Paula Long (chief executive of DataGravity) in “The Corner Office”

LongAdam 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 Paula Long, chief executive of DataGravity, a data management firm. She emphasizes mutual accountability. “You and I have a contract that we’re going to get something done by a particular time,” she likes to say. “You need to make sure that you meet that contract with the same level of quality I agree to meet it with.”

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, 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?

I had an incredible work ethic. By the time I was 12, I was picking string beans at a farm. I worked one summer tying tobacco leaves. My parents were middle class, so it’s not like I needed to buy something. I’ve never been motivated by money. I just felt I needed to be out there working and learning a bunch of different things.

In terms of leadership, I’d find myself being a leader in certain situations if people couldn’t figure out what to do. But otherwise I was happy to go along with what seemed like a good idea.

Did you know what you wanted for a career as you headed into college?

A. I would flit from thing to thing because I would get curious about something and then I’d move on to the next thing. I was a pharmacy major and then thought I wanted to be an air traffic controller. I had five or six different majors in college, and transferred a bunch of times. My father was incredibly patient but incredibly supportive. He would say all the time, “You could do anything but you should do something.” It was funny.

I was good at math and I was good at puzzles, so it was my dad who actually said, “Maybe you should just do computer science.” It turned out that I was good at it, and you could also be an introvert with computer science. You could work as hard as you wanted on any problems you wanted to work on and you didn’t have to talk to anybody if you didn’t want to.

When did you first start managing people?

At Digital Equipment Corporation. I was there for about a month and I found all these product flaws. I was about 26 and wandered into the office of the person who was running the groups to tell her about the flaws, and she gave me the project to fix them. I would just make it happen and so I started running projects. At that point, I was managing by influence; nobody worked for me. After you become a manager, nobody really works for you anyway. You realize you work for them, actually.

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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.comthat 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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