The Fast Track is a column focused on leadership and healthy living by Strauss Zelnick, the co-founder of ZMC, a leading media-focused investment firm; and the chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software, one of the world’s largest video game companies. Zelnick is also an avid participant in #TheProgram, a New York-based fitness group. If you have any questions for him, Tweet them at @BestLifeOnline—or send us a message on Facebook—using the hashtag #AskStrauss.
What’s your secret to pushing your employees to work hard and do a good job without having them resent you?
You need to align their interests with yours. If the only person who stands to gain from an enterprise’s success is the boss, you have not only an economic divide with your colleagues but also an emotional gap. If you want other people to work as hard as you do—and make the same decisions you would—treat them like partners in success and failure. At ZMC, compensation structures are strictly tied to company performance. If the company does well, you get paid. If it doesn’t? You don’t. No, everyone does not get a trophy, but at the end of the day, I believe that resentment is caused by unfairness, and a formulaic approach to compensation that is honest and transparent is about as fair as you can get.
Is there a specific new workout—or trend—you’re embracing this year?
Working out smarter, not harder. Turns out that an intense 45-minute workout (or even 30-minute workout) can be a lot more beneficial to you than your standard one hour lift-chill-check-phone-talk-to-buddy session. Also, I’m starting to add intensity to just about everything I do, whether that’s lifting heavier weights in less time or doing a timed interval bodyweight session with friends.
Can you tell us about a major mistake you made in starting up a business, and what that taught you?
When I joined Twentieth Century Fox as president and COO, I was young—only 32 years-old—and pretty green. Luckily, I knew it. What I didn’t know was that coming in hot and trying to make rapid-fire decisions and changes could actually slow down progress.
After a six months on the job, my boss told me, “We think you’re pretty smart—but you really don’t have any leadership skills.”
That stung. I defined myself as a leader. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to take responsibility and try to do better. I read a great book on salesmanship (Yes: How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie), and started to talk less and listen a lot more. Even today, I’m a work in progress. My favorite phrase in business is: “What am I missing?”
If I have an extra $10,000, what should I do with it? Save it? Invest it? Blow it on some fun?
Well, it depends. Are you Carl Icahn, worth over $25 billion? (Carl: give it to charity.) If, on the other hand, this is your first windfall, take a small amount (say $500) and do something fun for yourself or someone you care about to celebrate your success. Then I’d advise you to save, and invest the rest in a mutual or index fund (but make sure it’s a major name with no upfront and ongoing fees).
Most Americans have very little cushion if something goes wrong, and many have (really expensive) credit card debt. The only debt you should have is a reasonable mortgage and perhaps a car loan. No matter how much you make, save at least a little bit every month. It actually does add up.
What’s the best habit you’ve picked up as a CEO? And what’s the worst habit you’ve ever successfully gotten rid of?
The best? I schedule my exercise as I’d schedule any meeting or work obligation. And in the same way that I can’t cancel work, I don’t cancel my workouts.
The worst: I stopped drinking. Having a couple of Scotches at night and trying to do a brutal workout at 6am the next morning stopped making sense to me.
If you were running Facebook, what would you do differently, and why?
Mark Zuckerberg seems to be limping along reasonably well without my help. I think I’ll focus on doing a better job at ZMC and Take-Two.
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