Best career advice from Ray Dalio, Alexander Wang, Steve Schwarzman

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Bridgewater founder and co-CIO Ray Dalio, left, speaks with Business Insider’s Rich Feloni.
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I’m the host of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” where I talk to people at the top of their industries about their careers.This year I interviewed fashion designer Alexander Wang, New York Stock Exchange president Stacey Cunningham, Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, Blackstone cofounder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman, “The Simpsons” star Yeardley Smith, and the late Oracle CEO Mark Hurd.A common theme was that even the most successful people have major setbacks and doubt their abilities, but remain persistent and both seek out help and give it to others.Click here for more BI Prime storiesAs the host of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” I’ve had the opportunity to interview people who, if they’re not already at the top of their industry, are shaking it up. And after about an hour of discussing their careers, I’ll often walk away with an insight that I adapt into my own life.This year, I spoke with a celebrity fashion designer, a voice actor, and some of the most influential people in business.As 2019 comes to a close, I’ve collected my favorite lessons from each of the interviews.

Fashion designer Alexander Wang explained to me the importance of setting priorities to avoid burnout.

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Alexander Wang started his label as a 20-year-old college dropout 15 years ago, and built it into one of the hottest in the industry, with fans like pop culture icon Kim Kardashian and supermodel Bella Hadid.And so when Balenciaga announced in 2015 that Wang would no longer be their creative director, after just a three-year stint, it shocked the fashion world. Wang opened up about the experience in the podcast, saying that he had put himself into an unsustainable position. He had two full-time jobs, running his own label in New York and leading creative for Balenciaga in Paris.”I would fly red-eye Sunday night, arrive in Paris, 8 a.m., go back to the hotel to change, get to work at like 9:30, work all day until like 9 p.m. — all week to Friday, and then take the red-eye back to New York and spend the weekend in New York,” Wang said. He did that two weeks a month for three years, and during this period he also had a collaboration with H&M.It got to a point where he had become so exhausted that he began to disconnect from his work, even though the Balenciaga role was otherwise a dream job. He decided that he had always cared more about his own label, and so it was a mutual decision that he leave Balenciaga to focus on building his own business. He said he was grateful for the experience, which taught him the importance of being honest with himself about what he wanted from life, and realizing that there is such thing as burnout”At the end,” he told us, “I want to know… when I look back after however many years, that I have a brand that I feel ownership over.”Read and listen to the full interview here »

NYSE president Stacey Cunningham told me there is value in every stage of your career, even the interludes.

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Since becoming the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the largest exchange in the world, Cunningham has led an overhaul of the technology powering NYSE with the goal of maintaining its No. 1 spot.She told us that she approaches her job today by utilizing different “lenses” she’s accumulated over her career — most of which has been spent on the floor of the NYSE — which has included time as a trader, salesperson, and executive. She’s even found value in her brief stint at culinary school.”I decided in 2005 that it was time for me to move on, despite the fact that I love the trading floor and I still loved being there,” Cunningham told us. “It just felt like it was the right moment and time for me to move on,” noting that she was unhappy with how it felt like the NYSE was lagging behind in technology adoption. She decided to take a year off and go to culinary school.”I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next and it gave me a little bit of time to take a step back, collect my thoughts, and decide what the next steps were for me and it did feel as if finance was the right place for me to be,” she said.Cunningham explained that she’s not someone who maps out every move in her career, but heads to where she can be of most value. When it was time to head back to NYSE, she was going to help it address what made her leave it in the first place, and double down on tech.Read and listen to the full interview here »

Bridgewater Associates founder and co-CIO Ray Dalio detailed the importance of being transparent with his team, in a productive way.

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Ray Dalio started Bridgewater Associates out of his apartment in 1975 and went on to turn it into one of the largest and most successful hedge funds in history. Bridgewater is as known today for its long-term ability to beat the market as it is for its unusual culture of “radical transparency,” where employees rate each other’s performance in real time and most meetings are recorded.But before he became a giant in his industry, Dalio had to figure out how to be a leader. By 1993, he was convinced that unfiltered truth should be the foundation for his office culture — but not everyone was on board. One day that winter, three senior executives called a meeting with Dalio and sent him a memo ahead of it. They said that while they thought he was great at his job, he was also, frankly, a jerk. They told him his words and behavior made employees feel “incompetent, unnecessary, humiliated, overwhelmed, belittled, oppressed, or otherwise bad.”He felt terrible, and wanted to find a balance between honesty and civility. He decided that transparency was key, but that he was going to set ground rules for how to handle disagreements or other points of contention, so that everyone was on the same page and did not have to let fights tear apart the company.”When you’re not getting along with somebody or you’re having a disagreement, stop, put that aside for a moment, go to a higher level, and then say, ‘How should we be with each other? What are our ground rules for operating, and why?'” Dalio told us. “Then go back into your disagreement, and follow those protocols about how you should be with each other.”Read and listen to the full interview here »

Blackstone cofounder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman showed me that when you want change to happen, you can’t wait for others.

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Schwarzman has never been afraid to speak his mind or move forward with his plan, well before he built Blackstone into one of the most influential investment firms in the world.The most extreme example of this was when he was the head of mergers and acquisitions at Lehman Brothers in 1984, he helped lead a coup against the CEO. At that point, the board had lost faith in their CEO and were considering next moves. Schwarzman may not have been a board member, but he decided to take it upon himself and he asked a senior partner for permission to sell the firm. His plan worked, and the firm sold to American Express and the CEO was kicked out.This approach has carried him throughout his life. When he was a student at Harvard Business School, for example, he met with the dean of the school and told him why he felt the curriculum needed to be updated. Whenever he wanted to meet with someone influential, he approached them without hesitation.Schwarzman told us he’s never considered himself arrogant, but felt that not only should he seek out advice from other people, he should give it, as well. “The biggest problem people in that position have is they don’t have accurate and constant information, because sometimes people don’t want to get them angry. I just give them information and usually some kind of solution. I think I’m doing a service. I don’t think I’m doing anything odd.”Read and listen to the full interview here »

The late Oracle CEO Mark Hurd told me about the importance of becoming a mentor.

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Oracle CEO Mark Hurd died in October, after taking a leave of absence for health reasons in September. We had an in-depth interview with him early this year, where we discussed his time at Oracle during a tumultuous period for the IT industry. He told us that one of the biggest things he wanted to impart at Oracle was a culture of mentorship.He said that when he was coming up early in his career at the IT company NCR Corporation, “it was just an unspoken value in the company that if you could sit around and brag about all the great people you developed in the company who are now in senior positions, this was a merit badge. This was something you wore on your sleeve.”Hurd explained that over time, a culture of investing in your employees turned to one where employees were seen as mercenary hires. He wanted to reverse that trend, because when it’s executed correctly, senior and junior members can learn from each other rather than senior employees seeing junior ones as either a roadblock or a nameless assistant.Read and listen to the full interview here »

“The Simpsons” star Yeardley Smith taught me that while it’s good to have big goals, they should not prevent me from appreciating what I already have.

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Smith is the voice of the beloved character Lisa Simpson, and has been instrumental in making “The Simpsons” the longest running prime time show in American history, currently at 31 seasons. But for years, Smith didn’t appreciate her success — she even kept her voice-acting Emmy from 1992 in a closet for a decade.As a kid, she had dreams of being a Hollywood star, and right out of high school she was able to land a job on Broadway, an agent, and more acting roles into her 20s. When she got a voice acting gig for the variety show short that would become “The Simpsons,” it seemed like a fun but temporary gig. And when that show would grow into a phenomenon, she was still able to enjoy the work while feeling like a failure.”Part of being a control freak and also suffering from perfectionism is that you attach to these very rigid rules of what your success should look like, so it doesn’t allow for what your success actually looks like,” she said. “And if you can’t bend like a reed in the river, then you become quite brittle, and two things happen.”At this point in her career, she’s embraced what she’s accomplished and tries new things not to fulfill a childhood dream but because she thinks it will be fun, whether that’s starting a podcast or writing a children’s book.She told us she wants her internal struggle to serve as an example. “I only tell that story as a cautionary tale, not for anybody to feel sorry for me, but if there’s anybody out there who’s even thinking that they would go down that road, please, please, please don’t, because you’ll miss so much,” she added.Read and listen to the full interview here »


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