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 Mike Tuchen, chief executive of Talend, a software vendor that specializes in big-data integration 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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Tell me about your early years.
One of my biggest influences growing up was my parents. My dad had an incredible work ethic. On weekends we were always doing projects around the house, like amateur carpentry and landscaping. The other big thing I learned from him was that you can probably figure anything out if you just try hard enough and look at it long enough.
He applied that approach when we’d travel. If we were in Germany looking at a lock that they used to move barges up a canal, he would say: “How do you think that works? Let’s figure it out.” It helped build my confidence early on.
And what about your high school years?
I went to my local school for junior high and then to boarding school. I actually started causing all kinds of trouble there, and even got kicked out of school for a couple of weeks and was sent home to think about whether I wanted to be in school.
My dormitory room was like the party room. I had this routine where I’d go and buy a case of liquor every few weeks. All the liquor stores right around the school were always on the lookout for underage students, but I figured I would outsmart them.
I wouldn’t shave for a couple of weeks so I had a bit of stubble. I’d put on some old overcoat. And I would walk all the way into town at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday to buy liquor. The people behind the counter assumed that no kid would ever do that, so they never asked for ID. That was back when it was actually hard to get fake IDs.
But I got caught doing that and some other things, and they booted me out. It really woke me up. I didn’t want to be someone who was kicked out of high school. So I went back. And I decided that the one thing I can do is work harder than everyone else. I got on the dean’s list every quarter from then on. I went from worst to first.
Another critical experience for me was rowing in college. I’m tiny for a rower. The average guy in my boat was six inches taller than me, and 40 pounds heavier. I had to figure out how I could make myself as efficient as possible, pound-for-pound.
I had to make sure that every ounce I had was going to be as effective as I could be. So I asked, what could I do to make my diet as effective as possible? What could I do from a training perspective to work harder than the other guys?
I was fanatical about it. With every single workout, I’d record the weight and the number of reps, and each day I would ramp it up. That approach, focused on results with incredibly detailed measurement and course correction when needed, is so transferable to a work environment.
I learned so many lessons from our coach. When you’re on the water, you’ve got waves, wind and whatever else is going on. You can choose to either focus on that and use it as an excuse later on or ignore it. He had this great analogy: When you’re driving and rain is pouring down, with the windshield wipers going, you can either watch the windshield wiper or you watch the road. Which is going to be more successful? That was just a fabulous reminder about staying focused and calm.
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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.