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 Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and partner of the advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times
* * *
Tell me about your early years.
I grew up near Providence, R.I. My mom is an Italian immigrant and a painter, and my dad is a Wharton graduate who worked in insurance. My neighborhood was very formative for me because I had to hang around with kids who were really different from me — kids who beat you up and kids who were smart and made me read books that I would have never read.
It taught me to accept people, not judge them too much, and be patient with them. That’s been very valuable as a creative person, especially later in life.
In what way?
In my job, I have to be very accepting of differences in people because I have a lot of artists and writers and others who are odd characters. If you’re not tolerant of that oddness, you’re trying to form something into your idea of what things should be like. That’s a mistake.
I’m very good at accepting those people on their own terms, bending them subtly to do things that I think are useful. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I fail. But I do think my childhood was helpful for that.
Can you talk more about how you learned the art of nudging people?
When you get the job as creative director, your first inclination is to agree with everything people present to you, because you want them to like you. But then when it doesn’t come out well, then you actually have to think, inform the discussion and get the person to come back again with something slightly different and feel good about that. And they may have to change it again.
I try to see the work through the eyes of the people who did it because I don’t want to demoralize them. Why are they excited about their approach? Then I judge it from the best part of it. Sometimes there isn’t a lot there, and so I’ll say, “You guys are doing a good job of thinking about it because this problem is not easy.” So I give them some credit for the time that they’ve put in and for the perspective that they’ve got on it.
Sometimes I also have an idea for fixing the problem. Sometimes it’s a lame idea, and they walk out of the meeting thinking, “I can beat that.” But that’s fine. I give them a lot of rope to do what they think is right.
How have your parents influenced your leadership style?
I see a lot of my dad’s influence. When I would go to work with my dad, he would be friendly and know everybody in the office. He was one of those guys who knew the names of the security guards’ kids. I’ve tried to be that way in life as much as I can.
It’s definitely worked in a business context with clients. I try not to get caught up in the politics and hierarchies on their side of the table. I try to treat everybody the same. We’ve got the same problem to solve.
My mom taught me how to draw. That sounds like no big deal, but it’s been very useful for getting my ideas across to creative people and clients.
* * *
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.