Jen Guzman (Stella & Chewy’s) in “The Corner Office”

GuzmanAdam 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 Jen Guzman, C.E.O. of Stella & Chewy’s, a pet food company based in Milwaukee.

Photo credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times

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Bryant: What were some important lessons for you growing up?

Guzman: I learned one running cross-country, and part of it came from knowing my weakness, which was just pure speed. I did much better on hilly courses than flat courses, so I developed a strategy. I would stay with the pack for a lot of the race, and then, when it came to the hilly portion, I knew that’s when people tended to give up a little bit because it was the toughest part of the race.

So I would actually sprint up the hill, particularly that last 30 percent, when there was that natural reaction to just let go. And then, once I was over the hill and out of sight, I would sprint down the hill. So when someone came up over the hill behind me, they would see that I had opened up more of a lead.

Bryant: Does that strategy translate into other parts of life?

Guzman: When I’m hiring someone, I think, “I want someone who’s going to sprint up the hills.” When the course gets really tough, that’s when you want someone who’s going to really rise to the challenge.

Bryant: Let’s talk more about hiring. What else are you looking for?

Guzman: I try to hire the best person for what the organization needs, and who can fit into the culture, rather than just hiring the person with the strongest résumé. And there’s another sports analogy I think back on. When I was a sophomore at Harvard, and I was rowing, the coach had a system for picking what was called the “first boat.” She would line up two boats. In one would be the eight strongest rowers. In the other boat would be the ones she thought were the next eight strongest rowers.

She would race the boats, then switch two rowers at a time, race the boats again and then see what happened. She would keep doing that until she felt she had the fastest boat because everyone was in sync. And so that’s how I think about hiring, because often the eight strongest individuals don’t necessarily make the strongest team.

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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 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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