Tien Tzuo (CEO of Zora) in “The Corner Office”

Posted on: February 14th, 2017 by bobmorris

Adam 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 Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zora, a software company for subscription businesses. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

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What were your early years like?

I grew up in Flatbush and spent the first 28 years of my life in New York. I came here from Taiwan when I was 3. We lived in a dead-end street, and a lot of my childhood was just going out in the streets and playing stickball. It was a classic Brooklyn upbringing.

My parents were immigrants. They were psychology professors, but my father had an entrepreneurial streak, and he never really wanted to work for anybody. He wound up doing some import-export work, opened up a couple of stores, and eventually became a real estate broker. My mother decided to get a computer science degree.

They were pretty laissez-faire. You hear about all these “tiger” parents, and mine were the opposite. Their approach was, do whatever you want, we trust you. I just kind of ran my own life. And because I saw them become entrepreneurs, the idea of starting something wasn’t that scary to me.

Were you in leadership roles early on?

I’ve never really sought out leadership, but I’ve never really shied away from it. When there’s been an opportunity to step into it, I’ve been very comfortable with it. I am more of a puzzle solver. I can go figure out what needs to be done and organize the right resources to make it happen. That’s probably my strength. And I started doing what I do now at a pretty young age. My father’s insurance broker needed something to track his accounts and expenses, so I spent a summer building that for him when I was about 18.

What were some early career lessons?

I remember in my first year out of school, I decided to ask for a raise. At the company, the average at the time was 3 percent. I went to my manager and made my case about why I should get a good raise. And he gave me 10 percent.

I thought it was pretty good. But I remember waking up the next morning and feeling like nothing really changed. I just decided to never ask for a raise ever since. It just seemed like a big, useless thing.

So I’ve always taken more of a broad lateral path where I try to change my role every two years, because I was more interested in learning new things and having new experiences.

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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.com that 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 of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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