Why the Best Managers Act like Interns

Question: What strategies have you used to weather this recession?

Russell Simmons:  This recession has kind of affected me and I’ve learned to button up a little tighter and be a little bit more innovative.  I think in my case, it’s about being more innovative and people around me in some cases who helped to operate their first ideas. My first idea is to be more creative, to spin a kind of dance between these two kinds of philosophies.  There’s a lot of people who know so much so that there’s room to grow and I want to be my next company to be a little bit more adventurous or creative and in almost every case, that’s what I’ve done, but still there’s tightening up some things and I hope when the marketplace opens up that we’ll be so well positioned because we haven’t given away all the real estate, given away all the potential, or run scared.  We haven’t run scared.

Question:  How do you keep your workforce motivated in a downturn? 

Russell Simmons:  In this downturn it’s so bad a lot of people’s motivation is, I don’t want to be fired.  I’m sorry to say it; it’s just that reality.  People are struggling and companies are not growing as quickly as we all projected and so sometimes we just need to buckle up just because we want to hold onto what we have.  That’s not my philosophy about life or that I recommend my employees take but we are more creative and we work harder and we keep our head down at all times.  But in a difficult market like this when you see people losing their jobs, sometimes you just want to protect yourself.

Question: What are the qualities you look for in a new hire? 

Russell Simmons:  Well I like to hire people who I think are motivated to be good servants.  I don’t really like bosses.  I’m not a boss, I’m a servant, and so I want people to know that if they watch out for everyone else and they are a great team player, then they ascend.

My favorite Presidents were interns, I watched them grow.  They act like interns when they’re presidents.  They still want to get everybody’s coffee.  They want to get their hands dirty.  I like people who don’t really recognize the difference between themselves and the people that they are part of a management team for.

Recorded on October 27, 2009

Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons on why he won’t run scared from the economy, and why the best hires love getting everyone’s coffee.

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