Photo: Stanford via YouTube
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit told Stanford MBAs what it really takes to become successful when he visited the campus last week (you can view his full speech here).He spoke about how he was an engineer early in his career, but was “never any good at it” so he decided to go into banking. Here are the best takeaways from his conversation with MBA student Derek Kan:
One of the most important things I learned was from one of my professors who said look, there are very simple rules. Just figure out what you’re very passionate about, and do that. Second, if that’s a growth industry, that’s great by the way. You should try and see if you can get passionate about that. And lastly, if you are going to go out and do something, do it with a people or a company with the right values. And that’s it. That’s how I picked the placed I worked and the people I worked for. And one thing led to the other, led to the other. When I left academia to go to Morgan Stanley … it seemed just right. The real world problems were there, in corporate finance, in capital markets. There were no real futures markets yet. The options markets were new. Derivatives were a concept in text books. These were all interesting concepts. The industry grew, I grew with it.
He also talked about his biggest career decision:
The most important decision I had to make in my career was to go from being an individual producer, somebody who was really good at something, and somebody who really enjoyed doing it, to saying you know what, now I could enjoy becoming a manager. It’s very different to be good at what you’re doing, and it’s a completely different thing to be saying, now I’m going to get my enjoyment by watching others succeed. Now that transition is a very, very difficult transition to make. It’s one of those things that you have to teach yourself to go from being the valedictorian to managing valedictorians, and there are plenty of them here. How you manage that talent, how you nurture that talent, how you grow it, is a very big shift. And that’s probably the single biggest shift to get me from what I was [to] where I am today.
And what it takes to be a good leader:
It becomes very obvious: you’re not a leader unless you’ve got followers. If people aren’t willing to follow you, it doesn’t matter. [There are] simple sort of truths, and trust and integrity are the number one things. If you have the values that go through with always making sure you’re trusted as somebody who’s honest, says and does the right things, that’s a critical thing. That’s the number one attribute of a good leader. The second attribute of a leader is the team needs to feel that the leader is looking after the team.
You need functional skills, of course you do. You need to be able to know how to make decisions. The more experience you have, the better decision maker you are. You’re not necessarily born with that. You grow with it. It really drives judgment in many ways. Judgment is an accumulation of all the skills you learn throughout the years.
The ability to communicate is critical, but I cannot underestimate the need for people to know what’s going on, and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Why you’re going in a particular direction. … Communication is probably the most important thing you can do as a leader.
Then the line that always stuck with me was the line JFK used: civility is not a sign of weakness. Humility is a big part of what you learn. Believe me, when you trade, you learn humility. When you run a hedge fund, you learn humility. To lead with humility is really what makes for people rallying around what you want to get done.
And the advice he has passed along to his two kids:
You cannot succeed unless you’re doing something you’re passionate about. It’s absolutely critical. your greatness comes from that. … [And] make sure you appreciate and understand the importance of your social relationships and the trust that’s really implied in those. Those two things are absolutely critical.
[Lastly] … no one got anywhere without a lot of hard work.
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