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Billionaire David Rubenstein on the Key Principles to Truly Becoming the One in Control | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Billionaire David Rubenstein on the Key Principles to Truly Becoming the One in Control".
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Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of Impact Theory. I am here today with David Rubenstein, who is the co-founder of Carlisle Group, which is one of the most successful firms ever in terms of private equity, really pretty extraordinary tale and the author of the new book, How to Lead. David, welcome to the show. My pleasure. Thank you for having me. Absolutely, man. I'm super excited to talk to you about the idea of leadership, which is something that I think is not only important in business, but just generally in life. If you had to put into a single sentence what leadership is, what its nature is, if you will, what would you say leadership is?
Key Aspects Of Success & American Values
What you must have to be successful in your career (00:35)
Generally, it's the effort of one or more people to convince a larger group of people to follow them in doing something that the leaders think is a good thing for everybody to do. It could be social policy, it could be a political effort, it could be a business venture, but it basically leaders are people who try to convince other people that it would be in everybody's best interest to follow the leaders' views on what should be done. When I think about the military and their views around leadership, there's a sense of distributed leadership where anybody should be able and willing to step into that role when it makes sense for a dynamic situation as it unfolds. Do you view leadership like that? Should everybody be developing that skill or is this something that, hey, if you have a particular path in life you're trying to follow it might be useful, but otherwise you don't need to bother? Well, there are seven and a half billion people on the face of the earth and in some respects, almost everybody is a leader in some way. If you're a parent, you're a leader, you might be a leader of a Girl Scout troop or you might be President of the United States or everybody has probably some roles where they play as a leader. Is it good for everybody who want to be a leader? Well, I think leadership is good if we had everybody being a follower, they have a lot of chaos. Now, in the military, leadership is more complicated because those people who are leading in the military, they have people's lives at stake. If you're in combat and you're not doing a good job in the military as a combat leader, people can die, not the same in other parts of life to some extent. But I do think that people who want to be leaders can develop and mature and improve their leadership skills. And that's part of what I wrote about how people became great leaders after some starts that were not so wonderful, some mistakes and some failures and things like that.
What you need to be a great leader (02:25)
So in the book, you break down what are the sort of core tenets of our aspects of leadership. In the book, were they in order of importance? No, they were not necessarily in the order of importance, but they were, you know, they were 13 that I kind of said thought were important and just to review the examples of them. Luck is very important because you need some luck to get anywhere, I think. You need to have some persistence. You need to have a focus on what you want to do. You need to know how to cooperate with other people, share the credit. You need to have to communicate well with people either orally or writing or some other method. You also need to, I think, be ethical. I think some humility helps a lot. Obviously, we know arrogant leaders and have succeeded, but generally, I think humility helps. Rising to the occasion when a crisis occurs is very important. So there are many different skill sets that I think are common with the people I interviewed. So in the book, you start with luck. Just now you started with luck again, which feeds into your notion of being humble as well, which I know is one of the traits that you listed and I think that's really powerful. But if you had to sort of rank order, so for instance, one of them that you mentioned specifically in the book is hard work and long hours, which I resonate with very much. And I'm just sort of curious if you were to pick maybe the top three or four, what you think those are? Well, look, nobody ever won a Nobel Prize working five days a week, nine to five. If you're going to do something great, it takes a lot of time and hard work is important. So there are not people sitting around just getting lucky and all of a sudden the world goes to them and says, "I want you to be our leader." It doesn't usually happen. Second, I think it is focus. You can't do a hundred things and do them all well. You can do one thing extremely well, maybe two or three reasonably well, but focus on what you want to do. And then I think you've got to just be willing to overcome failure because everybody's going to fail. And if you give up here, if you fail and you don't persist in your idea, you're not going to be a leader. And those are things that are very, very important, which is to say, be persistent, focus on something. And again, you have to want to be a leader. You can't sit in your home and say, "I don't really want to be a leader." And all of a sudden people are going to say, "You're our leader." That doesn't usually happen.
Perseverance in your own life (04:47)
Yeah. Your own story, I find to be really powerful when taking these principles and looking at what they look like in real life. So I first think, well, I had known the Carlisle group, but to be honest, I didn't know who founded it. And I knew of you as an interviewer. And so when I found out that they were sort of one and the same, it was really kind of a thrilling moment. You have a really fun personality. Your delivery is dry, but your humor is really, really fun. And to catch you at a later point in your life where I was old enough to be aware of you and what you were doing, and then to look back at how you had approached life and become successful. I'd love to talk about perseverance in your own life, what that journey was like, some of the early... I don't know if you'd categorize them as failings in politics, getting out of that, not loving your time in law, getting out of that, and then really finding your footing. How did you conceptualize that journey? Did you think I must persevere and you've sort of already had that? Or were you just afraid of failure? Well, when you look back at your life when you're my age, I'm now 71, an age too young to run for President of the United States, probably. If you can say, "Okay, this is how it worked out and I can explain it." But when you're living your life, you don't look at those things that way. So when you're living your life, you're kind of living it in the moment, and one thing didn't work and I tried something else. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn't. And I got very, very lucky in my life. And then I tried to do many different things, and some of them, I was happy to do, and they worked out well. Some just failed miserably, and that's life, and you just have to get used to it. But I think I attribute a lot of my success to luck, and a lot of that to also coming from modest means. If you grow up in an extremely wealthy family, if your father is worth $10 billion, you might not have the drive to do the kind of things you need to do to win a Nobel Prize, or a Pulitzer Prize, or something else. If you grow up in a modest family, you know if you're going to get anywhere in life, you got to do it on your own. And so when you're growing up in another wealthy family, you might not think it's an advantage, but it actually is a big advantage. Because you know if you're going to get anywhere, you've got to do it on your own, and when you get to do it on your own, and you do succeed, people are going to say, "Well, you did it on your own, not because your father or your mother." I'd love to push on that a little bit.
What makes people hungry to succeed (07:05)
So I've heard you in interviews talk about that before, and what is it about growing up wealthy that placates people, and what is it growing up? Because you've always said that one of the greatest things that ever happened to you was having two parents that loved you unconditionally. So you had that, which I'm sure would have been incredibly beautiful. So what was missing that made you so hungry, and if money isn't the sort of end-albele, it doesn't deliver happiness, why aren't people hungry when they have wealth? Well, on that question, I think if you know that you are not going to starve, or you're not going to be on the street because your father and mother is very wealthy, I don't think you have quite the drive. Now, obviously, they're exceptions. There are people who are successful who come from wealthy families, but mega, mega wealthy families, the wealthiest families in the country, in any given country, in any given time, generally they don't produce the superstars. So look at the people who are the most successful people today in our society, in politics, or business, athletics, whatever it might be. Usually, they didn't come from Forbes 400 family as a general rule of thumb. So in my own case, I came from modest means, as you alluded to, my father wasn't a high school graduate or nor was my mother. Bill Gates has three children. They all seem to be well-adjusted, they all seem to be doing well, whether they can produce the kind of great success that he produced, who knows, but if they do, people will say, "Well, sure, his father was Bill Gates." So in my own case, I have three children. They're all extremely well-educated, and the best schools, Harvard, Duke, Stanford, and so forth. But whatever they achieve, sometimes people will say, "Well, maybe it's because their father was helpful, your father was wealthy." Now, they wouldn't say that's really fair, and maybe they're right, but there's no doubt that people will think that. Do you think that deflates them? Because I would think, well, now they have something to push back on to achieve at a level to show people I got out from under my dad's shadow. Why doesn't that drive them to do even more? Well, I think it's less complicated for a girl than a boy. I think if you're a man and you have a son, the son probably is going to be seen as more in the shadow of a very prominent father. I think it's a little bit different for daughters for lots of reasons I could explain, so maybe it's not quite as challenging. But of course, you've seen many times where famous men have children who say, or sons and daughters, who when I say, "I don't want anything about the family business, I want to be on my own, I don't want anything to do with the family's wealth," and sometimes these people have nice lives. They generally don't change the world in quite the way that maybe the father of the mother did. Did you think about when you were raising your kids?
How to think about raising your kids (09:39)
This is one of the reasons I don't have kids, by the way, was growing up, my parents couldn't give me all the things that I wanted, but I always had food. My parents loved me to death, so I'm beyond fortunate with how I grew up. But there was something about not being able to have the things that I wanted that really pushed me to achieve more than anybody in my family had achieved. When I generated wealth in my own life and thought about raising kids that grew up in a family that would have been affluent, I really worried about having to artificially create an environment that was difficult for them in order for them to succeed. I wasn't sure that I had the fortitude, if I'm honest, to create hardships for them where I didn't need to. Did you think about that? Have you done things to make it "difficult" on your kids? Well, I wasn't quite as wealthy as I later became when I was having my children. I was reasonably wealthy by normal human standards, but not by the standards of today. I tried very much to shield them from the wealth, but eventually they figured it out. They kind of accepted it. I wasn't giving them gigantic trust funds or buying them lots of things that they really didn't need. I think they got a good education, and that's probably the best you can do. As you suggest, raising children is complicated. You may have heard me say, Jackie Kennedy liked to say that raising children is a complicated thing. Raising your children, nothing else in life really matters. It's true. Your ultimate legacy is not a building named after you or a scholarship named after you, but it's your children in many ways. They're going to be around a lot longer than you are in most cases. Raising children is challenging for wealthy people. As we have seen, many people you live in California, many people are very famous Hollywood types. They have famously had some, let's say, less successful children than they might have wanted in some cases because they have a lot of wealth and a lot of things that are not necessarily conducive to great success. Out of curiosity, what are the things that are conducive to great success beyond money?
What leads to success? (11:39)
Because you've talked very eloquently about billionaires being some of the most tortured people that you've met. What are those things that lead somebody to be quote unquote successful? When my view, success is happiness. The most elusive thing in life is personal happiness. Thomas Jefferson wrote about the pursuit of happiness. He never told us how to actually get it. But finding somebody that's happy with their life is really good. If you have a meet a poor person and they are very happy with what they're doing, why should you say your life isn't successful? They're very happy with what they're doing. If you meet a very wealthy person and he or she is tortured with their money and they don't know what to do with it or their children hate them, everybody hates them, is that person successful? I don't really think so. I think success comes about when you're happy because that's the point of life to some extent is being happy. That's why we're all here, I guess. To some extent, we want to make the life better for other people. But to some extent, if you are making life better for other people, you're going to be happy in my view.
Happiness Vs Fulfillment (12:39)
How do you deal with the transient nature of happiness? And do you distinguish between happiness and say fulfillment? Well, sure. Happiness can be a momentary thing in some cases. You're happy that something happened. Big success happened here. You did something. You got an award or something. Your children call you up and say they're proud of you if that ever happens. But fulfillment means that you're content. And contentment really is a more long-lasting kind of thing. To be fulfilled, I think, is something that can go on for quite some time. Happiness can be more transitory. You're happy one day, you're unhappy the next day. But when you're fulfilled, I think it's a more long-lasting and probably a better thing. So how did you craft that message for your kids? One thing that seems like you've really established yourself as in your career or somebody who's deeply persuasive, able to, like you said, a good leader, get people to go somewhere that's going to be good for them.
The power of persuasion (13:27)
How did you set your kids up for that for pursuing happiness or fulfillment? There was a famous book that was written called Presidential Power. And in it, it was written by a man named Richard Newsstad. And he said, look, president doesn't have that much power. He only has the power to persuade. And as I thought about it, that's what life is all about, persuading somebody to do something. Go on your show, read your book, greet her with your theories. Life is all about persuading people. Even Albert Einstein couldn't come up with E equals MC squared. And everybody said, you're right. He had to go persuade people that he was correct about that. So persuasion is very important. So there are three ways to persuade and communicate. One, orally, you're a good talker. You're Martin Luther King, you're Abraham Lincoln, a good writer. You're Mark Twain, you write very well. The most powerful way is by leading by example, persuading by example. So with my kids, I was a hard worker, and I try to educate them about the value of hard work. I read a lot. I try to educate them about the value of reading, treating other people well, and I try to educate them. But children learn by seeing what their parents do. If your parents are doing certain things and they're telling kids to do the opposite, that's probably not going to work. So you have to kind of do what you're trying to get your kids to do and lead by example. Now, nobody's a perfect parent, I'm certainly not. But trying to lead by example is probably what I try to do. And in some extent, my kids are not perfect. I'm not perfect, and everybody has their flaws. But I think generally they're reasonably happy and generally they're reasonably successful by normal human standards at this stage in their life. I'm glad you brought up Lincoln. So Lincoln is somebody I've heard you talk a lot about. And if I misquote you please let me know. But I'm almost certain I remember you saying that you consider Lincoln the greatest American if not one of the greatest.
What made Abraham Lincoln the greatest American? (15:19)
Yeah, so what is it? One, for people that don't know you well, the way that you leverage your understanding of history and bring it into context today, I find really extraordinary. What is it about him that makes him the greatest American? Well, the time that he was elected, he was of course not that well known. He had never held any office other than two years. He was a congressman, any federal office except for a congressman for two years. The country was falling apart. Seven states seceded before he even took office after his election. And so the country was falling apart. He decided to keep the country together. Now somebody else might have said, "Hey, you want to go to secede, South? Go away. We take your slaves and you live that life. We don't want that here." He didn't say that. I said, "I want to keep the country together." And he fought a war. He had 600 to 700,000 men and women die in that war very costly, but he kept the country together. And of course in the process of trying to win the war, he freed the slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation subsequently through the 13th Amendment. So he held the country together and he did so with eloquence and enormous amount of humility. Had I met him, which I never did, I would have said, "Tell us, did you win the Civil War?" And he would say, "No, I didn't win it. The American people won it." In other words, he wouldn't have bragged about himself. I can't see him sitting down and say, "Hey, guess what I did today? I won the Civil War." I don't see him saying that. Very humble person. And I think that was really an admirable quality. And I think now, there have been no Civil War. Abraham Lincoln would probably not be since any great president. You have to rise to the occasion. If FDR had been president for eight years and we never went into World War II, I suspect he wouldn't be seeing such a great president. You have to rise to the occasion when circumstances present it. And so if you're Abraham Lincoln, but nothing bad happens during your time as president, probably there's not much you have to do that really earns you a great credit as a great leader. That's why I think he was the greatest leader.
Why wouldnt it have be smarter to let the south secede? (17:15)
That's interesting. So I want to more understand, so one, why wouldn't it have been smarter to let the South secede, given how much loss of life there was, and trust me, I'm glad he held it together. So I don't have an agenda in that direction. I'm just curious as to why wasn't it the right answer just to be like, hey, go do your thing and we'll avoid the bloodshed. Abraham Lincoln had a, I would say, a fetish almost with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He just believed that they were the holy writ. And he therefore thought, look, this country was supposed to be one country. That's what the Declaration of Independence was about. That's what the Constitution is about. I'm not going to be the person that allows it to fall apart. So I think he wanted to hold it together for that reason. He, as you probably know, he was not interested in freeing the slaves. In fact, in his initial inaugural address, he said, I support the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment at that time was something that James Buchanan, his predecessor, wanted to have become part of the Constitution. What did the 13th Amendment say? It said slavery is the law of the land and shouldn't be changed. So Lincoln endorsed that in his initial inaugural address. Later, he realized that it really wasn't going to be helpful to continue to have slavery and still be able to win the war. He needed people to leave the South slaves and ultimately join the Union Army, among other things. And the South and the Southern slaves were also helping fuel the war machine. So that was another factor. Lincoln was not an abolitionist during his lifetime, really, but he ultimately came to the conclusion it was the right thing to do. Though I should point out, he didn't think that blacks and whites could live together. He wanted to colonize them. That was a euphemism for you move into another country. And even when he was President of the United States, even when he was doing the Emancipation Proclamation, he was talking to blacks about moving to, let's say, Panama or someplace else in Central America. He didn't think they could live together with whites. You take a really unflinching look at history, which has made you one of the most interesting voices in this space for me. You've done what you call patriotic philanthropy, so you've gone in and helped update national monuments and things like that. Thomas Jefferson's ranch being one of them. And I know a big thing for you was to make sure that the signs of him being a slave owner were there and built up as well so that people didn't sort of begin to rewrite history. Why do you think that's important? Why don't we sort of whitewash this stuff, tell a better story about it that's more in line with values today? The theory of history is that if you study the past, it will help you in the future. As George Santiana, a famous Harvard philosopher said, those people that don't remember history are condemned to relive it. So the theory of civilization is you advance. It's kind of Darwinian. We're theoretically advancing as we move forward. Well we're not going to advance if we don't know the mistakes of the past. So that's the general premise. Second, if you, if I buy the Magna Carta and I put it on a computer slide and you can look at it, it's not going to have the same impact as if you go visit it. You see it in person. You have somebody telling you about it there. But most likely after you see it in person, you're going to go read about it. So by preserving buildings or preserving documents or books, you're likely to have more people see them in person. And because the human brain treats that differently than seeing on a computer slide, I think it's going to help people get educated about history. And if you've read some of the things I've said, it's amazing how little people know about our own history. One of the examples I like to cite the most is this. When you want to be a citizen, you seem you are a native born American. I don't know. Okay, native born American. So you're automatically a citizen of this country. But if you're not native born and you want to be a citizen as 800,000 people a year are becoming native, becoming citizens, you have to take a citizenship test. There are 100 potential questions. You can study for them. You then go to the court and they ask you 10 of those 100. You have to get six of them right. If you're 65 or older, they tell you the 10 questions in advance. 91% of the people that take that test pass. Great. The same test was given to, I think, was 41,000 Americans in all 50 states. They were native born. They were asked to pass the same test. And in 49 out of 50 states, the citizens couldn't, a majority couldn't pass it. These are questions like who was first president of the United States, how many branches are in the federal government and things like that. So we don't know much about history and civics.
The important aspects of being an American (21:50)
You can graduate from any college United States today where they don't have any take an American history course. So people don't know much about our country's government. And it's sad, but that's the truth. Yeah, that is crazy. I had never heard anybody quote that stat before. You also have some terrifying statistics around literacy in the US, which I am absolutely startled by. So when you think about America, when you think about sort of the state of where we are right now, again, I don't want to misquote you so please if I get this wrong, but I think I heard you say that you believe America is the greatest nation on earth. True, false. Oh, absolutely. And I think most Americans would agree with that. In fact, I'm writing a book now about what it means to be an American. Tell me more. Okay. So I have a couple of qualities. I think when I say these are genes of being an American, what are the American genes? Now every country, my definition, every country's citizens think it's the best country because they don't leave. For example, less than 5% of the people on the face of the earth are living in a country that they weren't born in. Whoa. Yes, hard to believe. So think about this. Right now, what would you say is the most important thing about being an American? Well, there's many different things, right to free speech, the right to freedom of religion, separation of powers in our government, things like that. Well, in my book, I'm talking about these, what I call the genes of American DNA. But I had a survey done by the Harris Research Organization. They asked Americans what they thought is the most important thing about being an American. And interestingly, the thing that just came back in the survey, it'll be in the book, is that the Americans think that the most important quality of being an American is the right to free speech. Now I think that's a very important quality. I'm not sure I would have said it in number one, but certainly in the top 10. But that's what people really value about our country. And then clearly, Americans, we have 800,000 people a year coming to the United States to live. How many people do you think are leaving the United States a year to go somewhere else? Maybe a few thousand, probably for tax purposes, that's the main reason. So people think it is the best country, and I think it's the best country. But there's no doubt that the country with the highest happiness quotient is not the United States. It's probably Denmark or Finland or something like that. So obviously small countries that have other appeals. But if you're talking about a big country, I think there's nothing comparable to the United States. Oh man, so we got to go a little deeper on that. You've been all over the place, all over the place. And if people know your history, raising money all over the world, really sort of inventing that model, very extraordinary. So for you to look back with the breadth of travel that you've done and still make that statement, I'm super curious. So if we're not scoring as high on the sort of happiness quotient as somewhere like maybe Denmark, and you say that success really is happiness, what is it that we have here as a country? And it sounds like part of it's just scale that we're able to, you know, what we're doing goes bigger. And I'm asking all of this in the context of I think we're living through a time right now where some percentage, I don't know what percentage, some percentage are not sure that America is a great country, full stop. And I do, it's given me so much and I feel such a deep sense of obligation to make sure that, you know, people have those opportunities.
Why some Americans aren't happy with the state of the country (25:00)
And I'm, I would love to see if you can articulate it in a way that I'm not sure that I could, how that DNA is serving Americans. Well, the DNA is serving America. And if you are probably like you or me, white, reasonably well educated, reasonably prosperous and so forth. But the reason that people in Denmark are probably happier overall or Finland than the United States is they don't have an economic underclass the way we do. So in our country, we have a very large percentage of the population that is, let's say illiterate, a large percentage of people who are in jail higher than any percentage in any other country in the world. We have a large percentage of people without giving up on their ability to rise from the bottom and social mobility is not available to them. And of course, income inequality is greater here than at any time it's ever been in our country's history, probably even greater than the Great Depression now. So a lot of people are not that happy with this country. They're not leaving the country because they do believe in probably in the American dream that maybe they'll rise up. But for some people at the bottom, they think that chance of rising up is just not realistic but they don't have a chance to leave the country either. So the country has a lot of great things. We have, we influence the world. As you suggest, I travel around the world a lot. When I go anywhere, people want to know what's going on in the United States because our culture has affected the culture of the world. Our technology, our politics, our government, our military really is influential all over the world. So people want to know about this country and it's an extraordinary country but it has its flaws as we all know and our job is trying to fix the flaws if we can. Okay, so I definitely want to get to the flaws that are fixable. But first, you said that in the poll, people said that the thing they most valued about America was freedom of speech but you didn't think you would put that as number one. What would you put as number one? Well, the things I think are two most important ones are freedom and equality. Now the founding fathers said and Thomas Jefferson in effect said that's what the country is all about. When he wrote that famous sentence in the Declaration of Independence saying that all men are critical, he was a slave owner and he really meant all white men who are Christian are equal if they have some money. But he didn't say it that way. So we've taken that creed, what something he didn't really mean and we've made it the country's creed and it's a goal we live to. And I think many people have grown up thinking yes, we should have equal opportunity for everybody, equal rights for everybody. We haven't achieved that but that I think is what is the most important concept of America, equality. And then freedom to do what you want. It can be freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to pursue a career you want. I think those two are the essence of what the country is mostly the backbone of which there are other things like separation of powers and other important things in our country's history and the way it works, elections, voting, making your vote be meaningful, those kind of things. But I would say freedom of speech is amazingly what people really think is the highest and most important quality of our country.
Historical Insights & Moving The Country Forward
Was Thomas Jefferson good for the country? (27:54)
So when you think about a promise was made with the Declaration of Independence and I'm curious, so I've never thought this out before so this may be totally ridiculous and I certainly don't have your understanding of history. But as somebody who writes a lot, one thing I know is when you go to write something, oftentimes part of the reason I'm sure he left out the detail is it wouldn't have the sort of poetic impact that he wanted it to have. And I do when I look at sort of the founding documents of this country is based on and how in my estimation, no question there are flaws, but in my estimation, we have continued a march towards making things better, making things more equal, allowing more and more people to rise up that there was DNA implanted, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that opened the door to us sort of making good on that initial promise. Do you think that there's two questions here, one, the one I was going to ask may not be as interesting, but I'll just say it out loud. Do you think that Thomas Jefferson in trying to get the poetry of it right realized he needed a grand revision to capture the human spirit and that that was why he wrote it the way that he wrote it? And we obviously see the knock on effect and then, well, we'll stop. Let me answer that. Yeah. Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old. His wife was very ill. He didn't want to be at the second Continental Congress. He wanted to be back in Virginia where he thought more important things were getting done and also he could tend to his wife, but he's agreed to stay for a while. He gave him the assignment. They gave him 17 days to write up a some propaganda statement about why we're going to break away from England. Like most people, he took the last three days and the first 14 days he was busy. So with three days to go, he's writing in his little rented house there with two slaves or with them and he didn't have any books with him really and he just kind of wrote it for memory and what he believed was the common sense. So he didn't have footnotes and all kinds of other things. After he submitted it to people and the Congress voted on it, they made 60 changes. He said they muted it. In fact, he was so upset for eight or nine years he wouldn't tell people that he actually wrote it because he was embarrassed the way he was written. But it turns out that the preamble which was ignored at the time became the most famous sentence in the English language. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That became the most famous sentence in the English language and at the time nobody paid attention to it because it was the preamble to the part they really wanted to talk about which is the sins of King George. Later it became the creed of our country because people increasingly said all men are creed equal. Well, maybe we mean all men and all women. Maybe we mean all white men and all white women and all black men and all black women. So it got to be expanded and maybe it also meant people have freedom so that you have freedom for people who are gay, lesbian, Jewish, whatever, Catholic, whatever, everybody has certain freedoms. So it evolved and it just became something that he was synonymous with and when he died he said on his tombstone that's what he really wanted as first the author of the Declaration of Independence. I don't know that he intended it to be as famous as it became. In fact John Adams hated the fact it became so famous. But John Adams thought he was the person who was most responsible for the Revolutionary War Declaration and he wanted July the 2nd when that was voted on to be the day we celebrate. But then we voted on, we celebrate July the 4th. Why is that? Well, one year after July the 2nd in 1777 they were going to celebrate but they forgot it was July the 7th. So they didn't get around to it. The 3rd they said we're organizing on the 4th. So when the 4th became the day they celebrate it was synonymous with the Declaration of Independence which was approved that day and not the July 2nd thing and that's why Adams and Jefferson didn't get along that well because they fought over what was more important. That's July the 2nd resolution of the July 4th Declaration. That, yeah, when you put it into the context where you can feel real humans behind the scenes doing this stuff it becomes I think far more interesting. So country has flaws. How do we go about fixing those and is that like do you see each of us needing to play a role and if so like how do you see you as but one example of how a person can contribute how do you see yourself contributing to that? Our country actually moves forward reasonably well by listening to people because we have enormous amounts of public opinion polling.
How do we move the country forward? (32:09)
We have voting. We have social media. So I do think you can influence people in Congress and influence governors and state legislators. I think you can but it takes persistence. You can't just write one letter to the op-ed page and think that's going to solve problems. You've got to really be persistent and those people that have persisted have succeeded. For example when our country was created the idea that women could own property was considered ridiculous that they could vote or be in government was even more ridiculous. So the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 kind of began the effort to get women the right to vote 1848 and then it wasn't until 1919 that we really got the right to women the vote. So it took a long time and anything that's heroic does take a long time to do and no one person could do it but I do think that the government is willing to listen. It just takes time and now it recently takes some money.
Abraham Lincolns Team of Rivals concept (33:07)
This idea that it takes more than one person that you need a team. One of the things that Abraham Lincoln was so famous for and I have been very inspired by this as a business leader is the idea of a team of rivals. What was that? How did you use that and do you think that kind of thing is important? Let me explain for those who may not be that familiar with it. There have been more books written about Abraham Lincoln than any other American by far. And Dara Scurns Goodwin decided to write another book about Abraham Lincoln. People rolled their eyes and she rolled her eyes too. What can I do? That's going to be so unique. So finally she told Steven Spielberg she was writing this book about Abraham Lincoln. She didn't know what it was going to be. She said I want to do a movie about Abraham Lincoln. He optioned the movie. The book was finished ten years later. Wow. Ten years later. And actually the movie Lincoln that Spielberg did is only about five pages of the book. It's only about the 13th Amendment passage in the house but the book is obviously more comprehensive. But as she was reading the book and doing the research she realized, wait a second, Lincoln was considered not very smart and illiterate in some ways and not a very well educated person let's say. By the people that were going to be the nominee supposedly for the Republican Party in 1860. They were much more prominent people but they looked down on him. They just didn't treat him very well. They thought he was funny looking and so forth. Ultimately when he got the nomination was elected president he put these people in the cabinet. So we had these securities say even though you think I'm not that smart or not that good looking or not that well educated I want you to be my advisor. In the end these people became his greatest friends. Now you need a lot of security to do that. You can't be insecure. If you're insecure you surround yourself with people that are not that good and great people surround themselves with people that are smarter than them and that's what he did. Yeah that concept.
How to handle challenging ideas (34:51)
So the way it's played out in my business life is what I always tell people I want everyone to challenge my ideas if they think they have something to offer and not to give me any deference for being the CEO. And my thing is if it's a good idea it can withstand criticism and if it's a bad idea then that won't be able to withstand criticism which is why people wouldn't want it. And I certainly would want to know if I have a weak idea how did he keep that from turning into chaos? Well in the case of Lincoln, Lincoln listened to people though I say in the Emancipation Proclamation his advisors really didn't think that was such a great idea. So sometimes you have to be a leader and say I'm going to persist and you have to kind of support me if you can if you can't I understand but I have to go ahead and do certain things in the business world it's true as well. In the business world if you wait for consensus you'll never get done. If Steve Jobs had waited for consensus on the personal computer he would have not got nothing. If Mark Zuckerberg I heard about the idea when Mark was in college and I said that company is going nowhere. Who cares about a company like Facebook? When Jeff Bezos was doing his company I didn't think it was going to get very far. I had some stock at the beginning I sold it right away when he went public. So I just think that you have to have the willingness to persist against the conventional wisdom. So when you think about leaders and having the three different types of persuasion that you talked about earlier how does one cultivate that how can we recapture that spirit now. I feel like what we need is that sort of galvanizing spirit something a bold thought like going to the moon or whatever that we can rally around.
How to rally the country again (36:19)
Yes well look I think I president like Biden you know maybe he can come up with something that galvanizes us clearly if you have a 9/11 event that tends to galvanize the country the moon launched tended to galvanize the country around that effort the civil rights legislation tended to galvanize the country you need something like that I think you probably have to have a figure who's a leader who is seen as selfless who is seen as promoting the country not himself that would probably be helpful. Is there something that we can focus our attention our energies on that would galvanize us is there anything that we can move towards positively. Or is this one of those where the world is going to hand you what it hands you and you just have to be prepared to make the most of it. Well things sometimes happen by serendipity you can't anticipate a 9/11 event or things but clearly climate change has galvanized younger people maybe more than older people and younger people are more concerned about it maybe because they're going to be lived longer but I think that's something that really has galvanized people the problem with it is it's hard to see progress because you can't really see the carbon in the atmosphere and one of the challenges with climate change is that it may take decades before you actually see any real progress that's why all the goals are we're going to do something by the year 2050. Well I'll be 101 years old and I'm not as focused on things but I'm 101 if I live that long so you need something that I think is different as a way to kind of show progress in a shorter period of time so climate change is one thing but I think you know other kinds of things could be done as well. What's the power of reading for you so I know that you aim to read 100 books a year when you were a kid you were reading 12 books a week which is pure insanity.
The power of reading (38:02)
Well there's these little children's books they weren't they weren't warranties. But reading I came from modest circumstances and therefore you know how do you learn the new world what how do you learn what's out there well reading and so reading opened vistas for me and I just found that by reading a lot I could be informed about things I could be a better person and I just something I enjoy it's such a great pleasure for me to read books and I just you know the trick of it is I'm reading books of things I know reasonably well I'm reading history, politics, business, things like that and so it's not that complicated if I had to read a physics textbook or a chemistry textbook it would take me you know a century to get through it. Now talk to me about that idea of specializing of finding something that's your niche.
Dealing With Challenges & Personal Growth
The concept of specializing (38:56)
I know it seems to have played itself out pretty perfectly in the founding of Carlisle. What is that should we not be trying to be sort of the best at everything? Well I don't think anybody can be look I tell people focus the way an organization works is you get to be known in an organization for having one skill and whatever it might be in Carlisle's case I was not an MBA I didn't had it really invest when I started it so I figured out what can I do that would help the firm well I would go do the fundraise nobody else wanted to run around the world begging for money so I did that and I kind of mastered that craft. Once you master something people say well person A is very good in skill A maybe person A can do skill B and you give people a little opportunity to do something else then gradually you do two or three or four more things and you get skill sets that are transferable so today I am doing lots of different things and I'm not as focused as I was 20 years ago but now I have developed skills in talking or writing or other things that I can use and so while I'm not as great in one thing as I would like to be I'm doing many different things in part because at my age if I don't do them now what am I going to do them so I'm trying to do you know everything before I'm you know as I say I'm rushing to the finish line I want to get stuff done before the time falls apart when I can't do this stuff so my job is to say alive as long as I can with my brain and my body reasonably intact. I mean is that passion you I don't remember you actually using the word passion but you talk a lot about if you want to be great at something it's going to have to be something that you really love that you enjoy doing is that what keeps you because you're quite energetic. Well today because I have a fair amount of money by normal human standards not go gauge standards I can do anything or I can do nothing and so I'm only doing things that I really love doing and so it's great pleasure except that I only have a limited now a time and a day so I can't do everything as your age you can't probably do as much as you did when you're younger so I'm only doing things I love but I love doing many things interviewing writing talking and so forth if you hate what you're doing you'll never be successful nobody as I've said before as our one of Nobel Prize hating what they do. And do you think you stumble into what you love is it a process can you create that that love and passion for something. I don't think you can call up McKinsey or Bain or BCG and say tell me what I love and I'm going to go do that now find something I'm going to love and let me know what it is you have to do it going based on your life and your experiences your expectations your skillset so it's just different than for everybody you have a certain different set of experiences so I happen to like reading I happen to like talking to people so I kind of said maybe I can do some interviewing I'll read people's books I'll interview them about their books and that kind of worked out or I like just you know I'm interested in learning about people's lives so I do interviews about famous leaders or things like that it just kind of worked out and things evolve and sometimes things don't work out I tried some things in the investment area that didn't work out as well as I would have liked but you know you try and you some things work some things don't.
Now in the book how to lead you interview some of the world's most extraordinary business leaders leaders really from many different walks of life what were some things that surprised you you open the book by saying hey here are my 13 traits of a leader this is basically what you're going to hear over and over from the different leaders I'm going to interview but I have to imagine every now and then somebody caught you by surprise with something. People are most animated at that talking about is their childhood and their young life and what mistakes they made what hardships they overcame because they realized they're successful people but they it gives a certain sense of humility if you say look I was terrible at this but look I got better in life or I stumbled here but look I overcame it so people like talking about their failures some people are you know willing to just admit that they weren't perfect and other things now there are arrogant people that will never admit they ever made a mistake but those aren't generally the people I'm interviewing. So when you think about your youth and you think about you know the mistakes you make some of what comes into that is framing it how you think about failure and you talk about that is one of the important things that a leader has to be able to do how in your life have you talked to yourself about what failure means.
Well I failed at lots of things and so you just have to say to yourself okay is the whole world now I failed or just I know I failed and then the whole world knows it's a little more embarrassing if you know then maybe you don't run around telling everybody how much you fail and then you realize sometimes you fail because you made a mistake or sometimes you don't have the ability that you wanted to have or sometimes here it has some bad luck but everybody has failed at something in life and if you say you haven't failed at something you're not being honest everybody's failed at something. Now do you think that we as the adage goes learn more from failure than we do from success? There's a reason why that adage has been around for a long time I think it's true. If you're successful you think this is great and I don't have to learn anything from it but you learn a lot from your mistakes and I've learned a lot more from my mistakes than the things that I did that worked out. The other things that I have done that have worked out I've improved them so when I started doing interviewing I don't think I was such a great interviewer in the first interview and it takes a while. I make a lot of speeches these days I wasn't such a great speaker when I first started so I've learned I've improved you improve and if you do something you know long enough and you apply yourself to it. Now when you wrote the book how to be a leader were you bringing some of that sensibility of what we can learn from history of look these guys have done these extraordinary things and I wanted to help distill their wisdom what was the impetus? The goal is basically this my theory is that leaders are essential for society to move forward and not have chaos you can't have everybody be a leader and you can't have everybody be a follower you have to have some leaders and so I want to inspire younger people to read about people that have been successful and say I could do that or here's what that person did I'm going to avoid that so I really want to inspire younger people to kind of become leaders and that's part of what I was trying to do. And when you think about unity of leadership I know one thing you're doing with the I will read it as a congressional book club I think you have a better name for it but you encourage people to sort of cross the aisle and sit next to people that are cross the aisle. My first book was about that and it was called the American story and I started a program about six years ago where once a month I will bring all the members of Congress to come about two or three hundred come each time where I will host a reception and then a dinner and I'll interview Darce Kerns, Goodwin or David McCullough or somebody like that about American history subject that is relatively apolitical and members like it because they get a nice meal they can sit with people in the office of party which I encourage in the do and the opposite house which they often don't know people from the opposite house we don't have as many committees anymore that are conference committees and so they like it and many people have told me members of Congress started again now we haven't done it because of COVID so we're going to try to put it together again soon in the new Congress even if COVID is still around we'll have a socially distanced way of doing it so members like it a lot. And was that born of a belief that unity comes from sort of proximity and getting people to mix in new ways like was that strategic or just sort of a nice benefit? Like most things in life it was by happenstance I had an idea of interviewing historians and I've done that before and I said why don't we do it in front of members of Congress and maybe we can get people to come together to the Library of Congress which is a convenient place it kind of stumbled into it and it worked out maybe the food was better than they anticipated or I don't know what but members seemed to like it. But taking and going back to the book for a second when you begin to sort of tease out patterns you broke people up into different groups you have your builders you have your creatives were there themes that began to play out in terms of what allows someone to have just a really unusual level of success?
Well I think in the end it's persistence is more important than anything else and having a desire to do something you want to prove something so you have a vision of where you want to go you're willing to persist and overcome that's probably the key thing and then again having other qualities learning how to talk learning how to write learning how to set an example there are many different things but in the end you have to have a vision where you want to go you have to persist in it you have to be willing to overcome failures and not be afraid of making a mistake. Well David with that I think that's a pretty strong place to wrap up.
Where can people engage with you more where can they get the book what action would you like to take? I think you can buy the book any place I think in order to online and all the proceeds go to Johns Hopkins Children's Center so it's a non-profit operation for me. I want to thank you for giving me the time and I like your decor there and the Batman in the back and everything quite nice so Batman is your role model right? Yes that would be a very fair thing we could get into a whole thing about that but as a quick answer yes. Thanks a lot appreciate it. Thank you David. Guys if you haven't already be sure to dive into his world it is really extraordinary the way that he's bringing people together I think is amazing his insights into leadership and what he's gleaned from other people is really really phenomenal I think you're going to be deeply blown away and speaking of being blown away if you haven't already be sure to subscribe and until next time my friends be legendary take care. You can never let the success make you think that you're better than anybody else or more successful than the next guy and the same thing about your failures you shouldn't think that you fail you to make you any less person than the next person.