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 Daniel T. Hendrix is president and C.E.O. of Interface Inc., a designer and maker of carpet tile based in Atlanta.
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
Photo credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times
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Bryant: What were some early leadership roles for you?
Hendrix: I would say that my first real leadership role was with sports in high school. I was the quarterback on the football team, I played basketball and I pitched on the baseball team. I would say that one of the better foundations to be a leader is to play organized sports.
Bryant: And in your college years?
Hendrix: When I went to college, I was a phys ed major. My father kept saying: “You’re not going to make any money. Why are you majoring in phys ed?” So I changed to accounting in my last quarter, and it took me about two years to get an accounting degree.
I got my first real job when I went into public accounting with a major accounting firm. That’s when I met Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface. In fact, the company was my first client, and it was still a very small company. I joined it at the age of 27. Within a year and a half, I was the C.F.O., and Ray would dump as much responsibility on me as he could. I think I was running customer service, planning, human resources, I.T., financial accounting, treasury, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
That’s when I learned a lot about business. I was in way over my head, but I thought I had to be the smartest guy in the room. I was dealing with a lot of bankers because we did a lot of public deals and were trying to finance acquisitions and so forth. I thought I could outwork anybody. I was working 24/7 and really had two jobs: C.F.O. during the day, then an investment banker at night, in effect, doing acquisitions and deals. Delegation wasn’t really part of the equation because I was afraid that if I gave it to somebody, they would fail and then I would fail.
The company brought in a president above me who was really charismatic and dynamic. One day he was in the office on a Sunday and he said: “Every time I’m in here on Sunday, you’re in here working. I’m not impressed by somebody who can’t get their job done in five days. I’m really not. It’s about balance.” And I had two young kids. He said, “Go out and hire some people and have a life.”
So I started hiring people, developing people, building a team, and I learned that you have to delegate, have to have accountability and have to make sure that people have the tools to do the job. Then you check in — you ask what’s going on.
Bryant: Obviously that Sunday conversation had a big impression on you.
Bryant: Big impression. His message really resonated: you’re going to burn out if you keep doing this.
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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 with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.