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 , founder and chief executive of Grokker, a provider of online cooking, yoga and fitness videos. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Photo credit: Todd HeislerThe New York Times
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What were you like as a kid?
I was really curious. My mother is a judge, and my dad’s a lawyer. So they encouraged my curiosity and kept directing me to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, where I would read up on things. I was always trying to figure out how to make things better.
I also had this very natural desire to save money. I was the banker among the kids. I have three siblings, and while they would spend their money, I was always saving. Even when I was 9 or 10, they would come to me for loans.
That combination of curiosity and frugality got me interested in business. When I was 11, I started working on weekends in the garment district in Montreal. Initially, I was just unpacking boxes.
They were wholesalers, but they would open the factories on weekends to the public. I was allowed to sell, starting when I was about 12, and you made up your own prices. You knew your wholesale price, and then you would assess the customers, try to figure out what they wanted, sell it to them, and then price it the best way that you could to have the highest yield. I watched the managers and learned from them.
Where do you think your drive comes from?
I just love figuring things out and building things. If it’s been done before, it’s not that interesting to me. There’s this expression that I love: “Being early and being wrong feel exactly the same.”
Parse that for me.
If you have a notion of something that’s going to be important, the fact that you see it before anybody else sees it either means that you’re early to it, or that you’re wrong. It’s about seeing the trends and putting them together. But you don’t know until you know.
What are some important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
I worked at HP back in the mid-’90s, and they really believed in trust and respect for the individual, and that someone was going to spend their career with the company, so you cared about them for their whole career. You invested in someone for 25 years, as opposed to just for the job you were hiring them for.
That has affected my leadership style probably more than anything else. When I interview people, I always want to know what their ultimate ambitions are. And I always tell them that when the time comes to move to another role or another company, I want to be the first person they talk to because I want to help make that happen. I always say that life is long. We may work together for a time, and then not, and then maybe work together again.
But what’s interesting about investing in people for the long term is that you don’t do it for a return. You do it because that’s how you connect with people, and it’s how you truly build a sustaining relationship. The dividend is that you end up with people who follow you in your career.
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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.