Tiger Woods: Keep it simple
No. 1-ranked golfer
When I was young, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I'd play on the Navy golf course with
my pop. My dad would say, "Okay, where do you want to hit the ball?" I'd pick a
spot and say I want to hit it there. He'd shrug and say, "Fine, then figure out
how to do it." He didn't position my arm, adjust my feet, or change my
thinking. He just said go ahead and hit the darn ball. My dad's advice to me was
to simplify. He knew that at my age I couldn't digest all of golf's intricacies. He
kept it simple: If you want to hit the ball to a particular spot, figure out a way to
do it. Even today, when I'm struggling with my game, I can still hear him say,
"Pick a spot and just hit it." When I'm making adjustments during a round, I
know some of the television commentators theorize that I'm changing this or
moving that, but really what I'm doing is listening to Pop.
Jim Sinegal: Show, don't tell
Co-founder and CEO, Costco Wholesale
About 40 years ago I became a vice president at FedMart, a discount retailer. I started
working there when I was 18. The company's founder, Sol Price, taught me a lesson that
was pretty simple, but also true: If you're going to go to the trouble of hiring someone, it's
because you can't do the job yourself -- so you'd better show them how you would do it.
Sol spent day and night teaching us. He'd go home to have dinner, then come back to the
warehouses. If he saw a piece of trash on the floor, he'd pick it up. If he noticed that a
display was too high or an aisle wasn't wide enough, he'd fix it. As employees, we were
tested every day, and if something wasn't done properly, he'd be certain to show us how
to do it. Some people believe that you should say something just once. But I think you get
a message across by communicating it every day. That's why I'm always walking the
floors of different Costcos and talking to employees about the tasks at hand. It's not just
because I love to hear the registers ring! Sol taught me that a good manager must also be
a good teacher. A lot of very bright people lose sight of that.
Mort Zuckerman: Do what you love
Chairman, Boston Properties; chairman, editor-in-chief,U.S. News and World
The best advice I ever got came from one of my professors at the Harvard
Business School. He told a story about how George Bernard Shaw was working
as a clerk in a dry-goods store in Dublin, and he decided to give himself three
years to go and write plays in London. And if it didn't work out he could always go back and be a clerk
in a dry-goods store. The way I interpreted his advice was to really do what you love. I was anticipating
that I would be practicing law, which to me was the functional equivalent to working as a clerk in a
So I decided I was going to give myself three years to try something that I was always interested in. I
was always fascinated by urban life, and I grew up in Montreal, where the residential areas were closer
to the downtown part of the city. The father of one of my best friends was in the real estate business,
and I thought he had a wonderful life because he traveled a lot and seemed to be building things. And I
really liked building things. (And as I once said when I was a teacher, he also had a lot of women
chasing him, which I thought came out of the profession. A student then asked me, "Well, has it
worked?" And I said, "Well, I travel an awful lot.") So I went into a field that I really liked. I got a job in
Boston with Cabot Cabot & Forbes, in real estate development. Since I loved both urban life and
journalism -- I was a journalism addict when I was 12 years old -- all I did was pursue those two
careers. And I feel as if I've never worked a day in my life.
Lloyd Blankfein: Empower a subordinate
Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs
When I was put in charge of sales and trading at
Goldman's commodities unit [in 1984], it was a big deal
for me. My first month on the job, things started going
badly in the P&L. When I went in to my boss for help,
he asked, "What do you think we should do here?" I
wanted to sound totally in control, so I went right into
this Chuck Yeager voice -- you know, The Right Stuff. I used
my most fake-confident voice, and I gave it my best shot. He said, "Okay, that's a good
idea." It was smart of him to ask my opinion instead of telling me what to do. He knew
that if my plan worked, I'd feel more confident. If it didn't work, the pressure on me
would ease because he had endorsed my idea. Just as I was walking out of his office, he
said, "Oh, just one more thing. Why don't you walk to the men's room and throw cold
water on your face? You're looking green." So I learned two things: First, it's good to
solicit your people's opinions before you give them yours. And second, your people will be
very influenced by how you carry yourself under stress.
Mohamed El-Erian: Push beyond your
CEO and co-chief investment officer, Pimco
We were living in Paris, back when my father was Egypt's ambassador
to France. Each day we used to get at least four daily newspapers, from
Le Figaro on the right side of the political spectrum to L'Humanité,
which was the newspaper of the Communist Party. I remember asking
my father, Why do we need four newspapers? He said to me, "Unless
you read different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and
you'll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you'll never question."
Reading widely is particularly important right now. Most of the market research these days asks the
same question: Is this the market bottom? To answer that question, they look at historical valuations
and try to extrapolate from them. And most of the time that is the correct approach. However, right
now we are going through major and unpredictable changes in the financial landscape. As a result, "Is
this the bottom?" is the wrong question. But you have to read other people like [New York University
economics professor Nouriel] Roubini, like [The Black Swan author] Nassim Taleb, and some of the
behavioral-finance guys to understand why the question is wrong. The question we should be asking is,
In this new world how do the historical variables morph, and what are the unintended consequences of
government policy? There's a tendency for everyone to operate in a comfort zone and to want to read
what is familiar to them. But if you are just used to following one person or one news-paper, you will
miss these big shifts.
David Axelrod: Ignore conventional
Senior adviser to President Obama
Gary Hart [the former presidential candidate from Colorado] gave me
the advice over beers at the Quadrangle Club at the University of
Chicago in 1987, where he had just given a speech. He said Washington
was one big echo chamber of conventional wisdom clanging around.
He told me, "Washington is always the last to get the news." I didn't
think much about his words then, but they stuck with me and helped me later in life and in the Obama campaign. There
were many times when Washington conventional wisdom wrote us off or insisted we were making suicidal mistakes.
They questioned our focus on Iowa, saying we needed to run a national campaign. For most of 2007, from July to
November, the conventional wisdom insisted we had blown our opportunity. Hillary Clinton had a 30-point lead. But
we thought that if we won Iowa we could prevail, and we just got pummeled by people in Washington saying we were
going to lose. In the spring of 2008 they said we were crazy to oppose eliminating the gas tax when our opponents were
proposing it as a way to ease the crush of high gas prices. People thought we'd made this critical error. But we thought
our position was honest and forthright and people would recognize a gimmick when they saw one. The interchange on
those issues actually propelled us to a strong position in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. The third time we
ignored Washington was when Sarah Palin was picked. They said it was a masterstroke by McCain. But Obama said it
took him four to five months to get the hang of being a candidate, so I knew it would be tough to make that adjustment
in three weeks.
When I was a political reporter, the paper tried to send me here [Washington, D.C.], and I refused. In 1998, when the
Monica Lewinsky story broke and reporter friends said Clinton would resign, I went to Manny's Deli in Chicago, where
there was an older woman, 68. She was a cashier who had to keep working to make ends meet. She said, "This guy
Clinton seems to be trying to help us, so why don't they get off his ass?" I called my reporter friends in D.C. and said
they need to come to Manny's.
Tory Burch: Trust your instincts
Co-founder and creative director, Tory Burch
When I started my company, many people said I shouldn't
launch it as a retail concept because it was too big a risk.
They told me to launch as a wholesaler to test the waters –
because that was the traditional way. But Glen Senk, the
CEO of Urban Outfitters and a mentor of mine who now sits
on our board, told me to follow my instincts and take the risk. I wanted to create a new way of looking
at retail. At the time a lot of stores were very minimalist, very clean. I wanted stores that would feel
like a comfortable room in my apartment, cozy and colorful and different.
Part of my vision came out of my experience at Ralph Lauren. When I worked there, first in public
relations and then in advertising as a copywriter, I learned the importance of having a complete vision
for the company, from product to marketing to store visuals. My company is an extension of me, so
when I designed my stores I wanted people to feel that they were in my home. It was also something
that came out of my trying to design things that I wanted myself. Everything was thought out, from the
music to the candles to the couches and, of course, to the product. It gave people an idea of who we
were, and it was great for quicker branding.
Jim Rogers: Read everything
Investor and commodities guru
The best advice I ever got was on an airplane. It was in my early days on
Wall Street. I was flying to Chicago, and I sat next to an older guy.
Anyway, I remember him as being an old guy, which means he may
have been 40. He told me to read everything. If you get interested in a
company and you read the annual report, he said, you will have done
more than 98% of the people on Wall Street. And if you read the
footnotes in the annual report you will have done more than 100% of
the people on Wall Street. I realized right away that if I just literally
read a company's annual report and the notes -- or better yet, two or three years of reports -- that I
would know much more than others. Professional investors used to sort of be dazzled. Everyone
seemed to think I was smart. I later realized that I had to do more than just that. I learned that I had to
read the annual reports of those I am investing in and their competitors' annual reports, the trade
journals, and everything that I could get my hands on. But I realized that most people don't bother
even doing the basic homework. And if I did even more, I'd be so far ahead that I'd probably be able to
find successful investments.
Scott Boras: Be effective, not popular
Sports agent; president, Boras Corp.
In 1985, very early in my career, I had hired my former law
professor at University of the Pacific to be a consultant in
an arbitration case. He was a seasoned negotiator and a
labor law attorney.
After completion of the negotiation- -- my first multiyear
major-league contract -- we went out to dinner in Chicago.
[At the time, Boras was receiving attention for the record contract.] He said, "My advice to you is that
you always serve the best interests of your client. An industry will change in response to you, but it
won't do it willingly."
He said that if you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.
Keep your head on straight, don't get emotional, take the heat, and just make sure your clients are
Mika Brzezinski: Use failure to motivate
Co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough
I lost my job at CBS News in 2006 after a new management team was
brought in and cleaned house. At the time, I was being considered for
the Sunday Evening News anchor job as well as a
60 Minutescorrespondent. I felt as if I'd hit my stride. Then -- boom –
it was all gone. It was the biggest downturn of my career – emotionally
and financially. Someone wise told me, "You don't know this, but there
will be a day when you realize this was the best thing that could happen
to you." Even though it was a leap of faith, I took that advice to heart.
I went through a year of job interviews for some high-profile news jobs that didn't go well. I was
considering leaving the business, even though it's my life's passion. Yet I kept remembering the advice
that something ultimately good would come from this. I also realized that for that advice to really come
to fore, I couldn't give up. I finally said to myself, "Get over yourself. Just get back in, even if it means a
massive step backwards." So at 40 years old I got a freelance job that included doing 30-second news
cut-ins on MSNBC -- a great job for someone just starting out. Then Joe [Scarborough] and I met in
the hallway at MSNBC and really hit it off. Soon I was asked to be on Morning Joe with him. I found
out the network had been urging Joe to hire a young female "news reader." But he pushed for me to get
the job. Now I realize that perhaps my personality is too real to be boxed into an ultra-objective news
job. On Morning Joe I can say what I think, be my sometimes unorthodox self, have fun, yet be serious
Colin Powell: Focus on performance, not
Former secretary of state; retired four-star general
When I was a young infantry officer at Fort Benning, we had a lot of old
captains who had served in World War II and Korea. They were not
going to go higher in rank, but, boy, did they know about soldiering.
So I didn't learn this piece of barracks wisdom from an Eisenhower or
Pershing. I heard it from these wonderful reserve captains. This is the
story: There was a brand-new second lieutenant who was very ambitious
and wanted to be a general. So one night at the officer's club the young
officer spotted this old general sitting at the bar. So he went up and said, "How do I become a
general?" And the old general answered, "Son, you've got to work like a dog. You've got to have moral
and physical courage. There may be days you're tired, but you must never show fatigue. You'll be
afraid, but you can never show fear. You must always be the leader." The young officer was so excited
by this advice. "Thank you, sir," he said, "so is this how I become a general?" "No," said the general,
"that's how you become a first lieutenant, and then you keep doing it over and over and over."
Throughout my career, I've always tried to do my best today, think about tomorrow, and maybe dream
a bit about the future. But doing your best in the present has to be the rule. You won't become a
general unless you become a good first lieutenant.
Shai Agassi: Take advice from smart
Founder and CEO, Better Place
The best pieces of advice I got occurred around the holidays in late 2006.
The first piece of advice came from former President Bill Clinton at the
Saban Forum in Washington. I told the President about my idea to sell
electric cars through dealers. He listened to the whole thing, and then
he looked at me and said, "You're solving the right problem at the wrong
time. The average Joe doesn't go to a dealership; he buys a nine-year-old
used car and drives it into the ground, and then he buys another nineyear-old car. You need to figure out how to get the average Joe in an
electric car for free and still make money." When I asked how, President Clinton said, "You're the
smart guy--you figure it out." And he turned and walked away. President Clinton was the guy who
ultimately drove us to switch our model. A few weeks later I was in Israel, and I was speaking with
Israeli President Shimon Peres [who also heard my presentation at the Saban Forum]. When I
originally pitched the idea, I suggested that the government create an agency to make it happen. I
wasn't thinking about it as a company, but more as an arm of government. President Peres told me,
"Agencies don't do things. Entrepreneurs do things." He said, "You have to start a company.
Otherwise, this is just an idea. You have a good job, but this is a better job because you can save the
world." A few days later I quit my job at SAP.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Make an
CEO-in-residence, Accel Partners
When I got my first job at Merrill Lynch [as a junior analyst],
I ended up working for a managing director, Henry Michaels.
He was known from his more junior days as "Hank the
Crank" for his ability to crank it out and work fast. At only 32
or 33, Henry was already a managing director. At my level
[then] you were typically staffed on a project with the
managing director, a director, and an associate in addition to
the junior analyst. I got staffed directly with Henry on a project with no one in between and he gave
me a lot of runway. His advice to me was to work exceptionally hard and step up from day one, despite
being junior. In the first three to four months that you're in a job, you can create positive or negative
momentum. I got to Merrill already hungry to prove myself and exceeded expectations; from that
point on I got staffed on the better assignments and was given the opportunity to move to London.
Hank's advice has always stayed with me. It's key to starting any new job because you have a few
months to make a first impression, and a finite window of time to create professional momentum and
start building a brand for yourself.
Eric Schmidt: Hire a coach
Chairman and CEO, Google
The advice that sticks out I got from John Doerr, who in 2001 said, "My
advice to you is to have a coach." The coach he said I should have is
Bill Campbell. I initially resented the advice, because after all, I was a
CEO. I was pretty experienced. Why would I need a coach? Am I doing
something wrong? My argument was, How could a coach advise me if
I'm the best person in the world at this? But that's not what a coach does.
The coach doesn't have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to
watch you and get you to be your best. In the business context a coach is
not a repetitious coach. A coach is somebody who looks at something
with another set of eyes, describes it to you in [his] words, and discusses
how to approach the problem.
Once I realized I could trust him and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great
idea. When there is [a] business conflict you tend to get rat-holed into it. [Bill's] general advice has
been to rise one step higher, above the person on the other side of the table, and to take the long view.
He'll say, "You're letting it bother you. Don't."
Meredith Whitney: Set realistic goals
Founder, Meredith Whitney Advisory Group
I've gotten a lot of really good advice, but the advice that I always
go back to is something my mother told me. She said to set realistic
goals, achieve them, and recalibrate your goals so that you're
constantly moving forward, as opposed to setting dreamer-type
goals that you're going to get frustrated by.
Lauren Zalaznick: Listen
President, Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, NBC Universal
The first TV job I ever had was at VH1. My boss was Jeff Gaspin, whom
I was later reunited with here at NBC. Early on Jeff told me,
"Throughout your career, you're going to hear lots of feedback from
show-makers and peers and employees and bosses. If you hear a certain
piece of feedback consistently and you don't agree with it, it doesn't
matter what you think. Truth is, you're being perceived that way."
I was known back then as a person who made snap decisions. I got it –
I got ideas quickly. And I tended to tell people that I didn't need more
information to make my decision. Jeff said to me, "Lauren, you're very
smart. You're 10 steps ahead of people. Don't cut them off."
He was right. Eventually I developed a softer touch. I've changed from a person known for making
snap decisions to someone who's viewed as thoughtful and analytical. You don't have to agree with the
other person, but you do need to make sure that you both understand why you disagree.
Julian Robertson: Don't talk shop
Founder, Tiger Management
The best advice I ever got came from my sister Wyndham
[who later became an assistant managing editor at Fortune].
She called me one night after we'd been to a cocktail party
in the early 1960s and said, "You're becoming a business bore.
No one is interested in talking all night long about stocks.
Quit being a business bore." After trying to refute her, I
realized she was right. So I stopped being a business bore. I
found other topics to discuss. And I found that when I ceased
being a business bore -- and quit pushing my views about the
market on everyone -- that people came to be more interested
in any advice that I might have to give. At the time I was a broker starting out, and it helped me
acquire clients. I think the same thing is true as a parent with your kids. If you give advice, it's not
nearly as well received as when it's asked for.
Thomas Keller: Treat it like it's yours
Chef, The French Laundry, Per Se
Treat it like it's yours and someday it will be. I'm not exactly sure
when someone told me that, but I certainly remember the profound
impact it had. Every job I had from that point on -- I was still a chef
de partie at that time -- everything that came with that workstation
became my responsibility. I kept my space clean, organized, and
maintained ... I brought this mindset with me everywhere I went. ...
Because of the way I worked and carried myself, and the quality
and integrity that I was striving for, a lot of people saw certain
qualities in me that they respected.
Robin Li: Underpromise and overdeliver
The advice came from one of our early investors. During our first board
meeting, when the company was founded, I said, "I never ran a
company by myself -- what kind of advice do you have for me?"
And I was told, "Underpromise and overdeliver." I took it to heart
then and still rely on it today. I believe the loyalty from Baidu's
customers, users, employees, and investors today is due in large
part to that approach. People trust that when we set out to do
something, we do it well.
Miles White: Don't pursue titles and
CEO, Abbott Labs
The best advice I got from someone in the corporate world was not
to pursue titles and dollars. Pursue passion, and the titles and the
dollars will take care of themselves. I think there's a lot of truth to that.
As young people build careers, how they define happiness or
achievement makes a big difference in the success they're going to
have in their careers. If you pursue the things you believe in and
have a passion for, I think everything else pretty much takes care of
itself. Otherwise, you find yourself wishing your life away, advancing
to the next thing, never quite appreciating the circumstances where you
are and the enrichment you're getting out of the experience.
I can give you one example [of how it impacted me]. I was a consultant at McKinsey almost 25 years
ago, and I took a large cut in pay and left to come be a national account sales manager at Abbott. I
wanted to manage people and products directly. I wanted to be somewhere where I could build a
business, build people, and lead teams. I took a big cut in pay and went in search of passion. And it
Aaron Patzer: Self-doubt is normal
Founder & CEO, Mint
When I was first starting Mint I would oscillate emotionally day-to-day.
I was the sole founder and started the company when I was 25. I would
go back and forth between thinking, "This is the best idea ever," and
then other days asking myself, "Who am I, as a 25-year-old kid, to take
on Intuit with Quicken and Microsoft? Who am I to do that?" I kept
thinking to myself, this is really an emotional rollercoaster.
At that time I met Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO and co-founder of
Yelp.com, at a party for entrepreneurs called "Founders Brunch" (run by
Auren Hoffman). He was the first and probably only guy who was like,
"For the first year that Yelp was founded, I was on that rollercoaster –
panicked sometimes, elated sometimes. After it gets up and running for a year, it's still tough, but you
don't have that 'nearing mental breakdown' stage on a day-to-day basis." It was the first time anyone
had come clean.
For first-time entrepreneurs there's a macho attitude that you [can] never show doubt or weakness,
but truth is, you face it every day. That personal admission, that self-doubt, that lack of confidence, or
wild emotional swings are part of the game when you're starting a company. I probably met with 40 or
50 VCs or angel investors before I got my first "yes." I met Jeremy after 25 rejections and I wasn't yet
ready to give up, but I was at a point where it was rough. Jeremy taught me that self-doubt, and even a
failing in self-confidence, is perfectly normal and that all you have to do is keep trying and keep
Niklas Savander: Be nice to people
Executive Vice President and General Manager, Services &
When I got my first job, my father told me, "Remember to be nice to
people." You'll meet them on the way up or on the way down. You go
through the good and the bad times in your career. In the end, the
world functions through personal relationships. If you elbow yourself
up, you'll fall harder. If you are too self-centered, you won't be
successful. People don't want to work for you. The current guy who is
running IT for services I first met when he was a systems engineer and
I was a junior salesman for HP. After many years, we joined Nokia -- he eight years ago and me twelve
years ago. And since the, I've been his boss, like, five times in different roles. From my current team,
it's a long history. When you are faced with the challenge of building something new, you have a
tendency to reach out to someone you've been through a storm with already.