Q. What were your early years like?
A. They were pretty uneventful growing up on Long Island. At the time I probably viewed it as boring, but looking back, I appreciate it. I have nice, normal parents, everyone got along and treated us well, and they really valued education.
My parents were willing to spend time and invest time in my hobbies, no matter how odd they seemed. When I was really young, I collected rocks and minerals. But mostly I would hang out with friends, playing basketball. It was not the most eventful childhood, but I think that’s good.
What do your parents do?
My mom’s a lawyer. She was part of the group that wrote the bar exam. My father is a dentist. They’ve always worked.
When you think about your leadership style today, do you see their influence?
Probably the biggest influence they’ve had is about always being very respectful of other people. Neither of them led teams or organizations, but there was always this emphasis on kindness and manners and just being a good person.
I always have that in the back of my head, regardless of who I’m talking to. The world’s a small place, life’s short, and so you should only be nice to people. I don’t raise my voice at work. I don’t have tantrums.
Did you know what you wanted to do when you went to college?
I kept an open mind early on. I took some pre-med classes, life-science classes and also business classes. I started reading a lot of books about business and Wall Street, and I really liked Finance 101. I decided to go into investment banking.
I took some extra courses so I could graduate in three years. Once I decided what I wanted to do, I wanted to start quickly. After a few years, I joined 3G Capital, an investment firm. They have a culture of making bets on people who they think have potential and who can grow over the long run.
What was your first management role?
I joined 3G when I was 24, but I didn’t really have much of a management role there. I became C.F.O. when we acquired Burger King, so that was my first time managing people. I had just turned 30.
Alex Behring, who heads up 3G, gave me some great advice early on. He said that you have to manage the people, not the business. When I first arrived, I was trying to do a lot myself and it was a little overwhelming. And then I remembered what he said and started letting the people manage the business, and I managed the people.
What were other early lessons for you?
If you want to change something or if you want to really influence or impact someone, you need to be in that person’s market and be with them face to face. You can’t run a multinational business from your desk. You can’t just get on the phone and tell the people that you need to do things differently.
If you make the trip, that’s a big investment of time for you. People appreciate that, and they’re going to be more open to your feedback. You’ll also have more credibility because you’ve seen their business and been in their market.
What’s unusual about your culture?
No one in the building has an office. We have an open floor plan. It creates an environment that allows us to move faster. Behind my desk, I have my goals on the wall, and anyone can see them. They’re marked green if I’m doing well, yellow if not so well and red if we’re not on track. Everyone knows mine, and everyone does the same with their own goals.
We also did away with titles about a year ago because we were spending so much time talking about them, and people were comparing themselves to others who were promoted. Inevitably you get this cascading effect where you kind of lower the bar of what it takes to be promoted. Our titles are now more descriptive rather than based on certain ranks.
You became C.E.O. at a pretty young age. Any vertigo moments early on?
I was a little nervous at first, but I tried to be really rational about it. If the results are bad, people could blame my age, but I’m going to have a problem anyway. If the results are good, everyone’s going to be happy. So we should just make sure the results are good.
That said, because I’m younger than many people I work with, I realize that I still have so much to learn from people who have been there and have been involved in the business longer than I have.
How do you hire?
I like people who are passionate, who have persevered and who are clearly humble and not arrogant. It’s O.K. to be confident, but not arrogant. I like people who genuinely are looking for a project and not a job. We’re looking for people who want to be part of something bigger. We don’t want people who see us as a steppingstone.
I also like people who say they’re willing to do anything. They just want to get in the door. I had that attitude earlier in my career. I didn’t care what I was going to do. I just wanted to be involved in interesting projects, working with interesting people.
What are your best questions?
One question I ask is, “Are you smart or do you work hard?” You want hard workers. You’d be surprised how many people tell me, “I don’t need to work hard, I’m smart.” Really? Humility is important.
What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?
The first is just work hard. Don’t take anything for granted. Then I tell them that they’re going to interact with a lot of people who have different qualities and traits. So copy the best of what you like in people and don’t copy the bad.
This article first appeared in www.nytimes.com
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