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 Joanne Rohde, C.E.O. of Axial Exchange, a developer of mobile health care applications. She says, “You’ve got to get in and take risks, but you also have to get out, reassess and modify. That, in my opinion, is how you get ahead.”
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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Were you in leadership or entrepreneurial roles when you were young?
When I was 12, I had my first business. I basically created a summer camp for our neighbors’ kids in our house. I had about a dozen kids. I wonder now why all those parents let me look after their 5-year-olds; it was a different time. But I always believed I could create something, and I always had a lot of passion about doing something that hadn’t been done before.
Any sense of where that came from?
Not really. We don’t have entrepreneurial roots on either side of our family. But what we do have is independent thinking. I’ve always been grateful to my parents for that. My parents were always very involved in their communities. We moved to North Carolina in the mid-’60s, and my mother worked for the League of Women Voters. She went out and registered women to vote. She would say the biggest obstacle she’d face in the field was women saying, “My husband says I don’t need to.”
So I always had this model of independence. My parents started a synagogue when we moved down there, and there were eight families, and we’d sit around in a public school. That synagogue today has a thousand families. That was one of my earliest memories about how you can just build something if there’s a need.
In college, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do for your career?
Not at all. Everybody in my family had been in either academia or law. But I was always interested — I don’t know why — in the stock market. My first job out of college was with Drexel Burnham Lambert. Later, I worked on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I was trading Deutsche mark options, and I was one of the first females in the pit.
Lessons from that time?
I remember a day when the markets went crazy, and all of us were losing money because the volatility was going against us. The guy I worked for said, “You all need to get out of your positions.” We tried to explain to him that this was a temporary thing. He said: “No. You have to get out.”
A couple of days later, he said something that has really been an important life lesson: “If you get out, you can get in exactly the same way the next day, but you have a clear head.” It was such good advice, and so few people follow it. And it’s really important for both entrepreneurship and leadership — you’ve got to get in and take risks, but you also have to get out, reassess and modify. That, in my opinion, is how you get ahead. You may have a vision of where you’re headed, but it is never a straight line. You take a step and you reassess. That gives you courage.
It is a rare person who knows how to get where they’re going without taking lots of steps and changing course along the way. What most people are missing is the confidence to know that’s part of the journey.
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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.comthat 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.