Monday, August 27, 2007

How To Be A Successful Executive

In today's Wall Street Journal there is an article titled "Bank of America CEO In Spotlight After Deal" about CEO Kenneth Lewis, who by most accounts is a solid CEO of Bank America. Bank of America is in the news because they recently bought a $2B stake in Countrywide Financial and is near to becoming the largest bank in the US by market value. In this passage former CEO McColl, who built up Bank of America from a series of regional banks, describes how Mr. Lewis reacted when McColl asked him to go to Florida in 1985 to lead integration efforts on a newly-purchased bank... when McColl questioned Lewis about when he could leave for Florida:

"I said, when can you go?" Mr. McColl recalls. "He said, 'When you stop talking to me.' He reported for duty within 24 hours, bought a house and told his wife -- in that order. We had a man who knew what had to be done."

In a parallel thread, a friend of mine works for an investment firm in the western United States. He was talking about his millionaire clients, and discussing how we could be rich like them. The first thing I said is that we need to get divorced and "lose" the first wife since that is pretty much what all the rich people had in common... sadly, after some thought, he had to agree that these individuals were divorced at least once in the vast majority of his client base. These high achieving individuals GENERALLY commit totally to their work and all of their relationships (family, friends) suffer as they focus on achieving success.

The odd thing is that no one really talks about this and calls it out "point blank". In fact, there almost is a dis-information campaign as the uber-wealthy often talk about the importance of their family, generally while sitting next to a finely tuned second or third wife with young children on their knee. Not mentioned is the fact that their first marriage was shredded and their first batch of kids were often alienated.

It is important that people joining the work force have realistic expectations about what it takes to be extremely successful - total commitment. This doesn't mean that you have to take this path, but virtually all of the high achievers got rich by focusing like a laser on work and building wealth to the detriment of all else. If you have to think of a single, pithy passage that sums it all up, look to McColl's description of Lewis up above.

3 comments:

Mark said...

Sorry for the long post (copied from the web):

The investment banker (hereafter the Banker) was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The Banker complimented the Fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Fisherman replied, only a little while.

The Banker then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The Banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The Banker scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.

Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the Banker replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?”

The Banker laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions … Then what?”

The Banker said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Dan from Madison said...

I like that one.

Annie said...

Good one, Mark.