Who are your Business Heroes?

Meeting with a mentorEarly on in my career I was fortunate enough to work for a CEO who had a very close advisor named Marylin Dyer Blair. You’ve probably never heard of Marylin. She was about five-foot-nothing, sweet as can be; but she was also an excellent advisor to CEOs. She told the truth, was a great listener, but kept your words to herself. She gave the CEO excellent feedback in a why he could hear it. Whenever I am working with a management team a little piece of Marylin is sitting on my shoulder helping me. When I’m not sure what I should do, or how I should say what I know needs to be said, it’s Marylin’s voice that comes out of my mouth. Much of the way that I present myself, and the tools that I use are influenced by the ways in which she did her work.

There is so much about being a leader, and running a business that is more easily “caught” than taught. Marylin could have taken hours to explain in detail how and why she was so influential, but instead she lived it out. She operated very consistently from day to day, and engagement to engagement. That consistent example was a more rich and full than any lesson read or taught.

This week another business hero has been in the news, this one much more well known. When I was 13 I waited in line 7 hours to see the first showing of Empire Strikes Back. I had to wait extra long that day because the absolute first showing was completely sold out. Apple Computers had bought out the whole theater and shut down their office to take everyone out to see it. At that moment Steve Jobs was my hero.

Now, many years later I have at least 11 Apple products in my house and office. I’m a huge Apple fan, and I think Steve Jobs is one of the most influential business leaders in this generation. But Steve and I don’t have a lot of common values. I could never be Steve Jobs, his attention to detail, his us-against-the-world attitude and willingness to make enemies would never feel right to me. I don’t think I could ever live with Steve Jobs on my shoulder as an example. I love his products, and don’t doubt that his way is phenomenally successful, but it’s just not a road that I’m going to feel comfortable taking. Maybe if I worked side-by-side with Steve the way I did Marylin I would feel differently, but I doubt it. I’m no Steve Jobs, but I’m happy to be a little bit of Marylin Dyer Blair.

Who are your business heroes? Those people who have consistently been excellent over a long period of time, who have lived out the values that you want to express to your team, community and customers? How have they influenced the leader you are today?


  1. This may not be an obvious answer, but Jim Henson is one of my business heroes. He started with a vision to make a difference, and through that vision, he created a hugely successful franchise that has helped millions of kids (including me) to read.

    You won’t find him on lists of great CEOs, but you may not find a better example of how strong values and purpose can align with capitalism in a way that expands a benevolent mission around the globe.

  2. Andy, Jim Henson is a terrific example. He had a vision, and kept his organization true to it for a long time. Thanks for mentioning him.

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