For years Betty Liu has been grilling CEOs for Bloomberg TV. You might see Liu on her morning program “In the Loop” or you might catch her interviewing Warren Buffett during a drive in his car.
During these interviews, Liu has received sage career advice from titans of industry. She’s compiled the wisdom of more than a dozen corporate leaders in her new book, “Work Smarts: What CEOs Say You Need to Know to Get Ahead.” Featuring the likes of Buffett, Jamie Dimon, Susan Lyne, Elon Musk, Jay-Z, and Sam Zell, this breezy volume offers up guidance from leaders who have been there, done that.
“Everyone, no matter what stage in their career, needs advice and looks for inspiration,” says Liu. “College grads want to know how to negotiate their first raise. Senior managers want to know how to bounce back from failure. This book covers all the bases.”
In an interview with Bloomberg Now, Liu discussed what it took to write “Work Smarts,” surprises revealed by CEOs when discussing their experiences, and what she learned about herself along the way.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR “WORK SMARTS”?
For years I have been getting questions from young people and college grads asking, “How do you network? How do you find mentors? How do you ask for a raise?” In fact, I have those same questions sometimes. Who would I ask for those answers? That’s when I started to think about the many people on my programs, the many CEOs I talk to who have risen to the very top because surely they’ve done some things right in their careers. That’s how it all began.
YOU SPEAK ABOUT MICROSCRIPTS, LITTLE MANTRAS THAT MOTIVATE. WHAT IS YOUR MICROSCRIPT?
Always be moving is a microscript I keep in my head. There’s another that struck me recently: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” It reminds me that I need to take action – instead of thinking about something, just go ahead and do it.
In the introduction to the book, I also talk about my one-time talent coach. She said to me that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. I think about it over and over again. She’s absolutely right. As long as you’re prepared and you have that opportunity, you will be rewarded.
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY ANY OF THE ADVICE YOU RECEIVED?
It wasn’t so much the advice, but rather their honesty. I was surprised by how frank former American Express CEO Harvey Golub was about the gender pay gap issue and how he viewed women employees. I wrote about how I felt about his ideas. In those instances I was glad and surprised by the honesty of the CEOs.
YOUR BOOK IS NOT A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL MANUAL.
It’s not. Women and men will take away different things, just like younger people and older people will walk away with different pieces of advice. For older readers, the parts about failure and how to come back from a firing or a layoff may be more applicable. And for the younger readers, things like how to ask for a raise or how to negotiate apply more to them.
WHAT DO ALL OF THE CEOS YOU INTERVIEWED HAVE IN COMMON?
One, it’s pretty apparent they all love what they do. You hear that all the time – love what you do, follow your passion – but you can actually see that with the CEOs. Not one of them seemed to be bored with what they were doing or only doing it for the money. Jamie Dimon loves JPMorgan. Warren Buffett clearly loves what he does.
Two, they all have an entrepreneurial aspect to themselves and to the way they look at the company. They all seem to be running the company as if they were starting the company.
Three, they are very optimistic. People who fail, if they fail well, are usually the ones who succeed and get to the very top. That’s one of the things I noticed with the CEOs – no matter what mistake they made, they failed well. They just said: “You know what, I’m going to make the big decisions, I’m going to keep going, and if I make a mistake I’m going to bounce back and get back on track.”
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN WRITING THIS BOOK?
My biggest worry was that I would get a lot of conventional wisdom, that CEOs would stick to their talking points. I got some of that, and I got some stuff that was completely different. Sam Zell, for instance, was great. He was completely unconventional with his answers and very blunt and forthright about what made him successful.
I found that the entrepreneurs tended to be the ones who spoke the most about breaking the rules. Jay Samit from ooVoo mentioned how people covet their ideas. You should kill your ideas, he said.
IN THE EIGHT MONTHS IT TOOK YOU TO WRITE “WORK SMARTS,” WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF?
I learned I could do it, for one. People ask me how I wrote a book while working full-time and raising two kids. My answer to them is the same answer some of the CEOs said to me, which is as long as you’re really organized and on top of things, you can get things done. You can be productive.
WHERE DOES BETTY LIU NEED TO IMPROVE?
I could improve on bouncing back right away. I need to practice that more and more. I need to keep reminding myself of that.
Some other advice that also stuck out was on how to negotiate well. That’s something I would like to continue to improve on. Not just negotiating for a raise – anything in life. Negotiating for a new car, buying a house, with my kids, whatever. Some of that advice I could use and do even better when I get into the room. I need to not get emotional, keep it fact-based and businesslike, and understand what the other side needs. That’s something I would like to keep improving.
WITH THE RESEARCH DONE AND THE BOOK OUT, DO YOU ACT DIFFERENTLY?
A little bit, sure. I try to listen more, not just in my job, but to my kids, the people around me. It’s inspired me to become more entrepreneurial, to think of myself as a brand and about how I can find entrepreneurial aspects in my job. It’s also helped me put myself in other peoples’ positions or places.
SO WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM OBSERVING JAY-Z?
He was so quiet. I envisioned this outsized personality. But when we were in that restaurant, he was just listening, observing, and processing. I was very surprised by that. His musician and movie star friends came in loud and made a big scene. They’re successful too, but Jay-Z was very quiet. He knew he didn’t need to be loud. He didn’t need to speak out. His presence was known. People could not forget that Jay-Z was in the room. He was also really nice. He knew that he was the center of attention, but he made sure he let others speak and paid attention. That’s what makes him a great businessman.
Contributed by On Bloomberg, Bloomberg LP’s internal newswire.