Michelle Peluso (chief executive of Gilt Groupe) in “The Corner Office”

Posted on: April 30th, 2014 by bobmorris

PelusoAdam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Michelle Peluso, chief executive of Gilt Groupe, the online shopping site. She says, “I never want to be sitting in an ivory tower surrounded by people who tell me what I want to hear, or feeling that I don’t really understand how people feel and what’s going on.”

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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Early leadership lessons for you?

My grandparents had a bunch of different businesses after the war. My dad is an entrepreneur too — he runs an environmental engineering firm. He’s a huge role model for me. He was just authentically passionate about his people. His employees were a big part of our lives. At company picnics, you would be expected, as a kid, to remember the names of the 200 people who worked at his company, as well as their spouses and kids. My mom was a teacher, and she loves the idea of curiosity. She wanted me to love learning.

Any expressions you would often hear from them?

My dad is a remarkably optimistic person. If you were at the dinner table and complaining about a teacher or somebody else, he would shut those conversations down in a heartbeat. His favorite line was, “Well, it’s supereasy to criticize.” I remember one time during dinner he said something somewhat negative about a politician, and we were in shock.

How has your leadership style evolved?

When I was younger, I often made one of two mistakes. One, I cared so much about people that I overestimated their trajectory or I pushed them too fast. That’s not fair for anybody involved. Two, I sometimes kept people on the team because their skill set was so great, even though they were kind of poisonous. I call them morale zombies. Now I make decisions really fast on that stuff.

Anything unusual about your leadership style today?

I don’t have an office. When I started at Gilt, I wanted to get to know the various teams, so I’d set up and work with them for a week. I joined their meetings and tried to do their work. When you’re sitting in the open with everybody, you pick up a lot. That was my schedule the first eight weeks, but I just loved it, and more than a year later, I haven’t stopped. I never want to be sitting in an ivory tower surrounded by people who tell me what I want to hear, or feeling that I don’t really understand how people feel and what’s going on.

What else is unusual about the culture?

I’ve always taken a slightly different approach with 360 reviews. We’ll share them with each other on the executive team, and I’ll start with mine — here is where I’m good, and here is where I’m not doing so well. I’ll even tell the whole company, and say, “Here is where I want your help.” That makes it a bit safer for other people to do the same, and you can build trust.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.comthat he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here.

His more recent book, Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation, was also also published by Times Books (January 2014). To contact him, please click here.

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