The CEO of PayPal takes his best career advice from martial arts, and it hasn't let him down yet

Dan SchulmanPayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman has been practicing Krav Maga since he was a teenager.
  • PayPalPresident and CEO Dan Schulman has been practicing the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga since he was a teenager.
  • His experience with it has shaped the way he approaches business and life.
  • In an interview with The New York Times, Schulman said that Krav Maga taught him how to pick his battles, and that it’s important to always stay moving.

PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman has learned a lot from martial arts.

“I’ve done martial arts almost all my life, and that’s informed not just fighting skills but living skills as well,” Schulman told Business Insider on a 2017 episode of our podcast,This is Success. “It’s been an important part of how I think about both living in general and work, and it informs my philosophy there.”

In a July interview with The New York Times’ David Gelles, Schulman spoke more about his wide-ranging career and some of the lessons he’s learned from practicing the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga.

Schulman told Gelles that he began learning the martial art while spending time in Israel as a teenager, and that while the notoriously physical practice has left him with plenty of scars, the most important lesson he’s learned from Krav Maga is how to pick his battles.

Schulman told Gelles (emphasis ours):

“… The overrunning philosophy of Krav is that the best way to win a fight is to not get into a fight. It’s very Zen in that way. How do you de-escalate situations? We spend a lot of time thinking about that. It’s translated into the way that I think about business as well.”

Schulman has applied that mindset to PayPal’s dealings with other payments companies, noting that alliances with competitors can sometimes be fruitful for companies and their customers alike.

“When we started partnering with Visa and Mastercard and JPMorgan Chase and Citi, nobody ever thought that PayPal would be allies with those companies,”Schulman told Gelles. “That would always be an uneasy friend relationship. But my view is, ‘How do you give customers the choice they want, and how do you avoid fights that you don’t necessarily need to be in?'”

He told Business Insider previously: “We often say in fighting, like, conserve your resources, every punch has to have a home so don’t just flail away, make sure you have a game plan. It’s the same in business. But there’s a lot of similarity between what we’re taught in martial arts and krav maga and what we practice in business and what we practice in our lives as well.”

Schulman also draws on his experiences with Krav Maga in charting out his own career path and being open to taking on new opportunities.

In response to a question from Gelles about his decision to leave AT&T for a stint at Priceline, Schulman said, “I was president of the consumer division at age 39 or so. But my view was not so much that leaving was a risk. I actually thought it’s more risky to stand still. There’s a philosophy in martial arts which is, ‘Never stand still.’ Standing still is asking to be hit. You always have to be willing to take some risks going forward. You can’t stand still.”

He told Business Insider previously that the same philosophy applies to his business decisions.”If you’re engaged in a competitive battlefield like we all are in business to some extent, even if things are going well, you can’t stand still because that’s just asking to be hit,” he said. “You constantly need to be innovating, you constantly need to be thinking one or two steps ahead. You need to trust your intuition, not overthink things as well, and so there’s a lot of just Zen that comes with martial arts.”


Check out the full interview at The New York Times »

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