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If you like Sanford Weill's story, you might also like:
Ray Dalio,
Lawrence Ellison,
Rudolph Giuliani,
Henry Kravis,
Stephen Schwarzman
Dennis Washington
and Elie Wiesel

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Sanford Weill in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Thinking Outside the Box

Related Links:
Weil Hall

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Sanford Weill
Sanford Weill
Profile of Sanford Weill Biography of Sanford Weill Interview with Sanford Weill Sanford Weill Photo Gallery

Sanford Weill Interview (page: 3 / 4)

Financier and Philanthropist

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  Sanford Weill

As a kid, did you have a sense of being able to negotiate, or being able to make deals? Did you feel different from other kids?

Sanford Weill: No. I don't know that I really ever thought of it that way as a kid.

I got into this business sort of as a fluke. My wife and I were getting married as I graduated from Cornell. And I was in the Air Force ROTC, and I was going to be a pilot, and report down to Lackland Air Force Base in January of 1956 and make $6,000 a year. That was how we were going to start out in life. Then Eisenhower was cutting back on military expenditures, and I was looking for something to do, from June through that January. And in walking around New York and looking for ideas, one day I happened to walk into a brokerage office and it seemed exciting. I had tried to get jobs in that industry when I was at Cornell. And at that point in time, the volume in the New York Stock Exchange was only maybe a million and a half shares a day. Unless you came from a wealthy family, and had good connections, you couldn't get in the business. So I got a job at Bear Stearns and Company, first as a runner, and then worked in the back office. And that's sort of how it all started.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What about the business of being a broker turned you on?

Sanford Weill: What turned me on then, and turns me on even today -- and when the time comes from me to retire from management I think I'd still be interested in it -- is that everything that happens in the world affects the price of securities. So it's the kind of business where you can't wait to get up in the morning and read the papers, or listen to what's on the news, and you know, how the world's going to change. And if you don't like stability, and you do enjoy change, and you look at change as something that creates an opportunity, then I think it's a very, very exciting business.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Obviously, risk is involved.

Sanford Weill: Right. But you know, when you say, "Risk is involved," I think of this:

If a person is not willing to make a mistake, you're never going to do anything right. Because most of us are not perfect, and therefore, I think it's very important to learn how to be a risk taker. Learn how to be a loser, because it's important to be a loser to be a winner. And learn that when you do make a mistake, you'll surface that mistake so you can get it corrected, rather than trying to hide it and bury it, and it becomes a much bigger mistake, and maybe a fatal mistake.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Talk about some of the setbacks you've had along the way.

Sanford Weill Interview Photo
Sanford Weill: I had started a brokerage company 1960 with three other people. I was pretty young, 26 or 27. Our first year's revenues were about $200,000, that's gross revenues. We paid ourselves about $12,000 a year. We grew that company from 1960 to 1981, to become the second largest company in the securities industry.

I got a little bit tired of doing the same thing, and the world was beginning to change. We asked ourselves, "How can we do something different?" And the idea came, maybe we should merge with American Express, and become part of the corporate establishment. I felt I'd learn a lot of different things doing that. It was a real disappointment to me that it didn't work out, because our entrepreneurial philosophy didn't fit into that kind of culture. We didn't build the kind of company that we could have built together.

But you didn't let that keep you from further ambition.

Sanford Weill: There was a period of a year when I didn't do anything. But you know what?

I think one of the greatest periods in my life is when I decided to leave American Express, because most people don't get to know what people really think about them when they're alive. And you know, you always wonder, "Are people friendly with you -- or people paying attention to you, they make believe they like you -- because of your position and what you can do for them?" And I think what was really great is that when I left I didn't have this position of power at American Express. And the first thing that was important about that was it helped my relationship with my children a lot, because they always looked at me as this person that could never do anything wrong, and therefore they couldn't contribute. And all of a sudden, they saw their father was vulnerable, and it helped create more of an equal kind of relationship with each other, where we respect each other a lot, and that was a very, very important thing that happened.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

The second thing was that I found out a lot of people liked me for me, and not because I was the President of American Express, or the Chairman of Shearson. I was able to be very effective in philanthropic things without having a job. People still asked me to go out to lunch, or go out to dinner. It was a great thing to see.

So being unemployed was good for your self-esteem.

Sanford Weill: It turned out that way.

My wife used to call me up and say, "Let's go to a movie." And I said, "What do you mean go to a movie? I'm working." She said, "What do you mean? You don't have a job. What are you working?" I was always afraid the phone might ring, and there might be something that came up, and if I wasn't in the office, I wouldn't be there to hear it.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 21:38 EDT
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