Billionaire businessman Sam Zell credits much of his success to the culture at his company, Equity Group Investments.
In his book “Am I Being Too Subtle? Straight Talk From a Business Rebel,” he writes that at its core, the company is a meritocracy.
That “gives you the freedom to be yourself by eliminating superficial markers, so you are measured only by what you produce,” he writes. “In essence, it is an equaliser that focuses everybody on what’s important so you have the opportunity to reveal your best.”
He calls the company’s culture “driven, creative, playful, effective, and smart,” and writes that “We encourage confidence and nurture the ability for you to have an opinion — and to back it up intelligently.”
To foster that environment, and to help manage risk, Zell and his team have an open-door policy: “no secrets, no whispers, no closed doors. Everything is on full display.”
An example of that policy is an anecdote about an office renovation Zell recounts in the book. Here’s Zell:
“Sometimes this policy is tangible. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I’ve had the same office for thirty-five years, and just four years ago, during a renovation, I discovered that it has a door. I never knew it was there because it’s a pocket door and it had never been closed once in all those years.
“Everyone is welcome in my office, from senior executives to the person in the mailroom. By extension, if the number one guy is totally accessible, then anyone else who isn’t looks like a schmuck. None of my people work closeted in their offices.”
In fact, he writes, “over the past twenty to thirty years, I’ve had to try to get people to not treat me like the boss. To let their guard down so ideas can flow.”
He says that, because his business is based on taking smart risks, his “greatest fear is not having information that might protect me from making a mistake,” and the only way to counter that fear is to “create an atmosphere where there are no silos — where everybody knows everything that’s going on,” he writes. “I tell people ‘No surprises’ and I mean it. I’m confident enough to believe that if I catch a problem early on, we’ll be smart enough to fix it. So, don’t hide things. Relax. We don’t kill the messenger around here.”
If you want to work for him, he writes, “Be prepared to be kidded, be prepared to have your ideas challenged, and plan on staying connected — with everyone.”
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