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Golden Rules from Business Visionaries

Here's a transcript of an article in Business 2.0 where they asked 30 business visionaries, collectively worth over $70 billion, what single philosophy they swear by more than any other -- in business, life, or both. Here are the secrets of their success. They are a few golden nuggets in here.

Surround Yourself With People Smarter Than You
Chris Albrecht, CEO, Home Box Office
Surround yourself with people smarter than you and be comfortable with that. I went to a high school for gifted students and went from being one of the smartest kids in the class to being near the bottom of the pack. I got very comfortable with being in that situation and realizing how much I could learn from people who are as smart as or smarter than I am. Now that I'm running HBO, it's so important that the answers about how HBO continues its success come from the people sitting in the room with me. My job is to help guide them to the right answer.

George Steinbrenner, owner, New York Yankees
This is a rule that my late father, Henry George Steinbrenner II, taught me when I was a young man. Most young men listen to what their fathers say, but they do not always put their advice into play. I was no exception. I didn’t appreciate the lesson he taught me until it had slapped me in the face several times. I guess I was a slow learner.
Not only was my father an outstanding athlete, but he also graduated first in his class in naval architecture, preparing himself for a career in shipbuilding. Even in light of his achievements, I wanted to navigate my own way through the waters of my early career, whether they were smooth or stormy. Mistakes were made, but the wisdom of my father’s counsel finally sank in.
So I pass his advice along: Surround yourself with amazingly intelligent men and women. The people I work with not only are smarter than I am, possessing both intellectual and emotional intelligence, but also share my determination to succeed. I will not make an important decision without them.

Remember Who You Are, Not What
Brad Anderson, vice chairman and CEO, Best Buy
When a company starts its life, those who create it are very aware that it's a people-powered effort. They're a group of people with a good idea, trying to make something out of nothing. But as companies grow, something strange happens. They start to think of themselves in terms of what they are, rather than who they are. The irony is that just about every company that goes from "who" to "what" spends an extraordinary amount of energy fighting to regain that sense of "who." Trying, with apologies to Lennon and McCartney, to get back to where it once belonged.
Every organization gets its energy from the relationship between the customer and the person who serves that customer. If a company makes the leap -- honestly listening to customers -- employees will bring the best of themselves and pour their energy into their work. At Best Buy, we don't always get this right, but when we do, it's a beautiful thing. I can recite dozens of stories about employees who transformed our business because they saw a need and had the freedom to use their own talents to fill it.
Any organization is a human endeavor, but most big organizations work hard to dehumanize, to depersonalize. Why? They're scared, because we humans are unpredictable and messy. I say, Turn around and embrace it. Celebrate it. One of our employees said it best: Try to be "a company with a soul."

Make Hiring a Top Priority
Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft
Not long after I joined Microsoft in 1980, Bill Gates put me in charge of recruiting. The business was growing fast, but we were badly understaffed. I asked Bill to approve the hiring of about 50 people. He said no. I told him I thought we needed more great people in order to grow; he thought I was going to bankrupt the company. Bill was pretty conservative. He's since said that he always wanted to have enough money in the bank to pay a year's worth of payroll, even if we didn't have any revenue coming in.
We didn't hire as fast as I wanted, but we did hire, and I did all the hiring myself for a long time. No one joined Microsoft without my interviewing them and liking them. I made every offer, decided how much to pay them, and closed the deals. I can't do that anymore, but I still invest a significant amount of time in ensuring that we're recruiting the best people. You may have a technology or a product that gives you an edge, but your people determine whether you develop the next winning technology or product.

If You Think You Can't, You're Right

Carol Bartz, CEO, Autodesk
Often I'm put in the position of persuading people to do something I want them to do, but they don't want to. So first I have to hear the "can'ts" -- the limitations they carry in their minds. I always listen closely to the reasons why people feel they can't do something. I'll even bring them to the point where they say to me, "Now you're getting it, boss! That's why we can't do it."
When I hear that, I've laid my trap. I start by asking the person who is resisting me to tell me how much he or she can do toward the goal I'm expressing. That's because I have this core belief that you can do anything if you try. That's why we release new versions of our core AutoCad program annually -- because when people say it can't be done, I say we can, we just don't know how. So we learn.
There are times, of course, when people convince me that something can't be done. I'm really just trying to get a balanced view, to get people to be honest about both sides. My rule helps me to do that. It's a gimmick, sure, but it's a way to help people avoid getting stuck in the negative.

Make Your Customers Your Sales Force
Marc Benioff, CEO,
Why have a few hundred salespeople when you can have a few hundred thousand -- especially when those few hundred thousand aren't on the payroll? This idea, which proved to be one of the most important eureka moments for, came to me while I was at Ozumo, a popular sushi bar in San Francisco, where I often go after work. I was dining with an important prospective client, and I was working hard to sell him on and our future strategy when -- without any prompting -- an existing customer approached me and told me how successful his company had been with At that moment I realized that no amount of marketing or promotional gimmicks like T-shirts, buttons, and chocolate cigars would ever match that endorsement.
Word of mouth can make or break a product offering. While many companies have lost their market positions because of the well-known product failures they've experienced, just the opposite can also be true. It's important to note that the first step in building this groundswell depends on having a great product that customers love. By offering customers an opportunity to talk about their success, companies can create what author Malcolm Gladwell calls the "tipping point" -- a convergence that can propel a small company into a household brand. At, this has meant developing our 308,000 subscribers into the biggest sales force in the business. Sure, our customers may be getting a free hamburger on us, but with their endorsements to prospects, we're getting the ketchup and mustard on top.

Reinvent Yourself. Repeat.
Alex Bogusky, executive creative director, Crispin Porter & Bogusky
I was 24, working at a small ad agency in Miami and trying to become a junior art director, when I read Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. One chapter talked about how people position you or a product in their mind, and how you've got to disrupt to get people to take you out of that position.
I wondered, what kinds of things did I have to do to disrupt people and make them think differently about me? There is a lot of change in people and in their careers, and people are reluctant to see it. It's the way we think, the way we categorize things.
So I just embraced this notion that every six months I would radically change my look. I mostly did it with my hair, from a crew cut to a Mohawk to long hair to a mullet. I changed the color. It didn't matter what I did -- I just had to change it. I wanted people to have to take the trouble to reanalyze what I was offering.
I'm 42 now, and I've stopped. What does that mean? It means it isn't about me any longer. Now it's about the agency. Sometimes we change the titles of departments and people. We changed the planning department to the "cognitive anthropology" department, and the account service department to "content management." We have to change just as often, so that we're not being evaluated by the same standards as last year.

When People Screw Up, Give Them a Second Chance
Richard Branson, founder and chairman, Virgin Group
To be a good leader, you've got to concentrate on bringing out the best in your people. People are no different than flowers -- they need to be cared for and watered all the time. This is true whether it's a switchboard operator or the chairman who just gave a bad speech. I should know; I gave a bad speech last night. The point is, people know when they've fucked up, and they don't need bosses ramming it down their throats.
When I was 7 or 8, I took some change from my dad's drawer and went 'round to the sweet shop. The shopkeeper called my dad and said, "We've got your son here; could you come down?" Here I am, with 50 pence, and the shopkeeper says, "I assume your son has taken this, that you didn't give it to him?" My dad says, "How dare you accuse him of stealing!" My dad knew I'd taken it, and I gave it back -- but I never stole again.
Years later, when Virgin was about 20 people, the manager of a secondhand music shop tells me that one of our staffers is selling albums that were new from Virgin. It was petty theft. Rather than sacking him, I brought him in and we had a chat. Today he is the head of marketing of one of our companies and one of the best people Virgin has.

Check With the Wife
Po Bronson, author, The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest and What Should I Do With My Life?
I would never want to be the kind of luminary who admits that my wife is smarter than me, but alas, I am, and she is. My wife owes me no deference at all, and so she never hesitates to tell me I'm being ridiculous. I tend to check with her at these three stages:
1. At the very beginning of an idea, when it's still so vague that if she does not like it, I can pretend I simply hadn't thought it through enough to present it well.
2. Right before completing a project, when I'm up against the deadline and I can pretend it's too late to change it even if she doesn't like it.
3. Before going on television, in case she thinks I should wear a different shirt

There Can't Be Two Yous
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
When you get out of bed in the morning and think about what you want to do that day, ask yourself whether you'd like others to read about it on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. You'll probably do things a little differently if you keep that in mind.

The Customer Should Always Be Happy
John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Systems
My golden rule is to focus almost fanatically on customer success. Living by this rule helped steer Cisco through the tremendous growth of the 1990s. It's allowed us to fine-tune our acquisition strategy and anticipate many challenges and market transitions to stay ahead of our competition.

Don't Be Interesting -- Be Interested
Jim Collins, management consultant; author, Built to Last and Good to Great
I learned this golden rule from the great civic leader John Gardner, who changed my life in 30 seconds. Gardner, founder of Common Cause, secretary of health, education, and welfare in the Johnson administration, and author of such classic books as Self-Renewal, spent the last few years of his life as a professor and mentor-at-large at Stanford University. One day early in my faculty teaching career -- I think it was 1988 or 1989 -- Gardner sat me down. "It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting," he said. "Why don't you invest more time being interested?"
If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet -- their lives, their history, their story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What have they learned? By practicing the art of being interested, the majority of people can become fascinating teachers; nearly everyone has an interesting story to tell.
I can't say that I live this rule perfectly. When tired, I find that I spend more time trying to be interesting than exercising the discipline of asking genuine questions. But whenever I remember Gardner's golden rule -- whenever I come at any situation with an interested and curious mind -- life becomes much more interesting for everyone at the table.

He Who Says It, Does It
Simon Cooper, president and COO, Ritz-Carlton
I use this phrase whenever someone convinces me that they can achieve something I consider to be unachievable. In the past I've been known to add focus to a goal by making a bet to see if they can make it -- sometimes with amusing consequences. I remember being at a mountain resort in Canada and proposing an incredible goal for the season. The team convinced me that they could achieve it, and I offered to jump into the lake if they did. It's a long story, but they made it. There's a great scene of a hole being cut in the ice and an ambulance on standby while I gave a whole new meaning to the term "dunking." The cognac was very welcome.
One of the assets I look for in a team or a leader is a bias for action and a willingness to say "We can do it," coupled with a solid strategy. The way I interpret it, execution and commitment are absolutely essential to any strategy or initiative in an era too full of plans, processes, and procrastination. The expression speaks to the need for individuals and teams to commit to goals and actions and be willing to be held accountable for them. There is a flip side that goes something like "No one is more apathetic than in the pursuit of another person's objective."

Treat your customers like they own you, because they do.
Mark Cuban, co-founder, HDNet; owner, Dallas Mavericks

Educate and Obey Your Conscience
Stephen Covey, business consultant; motivational speaker; author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
I have huge stacks of books that contain a lot of the wisdom literature from all sources, including the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, the text in Hinduism and Buddhism. It helps me learn to listen to people and to empathize within their frame of reference. In other words, to free myself from my own agenda, and get into their agenda.
Be extremely open and get your security from a divine source rather than human approval. It frees you. It gives you great courage; it also gives you more wisdom.

Get Out From Behind Your Desk
Jim Goodnight, CEO, SAS
At any company, it's easy to get into a rut of spending your day reading e-mail and going to meetings. That's not a productive way of doing business.
I talk to people in the elevator and ask them what they're doing. I was talking to one of our heads of R&D and learned about a programming challenge they were facing with customer records. I said I'd write a procedure that does all the things we need to do and gave his team 20 lines of code.
My code ended up processing 100 million records. I wanted to challenge the programmers by showing them that, hey, if I can do this stuff, you can do this stuff. And I wanted to be able to converse with them at the basic, lowest level of programming on how this stuff works. I was so thrilled with what I'd done -- so proud, I guess -- that I gave seminars to all of our programmers on how to do it.

Learn to Give Back
Michael Graves, architect and designer
My parents told me that no matter how good you are in your work, you must make a contribution to society. Without that, you will only be selfish. My career has been an interesting mix of architecture, design, and education. I teach, which is a way to "give back" to the profession. I taught at Princeton University for 39 years and am gratified that many of my students have become teachers themselves.
But there's another way of giving back. Architecture and design are professions that inherently address the public good. Since I became partially paralyzed nearly three years ago, and spent considerable time in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, I have come to realize that some of those buildings are not functional at a basic human level and that durable medical equipment has rarely been regarded as anything but a necessary evil.
My colleagues and I can make a difference if we turn our attention to improving the functionality and appearance of the aids to living that many people need, even those with slight disabilities. We're working on a collection of them now, a contribution that I never expected but hope will make many people's lives more enjoyable.

Only the Paranoid Survive (Now More Than Ever)
Andy Grove, former chairman and CEO, Intel
By now most people in Silicon Valley know this is my mantra, but I'm not sure they know what it means. It isn't as crazy as it sounds; it's really a corollary to Murphy's Law, which states that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. If that's so, then the paranoid have an advantage.
I was always amused at how the phrase caught on -- and who wanted to be considered even more paranoid than I am. Once, when I was receiving an honor at Harvard University, Bill Gates was saying some nice things about me on a video and said he had only one quibble: that he was the most paranoid.
I think the rule is more relevant than ever today. The U.S. economy is getting hollowed out, industry by industry. Health care is about to become one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and yet for the most part it's an industry that has never taken advantage of digital technology. Our country's infrastructure is fragile, even precarious. Just look at New Orleans. So I would say, Duh. We'd better be paranoid.
I know I am. But not about Intel. One of the benefits of no longer being the company's chief "paranoid" officer is that someone else gets to do that now.

Once a Day, Take Some "Beach Time"
Mireille Guiliano, CEO and president, Clicquot; author, French Women Don't Get Fat
We have to take "beach time" -- a space for ourselves -- every day because we live in a world of burnout. Even if you take 20 to 30 minutes for yourself, you'll be a better worker, a better colleague, a better person. It benefits the people around you as much as it benefits you. Don't feel guilty to do your own thing during that time. And I don't necessarily mean going to the gym. I never go to the gym. I have a view of one across the street from where I live in New York. It's 7:30 at night, when you should be thinking about dinner and relaxing, and the gym is full of people.
I take my beach time each morning. I have a glass of water, and I walk along Bank Street to the Hudson River. A walk is the cheapest and best exercise, and it's the best 20 minutes of my day. It's an element of what I call "French Zen."

Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself
Carlos M. Gutierrez, U.S. secretary of commerce; former chairman and CEO, Kellogg
My experience and observation have shown that if people see you looking out only for your own best interests, they won't follow you. You have to believe in doing good for those you serve, knowing that it will allow them to do extraordinary things. Another important lesson I learned from my father, who was the first great leader I observed. He taught me that you have to keep your perspective and have a sense of humility. As he used to say, "Tell me what you brag about, and I'll tell you what you lack."

Never Bow to Precedent
Gary Hamel, business consultant and author
Near the end of my Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan, a veteran professor took me aside and proffered these words of advice: "Gary, the surest way to get tenure is to build on someone else's well-established theory, churn out as many articles as you can for leading journals, and avoid the temptation to do consulting, as this will only divert you from your research." As I absorbed this bit of sagacity, I had to work to keep from frowning. "Hmmm," I thought, "that might be the way to get promoted, but it sounds like a recipe for creative suicide."
So in an act of rebellion, I signed up for a consulting project at General Electric while still a doctoral student (jeez, did I learn a lot), hooked up with a similarly contrarian-minded professor, C.K. Prahalad, and started working on the first of what would become 15 articles for the Harvard Business Review and two books. And as I looked around for role models and mentors, it quickly became obvious that the people who had really made a difference in the world of management -- from Frederick Winslow Taylor to Mary Parker Follett, W. Edwards Deming to Taiichi Ohno -- were all rebels. Constructive rebels, but rebels nonetheless.
As the pace of change accelerates, the value of precedent will continue to wane. Today the most important thing is to regard everything you believe as nothing more than a set of hypotheses, forever open to being disproved. A healthy disrespect for precedent is the ultimate advantage in a world where the future is less and less an extrapolation of the past. By the way, being a contrarian is usually not as risky as the custodians of convention typically make out. Somewhere along the way, I got tenure.

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
Phil Hellmuth, poker world champion
What we do as poker players is read people. People lie to us; they try to bluff us constantly. So we get used to trying to sort out all the bullshit. When I get pitched by people who are really good, like con men, they are not as good as the poker players.
You can't cheat an honest man. I don't know exactly why that is, but it's true for me. My honor is unquestioned in poker, and if you have perfect honor in poker, it's better than having it anywhere else in life because everyone remembers everything from 15 or 20 years ago. If you cheated then, they'll remember.

Don't confuse luck with skill when judging others, and especially when judging yourself.
Carl Icahn, billionaire investor

Conventional Wisdom Is Always Wrong
Paul Jacobs, CEO, Qualcomm
The downside of this rule is that no one will believe you, so you'll need to work much harder to sell your idea. The upside is that everyone else will be running in the wrong direction, so you'll have a more open field in which to innovate. Find the incorrect underlying assumptions and you'll create opportunities.

Make Deals With People, Not Paper
Penn Jillette, magician, author, and producer
This was the hardest thing to learn when I was 19. When we first started doing Penn & Teller shows, I thought that if you had a contract, it was enforced. I thought there were the contract police -- so you'd sign a contract that says you're going to give me a million dollars, and if you don't have a million dollars, someone will step in and give me my million anyway. Right.
That's one of the hardest lessons for a guy like me who has no interest in business but now runs a multimillion-dollar enterprise. A contract is not much of a legal document. It's just an agreement that two people who trust each other have made. You can't enter into a contract with anyone that you wouldn't make a handshake deal with, because everything comes down to a handshake deal.
The more experience I got in showbiz, the less I read the contracts. Now I don't bother. If I can't make the deal in a phone call, and have them understand it, then it's not a worthwhile deal. You're making a deal with the people, not with the contract. That's a mistake that people make a lot: "We've got it in writing now." The contract is clarification, but it's not enforcement.

Get Your Timing Right
Ray Kurzweil, inventor and entrepreneur
I had the idea that I would be an inventor when I was 5 years old. Now, 52 years later, I still fashion myself an inventor. After some youthful experiments, I realized that the key to a successful invention is timing. Many inventors succeed in getting their contraptions to work, yet most inventions still fail in the marketplace because the enabling factors needed for success are not in place when they're needed.
With this in mind, I became an ardent student of technology trends over 30 years ago. Now I have a team of researchers who assist me in gathering key measures of information technology in a variety of fields. In addition to timing my inventions, the technology trend models derived from this data enable me to create long-term forecasts of what will be feasible with the information tools of 10 or 20 or 30 years from now and beyond. I say this not just looking backward now but with a track record of accurate predictions in a series of books going back about two decades.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Competitor's Success
Geraldine Laybourne, chairman and CEO, Oxygen Media
When I was at Nickelodeon, we had 10 commandments whenever we started a new business. To me, the most important one was "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, thy neighbor's donkey, or thy competitor's success."
This is especially true in television, where so many people just keep their eye on what the other networks are doing. They'll try to find the next Desperate Housewives, but the look-alikes never amount to a whole lot. I've done that a couple of times and fallen flat on my face. So I try not to get distracted by what worked for others.
I always have an eye on the competition, but it's not to do what they're doing. It's to see where the holes are. I've built businesses by looking at conventional wisdom and going exactly the opposite way.

Business Can't Trump Happiness
Shelly Lazarus, chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide
I am constantly asked by women how to balance careers with family. I know from experience that there is no silver-bullet answer; if there were, we would be seeing more women in the corner office. The truth is that balance is achieved through a host of individual dance steps, from being willing to suffer a little domestic chaos to insisting that performance be measured by results, not just time spent in the office. Unless you love your work, you won't find the balance. How can you, if you resent the time away from family spent at a tedious job? I fell into a job and a company I loved. I never wanted to leave and never worried that my family suffered for it. Finding fulfilling work should be an early and deeply pursued part of everyone's career path. This may sound soft and mushy, but happy people are better for business. They are more creative and productive, they build environments where success is more likely, and you have a much better chance of keeping your best players.

Don't Trust, Just Verify
Steven D. Levitt, coauthor, Freakonomics
There's something bad in everything good and something good in everything bad.
Michael Lewis, author, Liar's Poker, Moneyball, and Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life
So much of what we hear and what we're taught turns out to be false on closer scrutiny. Whether it is expert advice, what you read in the paper, or what your mother told you, if it is important, take the time to figure out for yourself whether it is really true

Share and Share Alike
Scott McNealy, founder and CEO, Sun Microsystems
You learn to share in preschool. Later you learn that if you make the pie bigger, everyone gets a little more. These lessons came together when we started Sun. We didn't have the resources to do everything ourselves, so we shared what we had to attract customers and get their help in building the business. There are now 4.5 million Java developers and about 950 companies worldwide all collaborating on a technology Sun shared with the community.
This is possible because sharing creates communities, which create new markets. It's also changing business models: Companies can no longer expect to lock in customers with proprietary standards. They must now compete on the value of their business execution. They monetize that value a little bit, spread over the entire community. With 1 billion people on the network today, and several million more joining every week, there's a lot of opportunity. So while it may seem counterintuitive for a company to share, it's the key to larger economic growth -- not only for Sun, but for everyone in the world

Get Face Time With the Customers
Anne Mulcahy, chairman and CEO, Xerox
Xerox's founder, Joe Wilson, used to always say this, and it's become my own golden rule. The way I see it, if you forget the customer, nothing much else matters. The brand deteriorates, employees lose jobs, and shareholders lose value.
My mantra around Xerox is to ensure that the customer is connected to everything we do. It's why every senior leader -- from our head of human resources to our general counsel -- is assigned a customer account to cover.
I remember getting on the elevator one morning at headquarters around the time of a quarterly earnings report, and our chief accountant stepped in right before the door closed. I started to ask him how the numbers were looking, but he was more interested in debriefing me on a customer call he'd just made in Louisiana. Our elevator ride turned into a longer discussion about billing resolutions for this customer (though I did finally get the analysis of our earnings numbers out of him).
This is why I make hundreds of customer calls each year. Hearing firsthand from our customers about their relationships with Xerox changes my perspective on the toughest of business decisions

Choose Your Mistakes Carefully
Craig Newmark, founder, Craigslist
When someone points out a mistake to you, deal with it -- don't go into denial. When I started running Craigslist, I made some serious goofs in hiring the wrong people, people whom I shouldn't have trusted. As a result, though, I eventually found a guy who's become a really good CEO and who has great judgment in hiring. I realized I wasn't a good manager, so I got out of the way.
I also issued stock to employees, not thinking it would be worth anything. Big mistake -- eBay was able to buy a 25 percent stake in Craigslist from a former employee. But eBay turned out to be a good partner; we share a similar moral compass

Maximize the Compromises
Hans-Olov Olsson, chairman, Volvo Cars; senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Ford Motor
Maximize the compromises; otherwise you do not win in global business. My education along this path began during the six years I served as president of Volvo Cars in Japan. In Japanese culture, you do not allow one party in a negotiation to lose face. Trust grows from an honorable exchange, when everyone walks away from the table feeling good about a deal. To do that I had to master the art of listening. Actually, I thought I was a good listener before I went to Japan. Once there, I discovered that listening is not only about words but about observing body language and the nuances of give and take. Compromise, in Japan, springs from empathy.
I left Japan and moved to Brussels to head up Volvo Cars in Europe. Compromise is necessary in Europe as well, but it demands a different set of skills there. The cultures of Europe are extremely independent and rooted in their respective identities. Consider how difficult it has been to form a European Union and you get a sense of the obstacles to reaching consensus on any marketing strategy. Maximizing a compromise, however, does not mean losing yourself so that you can please others. You have to be fully yourself; never pretend to be someone else. From that position of strength, create a win-win solution for all parties. Then be very disciplined in the follow-up so that you leave nothing unanswered.

Whatever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap
Dick Parsons, chairman and CEO, Time Warner
This came from my grandmother, and it was the best advice I ever got. If I think of anything on a daily basis, in terms of a moral compass, that is the one. You treat people the way you want to be treated. If you treat everyone with respect, somehow it comes back to you. If you are honest and aboveboard, somehow it comes back to you

Never, Ever Forget That You Are a Servant
David Neeleman, founder, chairman, and CEO, JetBlue USA
My grandfather ran a general store, and if a customer needed something that wasn't in stock, he did whatever it took to get the item -- even running across the street to a competitor -- rather than ask the customer to take her business elsewhere. He never told me, "Take care of others, and they'll take care of you" -- he didn't have to. I saw it happen.
When I entered the aviation business, I never thought in terms of "passengers" or "tickets sold" but of "people" and "customers." It was distressing to hear airline colleagues complain about the customers -- even going so far as to say how much easier it would be for them if there were fewer passengers.
When JetBlue started flying in February 2000, my goal was to bring humanity back to air travel. We hire nice people and train them in the skills they require to help run the airline. I don't think you can train someone to be nice. We are all servants in the best sense of the word, which brings amazing personal and professional rewards.

Jim Press, president, Toyota Motor Sales USA
I really consider myself a servant leader. A servant leader works for his dealer network, for the associates in his organization, and for his customers. I mean, from a business point of view, if you put the customer ahead of all else, you’ll never make a wrong decision.
That’s the premise I worked from in deciding to keep a brand-new technology out of the current Prius. It was a remote information screen in the dashboard that operated via the driver using a mouse instead of by touch -- and it offered some clear advantages. It could be placed farther away from the driver, leaving the interior feeling roomier. Fingerprints wouldn’t mark up the screen. Plus the technology could save the company money because it’s cheaper and simplifies the interior’s design challenges.
But you have to keep asking yourself, Is this innovation customer-friendly? And this one wasn’t. I remember attending the demonstration in our parking lot and thinking, It may be better for the company, but who wants to concentrate on a mouse while you’re driving a car? I said this isn’t customer driven; we can’t do it, although perhaps in the future there might be advances that will help us find a way to make it work. Then I walked away, and that was the end of that. Instead we arrived at a setup that worked for everyone.

Learn to Trust Your Gut
Paul Pressler, CEO and president, Gap
I learned this from one of my first bosses, a legend in the toy industry named Bernie Loomis. I watched every decision he made, and it wasn't so much what he decided as how he made the decision. Like most executives, Bernie was informed by financials, input from his team, and insights from customers. But he didn't always follow what appeared to be the most logical path -- he once sold empty boxes at Christmas, with the promise of a blockbuster toy to come later.
I once asked Bernie how he came to a particular decision that seemed like a strange choice. He told me, "I have no idea. I just knew what I felt in my gut." As it turned out, his gut was almost always right.
Few business decisions are black and white. That's why you surround yourself with smart people and listen to different points of view. But when it's time to make the call, I rely on my instincts. Whenever I haven't done this, it's ended up being a mistake.
A career is a collection of experiences to get your gut ready. It's the accumulation of knowledge from successes and failures that helps you to see what's possible and build something great.

The Next Big Thing Is Whatever Makes the Last Big Thing Usable
Blake Ross, co-creator, Firefox
When Firefox began, the browser market was "dead," client software was "outdated," and many entrepreneurs were working on podcasting tools for goldfish and other "next big things." We focus on the everyday problems that nag at everyday people. There are more than enough to go around without imagining new ones.

Be a Problem-Solver
Hector Ruiz, CEO, AMD
In a race for more megahertz, we forgot to ask if customers really needed higher processor speeds to get better performance. It turns out they didn't. In introducing wholly new chip architectures, chipmakers forgot to ask if customers were willing to replace software and auxiliary hardware. It turns out they weren't. Innovation is only worthwhile if it is focused on solving real-world problems.

Loyalty Counts as Much as Smarts
Srivats Sampath, founder,; CEO and president, Mercora
Starting and building a company is like going into battle -- and I always prefer to go into battle with a team that is loyal to one another and to the cause. At Mercora, most of us have worked together for six to 10 years, and the trust and loyalty we have for one another makes an extremely difficult task enjoyable.

Hard Work Opens Doors
Ivan Seidenberg, chairman and CEO, Verizon
My first boss -- he was the building superintendent, and I was a janitor -- watched me sweep floors and wash walls for almost a year before he mentioned that I could get tuition for college if I got a job with the phone company. When I asked him why he'd waited so long, he said, "I wanted to see if you were worth it." The message: Work hard, have high standards, and stick to your values, because somebody's always watching.

Be the Person Who Steps Up
George Shaheen, CEO, Siebel Systems
Approach what you do as a leader, not a participant. I'm talking about life. It doesn't matter whether you are trying to run a huge company, your family, a church choir, or the Indian Princess outing at your kid's school. You will see that the most successful people are the ones who approach whatever they do with the mind-set and qualities of a leader. This means you need a vision for the outcome of what you're doing, you must have the courage to act on your vision, and you have to execute.
I grew up in a small farm town in central Illinois. There were 49 kids in my high school, and at that time, many of us who did go to college flunked out. And the ones who flunked did so because of poor English skills. So our English teacher, Helen Mess, began tutoring us in themed writing in her home three nights a week. Three nights a week! She acted like a leader: She saw a problem, and she had a vision for how to fix it. But she didn't ask for extra money, or for any programs from the government. She just said, "Come to my house." That took courage. And she executed: Fewer of us flunked out.

Those Who Don't Know Their Own History Are Doomed to Repeat It
Ram Shriram, angel investor and Google board member
I wish I had kept a personal diary from day one of my career. But I did get started in 1996, so I've at least documented the most recent history of my own follies and foibles. It's intended not to correct personality flaws or change behavior -- or even worse, self-flagellate -- but rather to serve as a guide to the numerous aspects of running a business while avoiding the minefields of the past. For some things there is no substitute for experience-based knowledge, and documenting it ensures that we'll always remember it.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed
Stan Sigman, CEO, Cingular Wireless
Whether you're a network engineer responsible for making sure calls are completed or a marketing manager responsible for a new product, you need to know how to measure your success. That's how we do business at Cingular, and that's how we will reach our goal of being the most highly regarded wireless company in the world.

Quit Taking, Start Giving
Russell Simmons, co-founder, Def Jam Records; founder, Rush Communications
You get a lot of benefit from giving, not from taking. You have to fill a void, give people something that's meaningful and useful. If it's an entrepreneurial venture, find what people need and give it to them. Give them something that's lasting. Be careful not to take a shortcut or give people what they think they need. My latest venture, UniRush Financial Services, offers a real benefit for people who are struggling. It's for people who are mostly locked out of the system, and they need it to get on their feet. It's not a way to exploit them because they are on their knees. It's a way to pick them up

At the Height of Success, "Break" Your Business
Ed Zander, chairman and CEO, Motorola
Companies that don't innovate don't survive, so the key to success is driving this innovation. This lesson is especially important to remember when things are going well. Though it's counterintuitive, successful companies actually need to be more innovative than the competition. It's like kids playing king of the hill -- everyone aims for the kid at the top. Leaders that don't innovate are displaced by those willing to take risks.
This is why, when a company reaches the height of its success, a good leader will shake things up by "breaking" the business. One example of this is moving people around. Changing the company's organizational structure allows different people to interact and allows new, innovative ideas to take shape.
Every day I look for ways to break Motorola. Employees are excited to come to work every day because they, too, live, breathe, and imagine the next big thing. Breaking the business may sound like a strange thing for a CEO to do, but this strategy has sparked innovation at Motorola and it is the reason for our success.

Business Is Not About Ideas, It's About Initiatives
Sergio Zyman, marketing expert
My golden rule of business is action. Ideas are nice, but initiatives move the business forward. Businesses must move forward and grow. If you are not achieving growth, you are not being successful -- no matter how good your ideas are.
It may sound harsh, but this is not the Doris Day school of life -- a "Que Sera, Sera" attitude is not rewarded. I have a reputation for being an abrupt kind of guy. Since my days at Coca-Cola, there has been a perception that I am incredibly demanding -- and it's true. I like people who can "point and shoot" when it comes to getting done what needs to happen. Business is not about ideas; it's about initiatives and strategies. So cut all the niceties and pleasantries that really, in the end, drive you nowhere and focus on what keeps the business moving and growing.
Remember the "Mean Joe Greene" ad from Coca-Cola, and how warm and fuzzy it was? Everyone loved watching that ad while they drank Pepsi. I killed that ad because it did not help sell more Coca-Cola. It's about driving growth, not entertainment. In today's business environment, everyone's destination must focus only on growth and making sure you have the right tools and team in place to achieve that. You have to be a growth insurgent to achieve growth, constantly attacking competitors' weaknesses and winning the hearts and minds of the consumer.

Thanks to Slacker Manager for the link

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  • ..this blog stems from a recognition that our true nature is far more creative, loving and unlimited than we could possibly imagine... and it transforms everything... a practical, generic solution to all our problems.

    These are just my lesson notes as I try to  be true to that recognition... and  learn to fly.  So it's quite possible that everything here may be wrong.

    Thank you for visiting.  Email (to Nick Smith) is always welcome.

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