Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can life be summarized in a single pithy epithet?

No, but it apparently can in thirty.

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Business leaders offer golden rules of the road

Fri Nov 18, 2005 10:42 AM ET

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - They're fallible, and their favorite ideas may not make money, but business leaders say they have rules they swear by -- rules anyone can follow.

"There can't be two yous," says Warren Buffett, the world's second-richest person, and chairman of investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

When you set out your plans for the day, he says, "ask yourself whether you'd like others to read about it on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. You'll probably do things a little differently."

The December issue of business magazine Business 2.0 sets out aphorisms from 30 officials -- including chief executive officers, regulators and solo acts -- offering readers ideas for running their businesses, and pursuing their lives.

"We're coming out of a period when business struggled, financially and ethically, and with the development of technology the pace of change is accelerating," said Josh Quittner, the magazine's editor, in an interview. "People want touchstones to give them guidance."

Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft Corp., says to "make hiring a top priority." He did much of the software giant's hiring a quarter century ago, the era of the Apple II and Radio Shack TRS-80 early personal computers. He says your products may give you an edge, but your people determine whether it's a winning edge.

Some leaders not known for modesty, urge it from others.

"Don't confuse luck with skill when judging others," billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn advises, "especially when judging yourself." Yet it's ill-advised to sell yourself short. "If you think you can't, you're right," says Carol Bartz, the CEO of Autodesk Inc., which makes design software for engineers and architects.

"I always listen closely to the reasons why people feel they can't do something. When I hear that, I've laid my trap. (I ask) the person who is resisting me to tell me how much he or she 'can' do. You can do anything if you try." Of course, people are human. That's why Richard Branson, the colorful chairman of Virgin Group and occasional balloonist, urges that people who mess up get a second chance.

People who make mistakes know it, he says. "They don't need bosses ramming it down their throats." Some advice comes from surprising sources.

"Surround yourself with people smarter than you," says George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees. "The Boss" is not known for letting his "smarter" hires run day-to-day baseball operations without his occasional interference. Still, he says, "I will not make an important decision without them." And some advice is, given the source, not so surprising.

Consider the following from Eliot Spitzer, New York's attorney general, who built a career out of uncovering questionable practices in and around Wall Street, often from subpoenaed documents his targets wrote themselves:

"Never write when you can talk. Never talk when you can nod. And never put anything in an e-mail."

© Reuters 2005. All rights reserved.

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