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 Jay Walker , chairman of Walker Digital and founder of Priceline and Upside. 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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What were your early years like?
I grew up in Yonkers, N.Y. From an early age, I was an entrepreneur. I delivered papers. I shoveled driveways. I sold greeting cards. I sold everything.
I had that start-up gene, like some entrepreneurs do. You get knocked down and get back up. If something doesn’t work out, you try something else. I definitely had that persistence and a desire to understand customers and persuade them to buy products or services.
Tell me about your parents.
Both of my parents were highly entrepreneurial. My mother fled the Nazis when she was 6, so I’m a son of a German on one side, and my grandmother on the other side fled the Russians. I’m the son and grandson of immigrants.
That pretty much shows in my outlook on the world, because immigrants are largely entrepreneurial. You have to leave your country behind, go to a new land, a new culture, across an ocean, and you’re determined to make it work.
I got the willingness to take risks and fail from my father’s side of the family. He never talked about succeeding or failing. He would ask: Are you learning? Are you experiencing things? Are you paying attention?
And from my mother’s side I got analytical skills and attention to detail. So I have this amalgam of two heritages.
I was very fortunate. My father had done well financially, relatively speaking, and so I got to travel a great deal. Before I was 15, I had been to Europe five or 10 times.
I could travel by myself. I was one of those kids who was a little older than his age. My parents would let me go places, so I spent six weeks traveling in Europe when I was 12. Travel teaches you to be independent, make decisions and learn how to get by.
What were some early management lessons for you?
I’m not a manager, and you wouldn’t want me to manage anything you were running.
Because management is a set of skills and desires, neither of which I’m strong in. Management is the art of accomplishing objectives through others, and that’s different from leadership, which is more the art of inspiring others and getting them to want to do things.
I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good manager. A manager’s job is to develop the people they work with. It’s about process. I’m not a strong process person. I’m more an out-of-the-box guy.
I’ve always hired managers to do the job of management, which is no insult at all. It’s not beneath me in any way. It’s just not my strength. Create things? I’m your guy. Solve unusual problems? Maybe. Dream up whole new ways to approach things? I’m your guy. Manage? Not so much.
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Here is a direct link to the complete interview.
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.