When I was working as a consultant on many restructuring projects, this was always the approach I took with the core leadership team. Even though we couldn't see any end state because there were so many problems in front of us, I would put that aside and say, 'Okay, what should this look like?' It always started with me as a personal thing--thinking it through and then drawing people in.
"I was never able to tell Georg Brandl how helpful that advice has been."
Ann Fudge, 53
Chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands
Don't chart your career path too soon.
"It was 1978--oh, God, that seems so long ago. I was a year out of Harvard Business School. I was working at General Mills as a marketing assistant on Cheerios. One day I was having a conversation with the product manager on Cheerios, Kent Tippy. He was complaining about how MBAs want to be CEOs and measure how fast they make it to this level and that level. In fact, one guy in our group was keeping score--he had people's careers all charted out. I admit I was looking ahead too. I really wanted to be a product manager. Kent said to me, 'Don't look too far ahead. Focus on what you're doing right now.' He convinced me that people who are good in product management tend to be good executors but may not have the skills to go to higher levels of leadership. So it's not useful to chart your career path so early on. You're better off demonstrating capabilities at each level--to do X, Y, and Z when you're asked to do X. Following his advice, I really tried to excel in each job. It worked."
Herb Kelleher, 74
Founder and chairman of Southwest Airlines
Respect people for who they are, not for what their titles are.
"I'd say my mother made more of a difference to me than anyone else did. I know that's a conventional and perhaps mundane answer, but my family was blown apart at the start of World War II. We went from six to two people, my mother and myself.
"There were so many things I learned from her. One piece of advice that always stuck in my mind is that people should be respected and trusted as people, not because of their position or title. Frequently, position or title did not reflect the true merits of a person. I got a lesson confirming that almost immediately, because there was a gentleman [in our town] who was the head of a financial institution. He was always dressed immaculately, and he gave the impression of being a very upstanding guy. Well, he was indicted, convicted, and sent to jail for embezzling.
"Thanks to her advice, in the business world I try not to judge anyone by superficial standards. I try to approach them with an open mind. I'm very interested in their ideas. You don't have to have a doctorate to have an idea. You ought to be open to listening to people. Show that you care about them as individuals, not just as workers. You know how some people are always looking over your shoulder to see if there's somebody more important behind you? Well, one of the things that I've tried to do--if I'm talking to a person, that person is the only person in the world while we're talking. They're owed that. Besides, they're usually fascinating. Getting together with the people of Southwest is one of the most rewarding and exciting things in my business life."
Clayton Christensen, 53
Harvard Business School professor
You can learn from anyone.
"Kent Bowen was my partner in a company we started in Boston before I switched to academia. He was a professor at MIT then. If they ever give a Nobel Prize in material sciences, he should get it. Once I realized he was the best in his field, I asked him, 'How does it feel to be the top guy in the world in your field?' Without denying my characterization of him, he said: 'You know, there's a real disappointment.' He said something like, 'When I was younger, I looked up at the top of the mountain and thought, Wow, those guys are really smart! When you're near the top of the mountain looking down, you think, Boy, if nobody is smarter than I am, the world is really hurting.'
"That had such a profound impact on me. I realized that a lot of us, when we're in school, believe that you can learn only from people who are smarter than you. But if you move toward the top of that hill and maintain that belief, then your opportunities for learning become progressively more constricted. So what you need is a fundamental humility--the belief that you can learn from anyone."
Ted Koppel, 65
Anchor of ABC's Nightline
Do what you love.
"There was a very famous radio reporter in New York City in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. His name was Danny Meenan, and he was the quintessential old Irish reporter. I was about 22, just out of graduate school, and had gone to work at WMCA, where Danny worked, with the exalted title of copy boy. Being a copy boy meant you did what anybody else on the staff wanted you to do. Danny was a very generous mentor. He knew I wanted to be a reporter. He took me on a couple of assignments with him.
"Shortly thereafter, he and I repaired to a bar and had a couple of beers together, and Danny said, 'What do you want to do with your life?' I said, 'I think I want to go into politics. I might want to be a Congressman someday.' He looked at me as if I had just said or done something obscene. He said, 'You would be a lousy Congressman. And it looks as though you are going to be a pretty good reporter. You will have much more fun being a reporter than being a Congressman. And you should do what you're good at, and do what you love. And you look to me that you are loving journalism.'
"It's what I've been doing for the last 40 years."