In previous posts, I shared brief excerpts from interviews of CEOs conducted by Adam Bryant that appear in his “Corner Office” column that appears in the BusinessSunday section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided by Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and CEO of the insurance broker, Willis Group Holdings:
Bryant: What’s your best career advice?
Plumeri: Everything that I have done I’ve done because I went out and played in traffic and something happened.
Bryant: What do you mean?
Plumeri: If you push yourself out here and you see people and get involved, something happens. My first job was at Cogan, Berlind, Weill & Levitt. It had four names, so I thought it was a law firm. I was going to law school. My last class was over at noon, and so I thought I’d go over on Wall Street and find a job with a law firm.
So I go knock on doors. I go up and see the receptionist, and she says go down the hall and see Mr. Weill. I don’t know who Sandy Weill was. This was 1968. I gave him the spiel about law school in the morning, learning the practical part in the afternoon.
He says that’s a great idea, but what makes you think you’ll be learning law here? I said, this is a law firm. He said no, this is a brokerage firm. I trued to find a hole to climb into. I’m not easily embarrassed, and he laughed. He gave me a job working part-time, and that firm turned into Citigroup.
When I left Citigroup after all those years, I was walking down a street in Paris, and I ran into Henry Kravis. He said, what are you doing? I said, I’m looking for my next adventure. And he said, I’ve got this company we just bought: Willis. You know the rest of the story. So I tell people, just show up, get in the game, go play in traffic. Something good will come of it.
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Note: Woody Allen agrees with Plumeri. He once observed, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
To read a longer version of this interview and of several others of prominent CEOs, please visit nytimes.com/business.