Over the years, I’ve heard countless small business owners and entrepreneurs say that they’ve gleaned the majority of what they know from watching others. I can’t disagree—whether you’re eyeballing the business leaders in your town or big shots like Oprah, taking a lesson from the power players is never a bad idea.
This week, I’ve rounded up a few experts to tell us who they’ve been watching, and why:
- Mukesh Chatter, CEO and founder of MoneyAisle.com. Chatter says he’s learned a lot from Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. “He is a very innovative intellect whose approach to things is unique and original. As a result, he was able to create an entire industry. At the same time, while it allowed him to become ultra rich, he remains incredibly modest. He’s very generous and committed to helping others around the world.” One specific example: Omidyar established Omidyar Network, a philanthrocapitalist investment firm that works to help people improve their lives, in 2004 with very little fanfare.
- Douglas Mellinger, co-founder of Foundation Source and a trustee at Cogswell College. He cites Michael Dell, who he was lucky enough to meet during the start of his career. “Michael Dell told me all about the people he surrounded himself with during the early years when he was still learning how to be a successful entrepreneur. He said he did not need to know everything, he just had to hire people who knew everything. He also had some fabulous mentors who helped him build Dell into one of the great success stories.” This is a strategy I’ve always followed as well—if you don’t know how to do something, find someone who does. It’s very often worth the money. In business, it’s important to know your strengths, but it can be even more important to recognize your weaknesses.
- Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. She and I—and millions of others around the world—have something in common: We both greatly respect Oprah Winfrey’s climb to the top. “It is her empathy and constant generosity that put her far apart from so many in the media. To get to the top of the ladder, many choose to push others off because it’s so easy. Oprah’s ladder climb has been a careful one, driven by her dreams, but with kindness and respect toward others...her generosity toward communities in need has paid it forward...when you treat others the way you want to be treated and uphold your own image with dignity and respect, you will get it back in abundance.”
- Alina Wheeler, author of Designing Brand Identity. Her source of inspiration? Steve Jobs, of course, head of a company known for, among other things, its marketing genius. (Do you know anyone who has an MP3 player that isn’t an Apple iPod? I don’t. Safe to say they’ve cornered the market and then some.) “I’m inspired by Steve Jobs because he’s a courageous leader who clearly sees what others could not even imagine. He is relentless in his quest for innovation, creativity and superlative design....I have learned that if you really believe in something, you do not give up. Think hard before you would ever compromise.”
- Dr. Debra Condren, a business psychologist and author of Ambition is Not a Dirty Word. I was delighted to talk to Condren about her inspiration, my colleague at the Today show Barbara Corcoran (I’m sure you’re familiar with her, but if not, she founded The Corcoran Group with a mere $1,000—and is on NBC’s Shark Tank, among other endeavors). Condren says that Corcoran has an important lesson, particularly for women: You must feel entitled to earn your worth. When Condren interviewed her for her book, she shared that she sold her business (The Corcoran Group, in 2001 for a whopping $66 million) two years after it was was ready for her to sell. She said, “I think it was because I had this sense that if I sold the business, I would be rich. And I worried what people would think of me if they thought of me as rich. So I had to get out of my own way in order to sell when it was right for me.” Says Condren, “You must be able to charge your full marketplace value without self-reproach, without leaving money on the table, and without feeling like an impostor because you make as much as—or more than—a man.” An important lesson, for sure.
Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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