Cathy Choi (Bulbrite) in “The Corner Office”

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 Cathy Choi, is president of Bulbrite, a lighting maker and supply company in Moonachie, N.J. After accepting her father’s offer to join it, she says, she “made a concerted effort to make the company the leader, not me or my dad.”

Photo Credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Bryant:  From reading your bio, it seems that you’ve had an interesting career path.

Choi: I started as a math major at Cornell. In my sophomore year, I came across an English and theater class. I fell in love with it, so I switched my major to theater. Then I got my M.B.A. from N.Y.U. and went to work for a big accounting firm.

But I then had an opportunity to work for a Hollywood producer. He told me I would start as his assistant. “In Hollywood, the more degrees you have, the lower you start,” he told me. I did everything — picking up his dry cleaning, getting his Starbucks, taking his calls and reading scripts. I learned how to run a small business.

But as my producer’s financing was ending, we were coming up on the 30th anniversary of the company that my father started. “I have to make plans,” my father said, “to either sell or, if you’re going to come in, then I would pass the reins to you.”

Bryant: Was that a tough decision for you?

Choi: It was. You always wonder: “What is it going to be like working with my dad?” There were 15 employees, and my father had built up a really strong core team. But would they accept me? What would my role be?  I have two parents and an uncle there. The hardest thing was walking into a set culture and trying to adapt to that culture, while still making an impression.

Bryant: What has your father taught you about leadership?

Choi: How to exercise patience. When you’re young, you’re ready to change the whole world. I would walk down the hallway, excited about something, and say to him: “I have a great idea. We’re doing this.”

Before I even got to the next word, he’d say: “Take a deep breath. O.K. Now we’re going to talk.”

And just by having that moment, it resets you, in good times and bad.

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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 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 with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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