Henri Eliot: Life lessons from a Wall Street legend

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Here are some of the life lessons Byron Wien has learned in his first 80 years. Photo / Blackstone
Here are some of the life lessons Byron Wien has learned in his first 80 years. Photo / Blackstone

At 83 years-old Byron Wien, American investor and vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners, a subsidiary of The Blackstone Group (which manages $350B USD of private equity) is a similar age to Warren Buffett.

This year at a meeting for Blackstone advisors and clients, the 83-year-old guru outlined his key lessons he has learned over more than 50 years in business - they are fascinating and worth thinking about for company directors and senior executives in New Zealand.

I've summarised some of the life lessons Byron has learned in his first 80 years - he hopes to continue to practice them in the next 80 years as well.

1. Network intensely. Luck plays a big role in life, and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible.

2. When you meet someone new, treat that person as a friend. Assume he or she is a winner and will become a positive force in your life.

Most people wait for others to prove their value. Give them the benefit of the doubt from the start. Occasionally you will be disappointed, but your network will broaden rapidly if you follow this path.

3. Read all the time. Don't just do it because you're curious about something, read actively. Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author. If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.

4. Get enough sleep. Seven hours will do until you're sixty, eight from sixty to seventy, nine thereafter, which might include eight hours at night and a one-hour afternoon nap.

5. Travel extensively. Try to get everywhere before you wear out. Attempt to meet local interesting people where you travel and keep in contact with them throughout your life. See them when you return to a place.

6. When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were seventeen. It is my belief that some important event in everyone's youth has an influence on everything that occurs afterwards.

7. On philanthropy my approach is to try to relieve pain rather than spread joy.

8. Take the time to give those who work for you a pat on the back when they do good work.

Most people are so focused on the next challenge that they fail to thank the people who support them. It is important to do this. It motivates and inspires people and encourages them to perform at a higher level.

9. When someone extends a kindness to you write them a handwritten note, not an e-mail. Handwritten notes make an impact and are not quickly forgotten.

10. At the beginning of every year think of ways you can do your job better than you have ever done it before. Write them down and look at what you have set out for yourself when the year is over.

11. Don't try to be better than your competitors, try to be different. There is always going to be someone smarter than you, but there may not be someone who is more imaginative.

12. When your children are grown or if you have no children, always find someone younger to mentor. It is very satisfying to help someone steer through life's obstacles, and you'll be surprised at how much you will learn in the process.

13. Every year try doing something you have never done before that is totally out of your comfort zone.

It could be running a marathon, attending a conference that interests you on an off-beat subject that will be populated by people very different from your usual circle of associates and friends or traveling to an obscure destination alone. This will add to the essential process of self-discovery.

14. Never retire. If you work forever, you can live forever. I know there is an abundance of biological evidence against this theory, but I'm going with it anyway.

Personally, what a fascinating list and I'm trying to follow as many of these tips as possible!

- NZ Herald

Henri Eliot is CEO of Board Dynamics.

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