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 R. Donahue Peebles, the chief executive of the Peebles Corporation. 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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What were some early influences for you?
My parents divorced when I was 5, and I lived with my mother. She was a working single parent, and I learned to be a bit more independent. By the time I was 8, I would often cook for myself and take care of myself. My mother worked really hard, so I didn’t want to burden her with me.
As a teenager, I played a lot of sports and tended to lead the teams. But my mother felt I needed a little more discipline, so she thought I should be a page on Capitol Hill. She had worked at the Urban League years earlier, and one of the congressmen she knew was John Conyers. He helped me get me a position as a page on the Hill.
I was 16. Instead of attending high school near my home, I went to the U.S. Capitol Page School from 6 to 10:30 in the morning on the top floor of the Library of Congress. From 10:30 on, I worked in the House of Representatives. After working all day, I would go home and then have basketball practice until about 9 p.m. Then I would do my homework, go to bed around midnight, and then get up at 4 the next morning to do it all over again. I learned to budget my time very efficiently, and I would catch up on sleep on the weekends.
Then my mother had a prolonged illness and could not really work for about a year and a half. But with my job as a page, and work I did in Representative Conyers’s office, I was able to help support our household. I made some tremendous relationships over the years. My graduation ceremony was in the Cannon Caucus Room on Capitol Hill; President Carter gave me a certificate of achievement earlier in the day. I spent a lot of my childhood watching others lead and learning how to lead.
I was going to study medicine at Rutgers. One of the frustrating or difficult things for me as a child was the instability. I planned on having a family at some point, and I wanted to be able to take care of them and give them opportunity and stability. So I figured I would be a doctor because I had a good aptitude for sciences.
But after the first year, I decided I wasn’t going to go into medicine, and I went back to D.C. My mother had a real estate appraisal business, and so I worked for her. By the time I was 23, I was the youngest person appointed to the Property Tax Appeal Board in the district. The next year, I was named chair of the board, one of the most powerful positions in Washington’s real estate industry.
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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 with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.