Mitch Rothschild (chief executive of Vitals) in “The Corner Office”

RothschildAdam 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 Mitch Rothschild, chief executive of Vitals, a website that connects patients and doctors. He affirms, “You should do something every 90 days to make sure you’re uncomfortable.”

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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Were you in leadership roles or doing entrepreneurial things when you were younger?

Nothing dramatic. I didn’t have much time. My parents sent me to a school that went from 7:30 in the morning until 6 at night. When I wasn’t at school, I played a lot of basketball, and read and wrote a lot.

But when I was in college, I tried to start a campground in New York City. I had done a lot of camping and realized there was no campground anywhere in the city, and I sensed a gap in the market. I scoped out a lot of property. One of them we almost bought turned out to be a toxic-waste dump, which was why there was that much open land. We never did that, but we did open a copy center at Queens College. I’ve always been doing stuff like that, always asking, “What can I figure out next?”

What were some early influences for you?

I’m Jewish, and a lot of my friends’ parents were Holocaust survivors, and I would hear their stories about their incredible resourcefulness to survive. That had a big impact on me, and made me think a lot about resilience and training myself to be able to flex that muscle.

Over the years, I’ve done things like going on a business trip with $3 and seeing if I could figure out how to survive on that for a couple of days. I’ve tried not wearing a coat on cold winter days — your body kind of gets acclimated to the temperature. I think you should do something every 90 days to make sure you’re uncomfortable.

I also have this theory that people make an implicit decision as to whether they’re going to stay young and curious and interesting and interested, or whether they’re just going to let themselves age. You can tell with most people right away. It’s important to stay young and experience new stuff. I’m taking up juggling now. You’ve got to keep yourself fresh.

What about your parents’ influence?

I grew up in a Germanic household. My parents taught us the importance of very high standards. When I started the company, I called myself “chief perfectionist.” That didn’t play well with a number of folks, although I liked the concept. I just viscerally reject the concept of mediocrity. I’d say that’s very much built into my DNA. Parents influence you either because you want to be like them or because you want to not be like them.

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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 with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here.

His more recent book, Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation, was also also published by Times Books (January 2014). To contact him, please click here.

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