My Conversation With a Billionaire
Unexpected lessons from the top.
A couuple of years ago, I was invited to attend a due diligence meeting at one of the largest and most respected U.S. companies in order to learn more about their company, process and products.
I was expecting to be one of thousands of people crammed into a room for 15 hours listening to monotonous business jargon. Ready to decline, I asked how many people were attending. “There are nine of us throughout the country and each one gets to invite five others,” I was told by the company’s representative, “You’re my fifth choice, do you want to go?” Forty-five people total? Yes, please.
I have been beyond fortunate in life and have been able to meet some incredible people. Many of these people have become clients and friends. In this case, I was set on going to the meeting to see if I could meet the founder of such a successful and esteemed company. I just wanted to say “Wow” and shake the person’s hand (no, not to take a selfie).
I did some research, called the person’s office, and left a voicemail. Three days later, I received a phone call from the executive assistant saying, “Sure, is 45 minutes enough?”
After years of long, drawn-out, unproductive business meetings and post-game talks coaching little kids baseball, I have learned that the best meetings are short. “Ma’am,” I said, “I don’t need 45 minutes with him and I know he doesn’t need 45 minutes with me. I will take 30.”
I had a month to prepare for the meeting. I wrote down all the questions I could think of. I was telling my oldest son, who was 7 at the time, about daddy’s big meeting and was curious what questions he would ask. “Daddy, you mean like ‘Shark Tank’?” he said. “Yeah buddy, kind of like ‘Shark Tank.’ After a few seconds my son responds with, “Ask which products to buy.” Kids are amazing.
The following are the billionaire’s answers that most impacted my life.
Q: I’m curious what hours do you work? As the founder and CEO of your company, are you at work 24/7?
A: 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and weekends are for family.
Q: No one has an office, even you; everyone is in open cubicles. Is it true that you change office floors every year? What makes you do that?
A: Yes. I find that if you only work on one floor you only really know the people on that one floor. I like to meet everyone and see what they are working on. I like them to see what I am working on. Changing floors allows me to meet everyone.
Q: What’s the deal with the casual dress code?
A: We are going for the Google effect. We want our employees to come in focused on what they are doing, not worried about what they are wearing. Besides, we are in the performance business. If our performance isn’t there, it doesn’t matter what we are wearing.
Q: Is it true that you encourage your employees to take sabbaticals every few years? What makes you do that?
A: We want our employees to feel rested and refreshed. Taking that time off allows them the opportunity to travel. This way when they are back at work they feel good and are ready to get back to work.
Q: Hindsight 20/20, if you were me, what advice do you wish someone would have given you?
A: Focus on your health, then your family, and last your business. Be patient. It will come.
If this is the mindset of the founder and CEO of one of the largest companies in the U.S., can you imagine how the employees feel? This is the culture they created. I assure you these were not the answers I was expecting. I was expecting some sort of jargon that I couldn’t relate to or even come close to understanding.
I still think about that meeting and the impact those words have had on my life. How many of us run ourselves into the ground at work, then commute home at who knows what time, leaving little if any time for our family? And what about time for you?
Focus on your health: This is the culture we are creating at our company. We’re not ready for the paid sabbaticals yet — maybe one day. Our company does offer unlimited vacation time. Be off if you want to be off, travel, live life. Our employees know what they need to get done. And guess what? Sometimes they can’t wait to get back to work on Monday.
Your assistants, employees, receptionists, cashiers, and the person that greets a client or prospect when they walk into the office are the first thing a client feels. Not sees but feels. If the front line of a client experience is stressed, overwhelmed, dealing with multiple tasks at once, how do you think the client feels when that employee answers the phone?
Our company pays a gym membership for the employees and encourages exercise. Yes, I know that we live in NOLA and there is always a reason to throw a parade, but rather than a happy hour cocktail or meeting, try replacing it with yoga, a walk, or an exercise class. Men: try yoga, it’s amazing. Treat yourself to a massage.
Jeremy Jacobson is the founder and president of The RBI Group, a firm focused on retirement-based investing. Since 2001, Jeremy has helped hundreds of Shell Oil employees between New Orleans, Houston and Mobile, Alabama. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.