From a headhunter of CEOs and corporate directors for tech firms, on educating his son

Image representing The Walt Disney Company as ...

Walt Disney via CrunchBase

My son wanted a cell phone for his birthday, so I said I’d get it for him with a few conditions. He’d get the phone that he wanted if he’d agree to (1) read 250 pages a month from a book of my choosing and (2) every day read one article from the Wall Street Journal to discuss later.

Although I’ve personally had a great deal of career and financial success, I know I haven’t done all that I could or maybe should, and I see that pattern of unrealized potential in my son. So I want him to grasp the importance of today’s decisions and their impact down the road.
Since he likes video games, I have him look at who made the hardware and software that he’s using. I ask him to tell me why he likes it, why other kids do, and why he thinks it’s successful. And I have him Google the company and read about its history.
I suggest that he look at its stock, follow it a few weeks, read articles about the company history or new-product development, and anything else he can look up. In some cases, I buy a couple of shares of stock for him to watch. I listen to Jim Cramer, who says, “Instead of buying five DVDs from Disney, buy one share of stock.”
I want him to have intellectual stimulation in whatever he is doing. We had a three-hour conversation about this last week, and he actually stayed tuned-in with me, which is amazing since communication among kids is so superficial nowadays. They don’t even talk to other kids; they just text each other.
I explained that each article he reads, for instance, is like one dot of information and that one dot may not mean much on its own, but if you collect 100 or 1,000 dots—points of information—patterns and cycles start to form. And I tried to explain that understanding of cycles will give him a belly full of instincts and insights years ahead of what others have. See, I want my son to have experience not just one way—say when markets are cresting—I want him to understand a bad market too. By seeing the dots, I’m hoping he’ll learn to anticipate when things will turn bad and what might turn it around. Every four to five years a new bubble ends, . . . you need to weather times . . . know that what’s relevant now is seldom relevant five years from now . . . eras come and go. It’s like a general going off to war. You don’t want one whose only experience has been in peace time. You want one who’s been in war as well as peace time to have experience in pattern recognition of what might happen next.
I also occasionally go over résumés that are particularly interesting with him. I showed him one from a man we’d placed into a top job. He’d graduated from Brown, joined McKinsey & Company, got a Wharton MBA, and joined Disney. Since my son likes most anything Disney, it perked his interest. The candidate got the opportunity to work alongside the company CEO, and now, within 10 years, he’s being put into a top job.

I tell him you’ve got to work hard, and then you’ll get lucky. And I want my son to understand all this before he enters high school.


Adapted from: CEO Material: How to Be A Leader in Any Organisation, 2009, published by McGraw-Hill



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