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 Kevin Warren, chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings. 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 was born and raised in Phoenix and grew up in a middle-class family. I’m the youngest of seven kids. My dad was a professor and principal, and my mother was a librarian. So, quite naturally, with two educators in the house, education was paramount. I also played sports, from elementary school and into college.
But when I was 12, I was in a serious accident. I was riding my bike, and a lady in the neighborhood accidentally ran up on the curb and hit me. I flew 30 feet, and landed on a little patch of grass and ended up breaking my femur. I was in traction for about six weeks in the hospital, and in a body cast for seven months after that.
I was blessed at an early age that I recognized the frailty of life. The doctor told me I was lucky to be alive, and that if I had landed on the cement around that small patch of grass, they would be planning my funeral. So every day, I spend my time and energy trying to work hard and leave a positive legacy.
Tell me more about your parents.
Their approach was really based on two elements: passion and effort. I don’t think they ever looked at a report card of mine. And with sports, they were never focused on me scoring X number of points. They said that if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you put in extreme effort — not just average effort, but extreme effort — the results are going to be fine. It really troubles me when I see people who are not passionate or they’re just putting in partial effort.
What else were you doing outside of class besides sports?
I had a paper route. We would have to get up early, around 4 a.m., and I would get home at 5:15 a.m. I learned a lesson about the importance of minute details. I picked up another kid’s paper route because I wanted to grow mine. There was one house in particular that I delivered papers to, and at the end of the month I went to collect my money. The guy at the door said, “We didn’t order the paper.” I said, “I’ve been delivering your paper here for a month.” He said, “I know, but we didn’t order it.”
It turned out his house number included a six, and the top part came undone, so it was upside down, like a nine. He wouldn’t pay me, and the people with the correct address were upset because they had not gotten their paper, so I lost double. That was an incredible lesson for me about how, as you go through life, the minute details are so important.
You were part of the St. Louis Rams organization when the team won the Super Bowl in 1999. Lessons from that experience?
I joined the Rams in ’97 as legal counsel and vice president of player development. We were 5-11 that year, 4-12 the next, and then the third year we went 16-3 and won the Super Bowl. It was incredible. Probably the most powerful lesson from that experience is that we won that Super Bowl by one yard. Mike Jones made the tackle on Kevin Dyson at the one-yard line.
We had Hall of Fame players. None of our starters missed any time. We had the league M.V.P. in Kurt Warner, and we had five former N.F.L. head coaches on staff. Everything fell into place. And we won the Super Bowl by one yard.
It goes back to that lesson I learned with my paper route. You have to make sure you focus on the little things. For the players, it might be the extra wind sprints, or in my current role, helping an employee deal with a personal issue. All those little things don’t seem like much, but when you add them up, they can be that important yard in a game.
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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 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.