George Hu (Salesforce) in “The Corner Office”

Hua, GeorgeAdam 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 George Hu, chief operating officer at Salesforce.

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

Photo credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

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Bryant: You worked your way up from intern to chief operating officer atSalesforce in a decade. Where did you get your drive?

Hu: It’s interesting, especially with all the publicity around the “Tiger Mom.” My parents are first-generation immigrants, and they were very laid-back. They gave me a lot of freedom, which actually allowed me to find myself. One trait I noticed that I had early on was that I always tried to do the thing that people said I couldn’t do, or was off-limits for some reason. When I was in school, if there was a course that people said I couldn’t take because it was too advanced for me, it was like they were throwing down the gauntlet. I would want to take the class.

Bryant: How did you start your rise up the ranks at Salesforce?

Hu: One piece of advice I always give people is: Don’t solve the problem that your manager or your boss tells you to solve. Solve the problem that either they don’t know they have, or solve the problem they know they have but nobody is solving. When I first started at Salesforce, Marc [Benioff, the C.E.O.] had sent out a note saying, “We’re having some problems in Europe.” I talked to 20 people, did an analysis and sent it to him. He called me to his office and said, “I want you to tell me what’s wrong with the company.”

Bryan: That was a bold move.

Hu: If I think I have a good idea, I just can’t help sharing it. I had worked for a different company before Salesforce and sent a note to the C.E.O. about things I was observing. The C.E.O. forwarded it to someone else, who told me I should never send a note to the C.E.O. again. I see that in a lot of employees who come to Salesforce from hierarchical cultures where they might get slapped down if they communicate beyond their direct manager. I call it the “six-month detox” before they understand we are different.

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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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