Before I Was CEO

by Richard Edelman, President und CEO
  • Statements
30. November 2016
Richard Edelman und seine Eltern

I was invited to be one of 20 CEOs who are profiled in a new book by Peter Vanham, a contributor to Forbes and the Financial Times, called Before I Was CEO. It was the first time I really opened up with a journalist about my childhood and my career in the family business.

Among the topics covered in the chapter:

1. Take the Global Assignment — In my case it was to be the CEO of Edelman Europe, even though I could not move my then young kids and commuted to Europe. Others profiled in the book such as the CEO of Heineken took on the head role in Rwanda in his young 30s. In short, get out of your comfort zone to get ahead.

2. Be Resilient — I appointed a CFO in my early days as global CEO. She wanted to bring in a new accounting system. It failed to produce accurate bills so it had to go. I brought in a new accounting firm to clean up the mess and we came back to normal within 90 days. Key to all of this was that my father retained his confidence in me and allowed me the time to fix the problem.

3. Give Your Kids Room to Grow — In our family business, the Edelman children must earn their way — there were and will be no promises without performance and leadership. That may lead to some skinned knees but it is certainly the best way to learn life lessons.

4. Stay Humble — I take the subway to work. I fly coach back and forth to Chicago. As Vanham writes, “Edelman retains the idea of his immigrant roots from his grandparents and parents.” I did not have that humility when I graduated from business school but after enough mistakes such as not requiring non-compete clauses that enabled employees to walk out with clients, I was better off low-key.

5. Small Risks, Not Big Bets — Edelman maintains a very conservative balance sheet. We do small acquisitions. This helps me sleep well at night.

6. Take Time for Your Family — I went to every sports contest for my kids. I turned off my cell phone at 8 pm. I did have to travel relentlessly and had some nights at black tie events. But when I was home, I was home.

7. Watch Your Parents, See How It’s Done — I often tell the story of my mother walking boldly up to Henry Kissinger, charming him and bringing my father into the conversation, just one of dozens of times when she took the lead in opening doors. Even as CEO, I spoke with one or the other of my parents every day.

8. Be a Networker — Concentrate completely on the person whom you are with at the time, then move on. In fact, I met Vanham at a World Economic Forum meeting in China, which led to my being included in the book.

Here is a link to the Amazon listing of the book. It includes stories of the early days of the CEOs of companies as diverse as Heineken and Tupperware. It is well worth a read.