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 Mahisha Dellinger, chief executive of Curls, a maker of hair care products. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Photo credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
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What were your early years like?
I grew up in California, in an area called Meadowview, which was dubbed Danger Island. There was a lot of crime: drug activity, gang activity, home invasions, drive-by shootings. I was my mother’s star child because I never gave her any trouble.
But my brother was in a gang, so he got into a lot of trouble starting from 15 on. Our house actually got shot up because another gang came to retaliate. No one was hurt, but my environment was very much one of fear.
I had to learn how to take care of myself at an early age. My mother worked a lot, and she was often gone. So from the age of 7 on, I got myself breakfast, made my lunch, went to school, came back home, did my homework, and then she would come home after 7.
In that kind of neighborhood and environment, you can go either way. You can either become a leader and control your destiny because you’re forced to, or you can go in the opposite direction. I had to become a leader of my life, and it started there, at a young age.
I think I have an innate strength about me because of where I came from. I’ve seen it all. And I had a desire to change my life. I didn’t want to live the way I was living. That pushed me to finish my education and ultimately go on to higher education, and change my legacy.
Given that you had to take care of yourself, were you able to be involved in things outside of school?
My mom changed her lifestyle. She used to party a lot on the weekend. My brother would babysit me, and take care of us both while she was gone. But in sixth grade, she gave her life to God, and that’s when our lives really changed for the better.
From that point, it became all about church, all week. Church was my life. I didn’t have really a lot outside of that. It was a very strict environment from sixth grade on. I loved it. I had a sense of belonging.
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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.