What do you do professionally?
I have a lot of fun helping little companies become successful. After many years in the tech industry, I took a year off and, with three co-authors, wrote Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation. The book explores how leaders who are the most successful at developing new and useful solutions are those who unleash and harness the talents of all members of the organization. Rather than the visionary job that most of us imagine when we think of "leadership," these leaders see creating a world that brings out the best in each person in their organization as their primary task. They believe everyone has a slice of genius and their job is to unleash this brainpower. After my co-author Linda Hill's TED talk went viral, our book became a best-seller. From that, we've launched a consulting business that helps companies become more innovative and successful by bringing out the best in everyone in the organization.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
I love seeing the potential of almost every human being—helping people from all over the world learn how the diverse experiences of each person in a group can contribute to the whole. In our business, we don't lecture, but rather set up scenarios in which people learn by doing. We create exercises that force people into situations where they have to grapple with ideas and work effectively in teams.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Starting a new company and maintaining work-life balance is hard. I give a lot of thought to how I divide my time and energy.
What sorts of interesting places has your position taken you? Do you have a favorite?
I've had the opportunity to travel all over the world. One of the places that taught me the most was South Africa. In a place where the culture is so different, I was reminded again that people are people, no matter where they are. Another great experience was being in Milan at the World Business Forum last year. I went on stage after Sir Ken Robinson and was followed by Richard Branson, and I just thought, "Wow!"
What is the best professional advice you've received?
It's hard to narrow it down, so I'll mention five:
- Hire people smarter than yourself and build an environment where they can be successful.
- Everyone has something to offer.
- Every part of the company matters.
- Jerks will destroy your organization.
- Have a safety net financially so that you can say, "I quit," when necessary. You have more power and purpose psychologically when you have a safety net, and you take more risks that can reap great rewards.
Aside from your current role, what is your dream job?
I'd like to make enough money to be a benefactor for research programs at universities that can help solve diseases of the brain. It's such a mysterious area, and there's so much to learn. In addition, there are other areas I am interested in working on—energy, clean water, etc.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love biking, being outdoors, reading and photography. I enjoy taking photos of family and friends that capture the human experience.
What was the most important thing you learned during your time at Fuqua?
I learned so much from the team I was assigned to in my first-year operations class. Everyone has different experiences and talents to bring to the table, and those different points of view create better outcomes overall. My class on stock markets with Bob Whaley during my second year taught me many things, but ultimately that you can't outperform the stock market, so you should invest in index mutual funds.
Who was your favorite professor?
When I came to Fuqua, I had a running list of questions in my mind about how to run a company. It seemed like every professor had custom-designed his or her course for me personally—I took something crucial away from each class I took.
What is your favorite Fuqua memory?
I was at Fuqua in 1991 and 1992, the years in which Duke had back-to-back national championships in basketball. Just being there for that was pretty incredible. I'm also a great admirer of Coach K. He makes really good players into an awesome team.
Why do you support the Fuqua Annual Fund?
It's simple. I was lucky to go to Fuqua, and it's helped me to be very successful. It's important to me that others have the opportunity to do so as well.
What does Team Fuqua mean to you?
Team Fuqua is genius! Fuqua is one of the few places that creates really exceptional team players who understand and value the power of diverse points of view.