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 Christa Quarrels, chief executive of OpenTable. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times
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Tell me about your early years.
I’m the sixth of seven kids, and we lived outside Pittsburgh. Mom was originally a schoolteacher, but then stayed at home to raise seven kids. Dad was an engineer at U.S. Steel. For me, as the sixth, there were no firsts left for me to accomplish, both good and bad. It had all happened before I came about. One of the big challenges for me was, “How do I stand out? How do I even get noticed in this giant family?”
My mom appreciated humor, though, so I learned that a quick wit was a way to get noticed. I also felt like I had to do something more or succeed exceptionally to make it even matter, because everybody in my family was expected to get all A’s and go to college.
I’ve interviewed so many C.E.O.s over the years who come from large families.
You certainly learn to be comfortable with a fair amount of chaos. There’s always something getting thrown at you and you just learn to become like Teflon. I always felt, bring it on.
My parents were also fascinated by psychology, and they did marriage counseling for our church. So we were always getting psychology tests growing up because I think they were also fascinated by how seven kids could be so different. So I was an early student of psychology, because they were always giving us the latest test. There was just an interest in the family around the questions of why you behave the way you do and why you think the way you do.
Do you see strands of your parents’ influence in the way you lead today?
A little bit, but slightly more with my older siblings. I gained some wisdom early on just by watching what worked for my older siblings, what didn’t work, watching their failures.
There are three kinds of people — the people who never learn from mistakes, the people who learn from their own mistakes and the people who learn from other people’s mistakes. I put myself in that last category because I had all these examples before me, and I never felt like I had to fail as often because there was so much I could learn from. People have always called me an old soul, and it was just more that I had lots of examples in front of me.
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To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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.