School, parents or Oprah?
"The Best Advice I Ever Got"

In this interesting article in Fortune magazine 25 successful people talk about the best advice they ever received.

Here's a summary of the advice they received and where they got it:

1. Michael Bloomberg
Mayor of New York City, founder of Bloomberg LP

Who:  "I must have gotten this advice at Salomon Brothers in the 1970s"
What: "The advice was, first, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking. … Ready, shoot, aim is not the smartest policy."

2. Larry Page
Co-Founder and President, Google

Who: "In graduate school at Stanford University…My advisor, Terry Winograd"
What: "I had about ten different ideas of things I wanted to do, and one of them was to look at the link structure of the web. My advisor…picked that one out and said, "Well, that one seems like a really good idea."

3. Peter G. Peterson
Co-founder and Senior Chairman, Blackstone Group

Who: "When I was at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, I had Milton Friedman as a professor."
What: "Focus on those things you do better than others."

4. Gen. David Petraeus
Commanding general, multinational force - Iraq

Who: " My boss at the time, then-Maj. Gen. Jack Galvin"
What: "'I think you ought to look for an out-of-your intellectual comfort zone experience.' So that's what I did. After attending the command and general staff college at Fort Leavenworth, I went to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, where I got a Ph.D. in international relations.

"… Finally, grad school also gives most folks a healthy dose of intellectual humility. That was certainly the case for me, and that's not a bad thing either."

5. Tina Fey
Actress; creator and star of 30 Rock

Who: "About 15 years ago, I saw an Oprah show"
What: "Always be the only person who can sign your checks."

6. Mark Hurd
Chairman and CEO, Hewlett-Packard

Who:  "[NCR] CEO, Chuck Exley"
What: "At the conclusion, he nodded and said something brief but profound: "Good story, but it's hard to look smart with bad numbers." …You have to focus on the underlying substance. There's just no way to disguise poor performance. …Deliver good numbers and you earn the right for people to listen to you. "

7.  Indra Nooyi
Chairman and CEO, Pepsico

Who: "My father"
What: "From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent."

8.  Sam Palmisano
Chairman and CEO, IBM

[Gave a general and a specific.]
Who: "…I've observed many CEOs, heads of state, and others in positions of great authority."
What: "I've noticed that some of the most effective leaders don't make themselves the center of attention. They are respectful. They listen."

Who: "a former boss"
What: "Don't view your career as a linear progression." He advised me to take horizontal rather than vertical steps: to try out situations that are unstructured, to learn different ways of working, and to get outside of headquarters and experience different cultures."

9. Eddie Lampert
Chairman and CEO, ESL Investments; Chairman, Sears Holdings

Who: "my father"
What: "This idea of anticipation is key to investing and to business generally. You can't wait for an opportunity to become obvious….The plays my father designed for me helped me learn to think ahead."

10. Thomas S. Murphy
Former CEO, Capital Cities/ABC

["I got two pieces of advice I have always remembered."]
Who: "The first was from my father Charles E. Murphy, who was a justice of the New York State Supreme Court."
What: "It was a point about ethics. He said, "Doing the wrong thing is not worth the loss of one night's good sleep."

Who: "The other came from Benjamin Selekman, a Harvard Business School professor who taught labor relations."
What: "The last thing he said, at his last lecture to my class, was, "Here is something to remember for the rest of your life: Don't spend your time on things you can't control. Instead, spend your time thinking about what you can."

11.  Bob Iger
President and CEO, Walt Disney

Who: "My father.."
What:  "…wrote in my sixth-grade yearbook quoting Hamlet - Polonius to his son, Laertes: "To thine own self be true."

12.  Nelson Peltz
CEO, Trian Fund Management

Who: "It was my dad…"
What: ""Get sales up, and keep expenses down."

13.  Zhang Xin
Co-founder and CEO, SOHO China

Who: [not specified]
What: [Gave worst advice instead] "'Don't work with your husband. Marriage and business don't mix.' …The best way to lower risk is to specialize: Put the things that you love into one portfolio."

14.  Charlene Begley
President and CEO, GE Enterprise Solutions

Who: "Jeff Immelt, before he became CEO [of GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms]"
What: "Spend a ton of time with your customers. Especially when you're new, the first thing you should do is go out to customers and ask them how you compare with competitors, how your service is, what they think of your products….You'll never get anything straighter than from a customer. "

15.  Craig Newmark
Founder, Craigslist

Who: Back in 1990, I was a systems engineer at IBM in Detroit. I had a manager…"
What "…who told me that aside from my technical knowledge, my sense of humor was my saving grace….I was advised to use my dry sense of humor to help diffuse that atmosphere. In business there are times when you disagree, and sometimes it turns out that you're just plain wrong. Humor takes away tension and helps you realize you're wrong. "

16.  Joanna Shields

Who: "my dad"
What: "Your career is long and the business world is small. Always act with integrity. Never take the last dollar off the table."

17.  Elon Musk
Founder and CEO, SPACEX

Who:  "It's from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams."
What: "Don't panic." You have to be wary of emotion clouding your decision-making process - and of making a decision that you'll later regret.

[Bad advice]
Who: "my parents"
What: "…ignore bullies. That doesn't work. You have to punch them on the nose."

18.  U. Mark Schneider
CEO, Fresenius

Who: "When I was growing up in Germany, my father…"
What: "… pushed me hard to become fluent in English. "No matter what you are going to do," he told me, "this will give you an edge. The English language is the operating system of the free world."

[Worst advice:]
Who: "a Harvard Business School professor"
What: "…encouraged me to display more independence and contrarianism in job interviews: "Firms that hire here," he told me, "don't want yes men." At my interview with a top-tier consulting company, I suggested that the firm might be heading for a decline in market share and prestige. Needless to say, no consulting career for me! Was it bad advice or overzealous execution?"

19.  Tony Robbins
Performance coach

Who: Jim Rohn, a personal-development speaker
What:  "You have to stand guard at the door of your mind." He was saying that the selection of [my friends and advisors] will matter more than anything else, and that you can't take anybody's approach as sacrosanct.

20.  Eileen Collins
Space Shuttle commander, Columbia (1999) and Discovery (2005)

Who: my father
What: Do what you [want] to do; whatever you think is right. Don't follow the pack.

21.  Stewart Copeland
Drummer, The Police

Who:  my father
What: "Son, count your own money before the professionals who say they do it for you." I've since added the words, "or pretend to every now and then."

22.  Andrea Guerra
CEO, Luxottica

Who: "Roger Abravanel, formerly of McKinsey, who is on the Luxottica board. "
What:  "He says that if you move into emerging markets such as China or India, you shouldn't listen to the people telling you to try franchising, licensing or joint ventures, but to go into the country directly and commit your management to getting involved. "

Who: "…my first boss, when I was a young man starting out on my career. I was working at Marriott."
What:  "He told me that in your first years of business life, you shouldn't go chasing after fancy titles, but try to find people who can teach you something. "

23.  Leonard Lauder
Chairman, The Estée Lauder Companies

Who: "my mother, Estée Lauder:"
What:  "She believed that if you had something good to say, you should put it in writing. But if you had something bad to say, you should tell the person to his or her face."

24.  Nell Minow
Editor and co-founder of The Corporate Library

Who:  "one of my law school classmates, Deborah Baughman"
What:  "…work part-time…. I was pregnant …I was thinking maybe I could work mornings. She said, "You'll be much better off working Monday, Wednesday, Friday.",,, I had to be very productive because I could never say "I'll do it tomorrow." I had to get it done before I left on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And then I really had a day to think out of another part of my brain and come back with a different perspective."

25.  Alan Mulally
President and CEO, Ford Motor Company

Who: [not specified]
What: "… have a point of view about the future that focuses on the customer."

Commentary:  I realize that 25 people is too small a sample to have much statistical significance.  Some cited more than one advice source, while others didn't specifically cite the source, and some focused on bad advice rather than good   So it's not exactly a dissertation-type statistical analysis, but it's still fun to try to spot a trend among this distinguished and successful group of people.  

Source of best advice: number
Family (parents):  10
Job (bosses, colleagues, co-workers):  8
School (professors, fellow students):  5
Media (authors, TV hosts):  3

Some of the 25 questioned cited advice related to very specific job or business concerns,  some seemed focused on personal areas, while others responded with more general or philosophical examples.  Still others offered a combination.  Editing concerns might well have condensed or eliminated alternative or additional responses.  

Of the seven women queried, five either cited family members as sources of advice or advice related to family matters (such as working while married or pregnant).  The three women who cited advice from family sources cited their fathers.  Only one man cited his mother or any other woman as the source of best advice.

Interesting that the two "show business" people each had almost identical advice: count your own money, and write your own checks.

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