Some people get ahead by being smarter, more analytical, or more strategic than everyone around them. But many of the most successful people combine some or all of those traits with a signature doggedness — wanting success more than anyone else.
That intense focus on a singular goal comes across with every interaction, and frequently, when they interact with the public.
We’ve picked out some of the best examples of people who combine serious intensity with an impressive work ethic and massive ambition.
Wintour, U.S. Vogue’s editor-in-chief and Condé Nast’s artistic director, is known for her reportedly demanding and aloof personal style. She was the apparent inspiration for the terrifying boss in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a book written by her former personal assistant later made into a movie.
Despite a reputation for being closed off and distant, her occasional outbursts are intense enough to have earned her the nickname “Nuclear Wintour.” But it’s hard to argue that her perfectionism and attention to detail haven’t played a large role in her continued success in an industry where many other magazines and editors have failed.
The Oracle CEO’s hyper-competitiveness and intensity is constantly on display, from his involvement in the America’s Cup yacht race to his near constant spats with business rivals.
Examples of his no-holds-barred form of capitalism include saying that SAP executives were on drugs, hiring investigators to comb through Microsoft’s trash, and calling HP’s decision to fire Mark Hurd “the best idea since the Apple board fired Steve Jobs.”
In the NBA and beyond, Bryant’s work ethic is absolutely legendary. In high school, Bryant would get to practice at 5 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m. in the evening, and play teammates in one-on-one games to 100 points. He trains four hours a day during the NBA season, even more in the offseason, and puts in incredibly intense sessions even on game days.
Though the longtime Microsoft CEO is on his way out after Microsoft missed some very big trends in the tech world, there’s no doubting his passion. From rumours he flung a chair after hearing an employee was departing for Google, to his intense and emotional speeches to Microsoft employees, you never doubt that he cares very deeply about the company.
The list of the Irish discount airline RyanAir CEO’s antics is too long to lay out in full, but it includes cursing out journalists at extensive length and holding press conferences to criticise European policies he dislikes. The airline became successful by massively undercutting others on cost, and continues to succeed by taking any possible path to cutting costs short of raising fares.
He also has a penchant for elaborate costumes, as this photo of him as a Viking announcing new flights from Stockholm illustrates.
Running two giant automakers headquartered on different continents and turning around Chrysler takes an intense personality and fierce work ethic. One executive once told the FT that the Fiat/Chrysler CEO “invented an eighth day and we work it.”
He’s known for spending Italian holidays working in America, and American holidays working in Italy.
The intense and pragmatic Fast Retailing CEO and founder has created a company in Uniqlo that rigorously tracks everything, from folding technique to how credit cards are returned to customers.
Being the richest man in Japan isn’t enough. Yanai reportedly wants to beat out Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer. He intends to have $US50 billion in yearly revenue by 2020, which would require massive growth.
Yanai originally planned to retire next year, as he’s 63, but no one at his company has managed to “meet his expectations” as a successor.
Already a three-time Best Actor Oscar winner for his intensity on screen, the actor is the same way off of it. He immerses himself in roles completely, to the point where it can unnerve the cast and crew of movies or the people who encounter him.
He spoke in the accent of his character from “In The Name Of The Father” for six months after filming ended, and insisted on staying in a wheelchair throughout production of “My Left Foot.”
Maria Das Gracas Silva Foster
Foster rose to CEO of the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras after spending her whole career there, starting out as just an engineering intern. That might not be her most impressive achievement. She was also born in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous slums and collected scrap metal to pay for her school books.
“‘I was in the middle of an argument with someone and they were telling me that some place was not fit for a woman to go,’ she said. She blurted out the details of her own tough upbringing in response, she says — ‘I didn’t have the least bit of patience to listen to that.'”
Son has a reputation for making big bets, like his recent purchase of Sprint. Past wins include big investments in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan.
“He is a gambler, and there’s no question he’s looking for world domination,” DCM co-founder David Chao once told Bloomberg.
He’s regaining his fortune again after SoftBank grew massively during the dotcom bubble and crashed and burned when it popped. Son personally lost $US70 billion, maybe the largest fortune ever lost by a single person. But he’s roaring back.
Sorrell may once again become the biggest ad CEO in the world if a rumoured buyout of Interpublic Group goes through. He’s a notorious workaholic. A client once tested him by sending a blank text extremely early in the morning. Sorrell responded in seconds. And despite the massive size of his business, he still gets intensely involved with clients and pitches for new business.
His high salary has been controversial at times, but Sorrell’s fought back vigorously, arguing that he’s worth every penny of what he’s earned.
The Yahoo CEO and former Google executive is a renowned workaholic, routinely putting in 100-hour weeks to the point where she needs a one-week vacation every four months just to catch up on sleep and recharge.
Meeting with her can be extremely intimidating, as she tends to be intensely business focused, rattling off rapid and specific questions and obsessing over details others would consider minor.
You don’t get a nickname like “Rahmbo” without earning it. The former White House chief of staff once sent a dead fish in the mail to a pollster who angered him, and leapt on to a table during a dinner and started stabbing it with a knife while shouting the names of people who had betrayed his then-boss Bill Clinton.
Though no longer at his dominant best, the two-time Cy Young award-winning pitcher has what might be the most legendary work ethic in the sport. Halladay wakes up at 4 a.m. in the morning to start working out during spring training, and does his most intense workouts on the day after he starts a game.
Before and during each start, Halladay goes into complete isolation and won’t speak to anybody except for the pitching coach and the manager. Even a hello or wave from a teammate won’t get a response.
The Amazon CEO’s intense management style has undoubtedly been successful, but it can be tough on those underneath him. As described Brad Stone’s new book on the company, “The Everything Store“:
A colleague failing to meet Bezos’s exacting standards will set off a nutter. If an employee does not have the right answers or tries to bluff, or takes credit for someone else’s work, or exhibits a whiff of internal politics, uncertainty, or frailty in the heat of battle — a blood vessel in Bezos’s forehead bulges and his filter falls away. He’s capable of hyperbole and harshness in these moments and over the years has delivered some devastating rebukes.
Bezos’ sarcastic takedowns reportedly include: “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” and “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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