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 Kenneth Ziegler, chief executive of Logicworks, which provides cloud-management services. 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 Brooklyn Heights. My father’s a professor and my mother taught elementary school. New York was just a very different place back then. Brooklyn Heights was very much an artist’s neighborhood. It was all about education and culture and embracing people of different backgrounds.
At the same time, we were one stop on the subway from Wall Street. So we saw this influx of people who were doing really well financially. And I saw this interesting dichotomy of creativity and growing wealth. I called it the “have enoughs” and the “haves.” Some people just had everything.
That made me a little bit hungrier. We lived right across from a park, and that’s where I had my first sales experience. My parents didn’t have the money to buy really expensive toys. But the other kids in the neighborhood would use toy sales to unload the stuff they didn’t want anymore.
So they brought their toys to the park but they had no idea how to sell them. They didn’t realize that the actual decision makers were the parents, not the kids. So I would basically take over these toy sales and connect the buyers with the sellers.
I would literally go bench by bench, where all the parents were sitting and socializing, and convince them to take a walk over to this toy sale. And I would make enough money in commissions to afford the toys that I wanted.
How do you think your parents influenced your leadership style?
The two of them are a comedic duo. My mother is the C.E.O. of the house, no doubt about it. My father is more the nurturer and has incredible patience, but my mother would make the big decisions. My mother’s the dreamer, and my father’s the realist.
My mother always talked about our dysfunctional family. I remember wondering why she would say that, but then I began to embrace it. Because if anyone thinks they’re perfect, they’re actually insane.
This theme translated to most of my life in many ways, because if you only hold yourself to a perfect standard, then you are going to go insane.
So how does that play out in the way you manage people?
When you’re dealing with incredibly intelligent, whimsical personalities – which are the case with the most talented people — you have to be willing not to say, “Here are the rules. This is how the formula works.”
As long as somebody doesn’t think they’re more important than the company or their team, I have this patience with people that came from my father. The No. 1 most important part of my job is to make people successful, and I can understand and work with a certain level of dysfunction.
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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.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.