Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Q. What were you like as a kid?
A. I was really curious. My mother is a judge, and my dadâs a lawyer. So they encouraged my curiosity and kept directing me to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, where I would read up on things. I was always trying to figure out how to make things better.
I also had this very natural desire to save money. I was the banker among the kids. I have three siblings, and while they would spend their money, I was always saving. Even when I was 9 or 10, they would come to me for loans.
That combination of curiosity and frugality got me interested in business. When I was 11, I started working on weekends in the garment district in Montreal. Initially, I was just unpacking boxes.
They were wholesalers, but they would open the factories on weekends to the public. I was allowed to sell, starting when I was about 12, and you made up your own prices. You knew your wholesale price, and then you would assess the customers, try to figure out what they wanted, sell it to them, and then price it the best way that you could to have the highest yield. I watched the managers and learned from them.
Where do you think your drive comes from?
I just love figuring things out and building things. If itâs been done before, itâs not that interesting to me. Thereâs this expression that I love: âBeing early and being wrong feel exactly the same.â
Parse that for me.
If you have a notion of something thatâs going to be important, the fact that you see it before anybody else sees it either means that youâre early to it, or that youâre wrong. Itâs about seeing the trends and putting them together. But you donât know until you know.
What are some important leadership lessons youâve learned?
I worked at HP back in the mid-â90s, and they really believed in trust and respect for the individual, and that someone was going to spend their career with the company, so you cared about them for their whole career. You invested in someone for 25 years, as opposed to just for the job you were hiring them for.
That has affected my leadership style probably more than anything else. When I interview people, I always want to know what their ultimate ambitions are. And I always tell them that when the time comes to move to another role or another company, I want to be the first person they talk to because I want to help make that happen. I always say that life is long. We may work together for a time, and then not, and then maybe work together again.
But whatâs interesting about investing in people for the long term is that you donât do it for a return. You do it because thatâs how you connect with people, and itâs how you truly build a sustaining relationship. The dividend is that you end up with people who follow you in your career.
Tell me about the culture of your company.
We have about 30 employees, and every day we sit together for lunch at one big table, and we donât talk about work. It really brings you so much closer because youâre not just work peers. You get to know people.
One of our rituals is that if somebody says something that, if taken out of context, would sound like a massive H.R. violation, anyone who hears it can nominate it to put on our big board, and it gets attributed to the speaker. Itâs just funny.
Other leadership lessons?
One of my favorite questions when someone has a different idea than mine is, âWhy donât you tell me more about why if we do it this other way, itâs going to be a mistake.â Rather than making them justify where their idea is right, it helps me see why what Iâm thinking might be wrong. I find that more effective because it helps me see things I may not have considered.
How do you hire?
I always start with sharing life stories. I want you to know where Iâm from, and how I got to be where I am, and then I want to hear that from you. I want to understand what makes you tick, what your competencies are, and then hear about examples of when you either got it right, or when you got it wrong, and what you learned from it.
I also want to understand why you really want to work here â what is it that weâre going to do for you, and what are you going to do for us? And I also want to understand your long-term aspirations.
Whatâs your thinking behind telling your life story first? Many people just prefer to ask questions.
Because my objective in an interview is to help the candidate do as well as possible. I want the candidate to show their best self. And I think if youâre generous, and you put them at ease by being somewhat vulnerable in opening up first, and modeling the behavior youâre expecting, it really does put people at ease to let them show you who they are, and all that they can do. I think itâs a really poor interview style to try to catch people or trip them up.
Whatâs your career and life advice for new college grads?
I tell people theyâre going to have lots of careers. Between undergrad and law school, I was an insurance underwriter. Then I was a lawyer. Then I moved to business. And then I ended up in this thing that hadnât existed before called the Internet.
You donât know where your life is going, and they donât get that. They believe thereâs a path. So my central message is always a lesson that I learned too late in life, which is that happiness and joy are not rewards at the end of a life well played. It really is about enjoying it every step of the way. So you better like what youâre doing, and donât view everything as a steppingstone.