With Gillian Zoe Segal, Author – Getting There: A Book of Mentors
This week, Steve spoke with Gillian Zoe Segal, author of Getting There: A Book of Mentors.
In her book, Gillian shares the secrets to navigating the rocky road to success from thirty leaders in diverse fields, including Warren Buffett. She and Steve spoke about some of the meaningful lessons Gillian learned while researching her book.
Be Aware Of Who You Surround Yourself With
One piece of advice Warren Buffett offered was to be aware of who you surround yourself with, who you choose to associate with is important. If you constantly have people around you who are better or more gifted in different ways, their influence will rub off on you. You, in turn, end up giving back to others. Buffett likened this to the idea of a planetary system. If you end up hanging out with people who are worse or have a negative influence, you’ll be pulled down to their level.
A Common Thread In Success
The individuals, the mentors, in Gillian’s book all seem to have some common threads between them: determination to succeed and the resilience to follow that determination through to the end. It’s kind of like that whack-a-mole game at carnivals or fairs. Life is like a giant whack-a-mole game. Each of the mentors in her book was hit hard by life, several times in fact.
These individuals possessed the ability to continue to fight for what they wanted, despite being beaten up. Many had poor grades and were told they wouldn’t succeed. Some came from rough circumstances. Each beat the odds against them and continued to fight until they reached success.
There’s No Excuse For Giving Up
There are two stories in the book that exemplify how hard life can hit you and why there’s no excuse for giving up.
Matthew Weiner, creator of the fantastically successful television series, Mad Men, wasn’t an immediate hit in the entertainment industry. When he graduated from USC Film School, he couldn’t get a job or even a meeting with an agent to help him get a job. He started writing what would become Mad Men and carried it around with him from one rejection to the next. He got a second job and fought for several years to get his script seen, until finally breaking through.
Ian Schrager, on the other hand, found success at a young age when he opened Studio 54. He, unfortunately, was consumed by the success and ended up going to prison, losing everything he’d worked for. When he got out of prison ($2 million in debt) he worked to piece his life back together, a little at a time. After years of hard work, he was able to reinvent himself as a real estate developer and hotelier.
The bottom line is this: there’s very little we can’t recover from or find a way to succeed in spite of our difficulties. It takes resilience and determination.
You Have To Set Your Own Role
Sometimes you have to be willing to do the things that will help you break out of the role others set for you. Anderson Cooper is a prime example of this. Despite being the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, he had a rough life. His father died when he was 10 and his brother died by suicide when Cooper was 23. He wanted to be a foreign news correspondent but couldn’t even get an entry-level position in the major news industry after college.
He worked for a youth-oriented news company because it was the only job he could get. He saved money, then quit his job and financed himself going overseas, covering the most dangerous and interesting stories he could find, and eventually sold the stories back to his former employer for a pittance. This is ultimately what got him discovered and made him the household name he is today.
Head over to Amazon if you’d like to learn more about Gillian Zoe Segal or buy her book new book, Getting There: A Book of Mentors, which contains many, many more fascinating stories of success.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily of the radio show. Interviewee is not a representative of the radio show. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by the radio show.
Steve Pomeranz: The path to success is rarely easy or direct and so many who have reached considerable heights have begun their lives in challenging conditions. Some lived in their car on $2.50 a day. Others were terrified of public speaking or another’s brother committed suicide at age 23 when he was only 21. This new book by Gillian Zoe Segal brings to light the human side of their success and gives us all some insight into how each of them succeeded at getting there. And that’s the name of her book, Getting There: A Book of Mentors. Let’s welcome Gillian to our show. Hi, Gillian, welcome.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Steve Pomeranz: So it’s a wonderful book. I recommend it to my listeners. The pictures are beautiful and the stories are very, very human depictions of what these people went through to reach their success. Let’s start out with some of your favorites. Tell us a story about one of your favorite interviews.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, I think you cannot have Warren Buffett in your book and not have him as your favorite. He’s just such an incredible person. So when somebody asks me that question, I always just think of him. He’s someone who is really where he is because he deserves it. And the more time you spend with him, the more you realize that. I think people, a lot of times people want to chip away at him or find a little chink in his armor, but I haven’t found one yet.
Steve Pomeranz: When you say deserve it, what do you mean?
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, he has a wealth of money and a wealth of wisdom. He taught me so many things and I think you can’t meet him and not have it change your life in a way. And he also is such an incredible communicator, but the way he phrases things, even if you might have heard something similar before, it really sort of hits home in a way that it doesn’t if somebody else said it.
Steve Pomeranz: it’s almost like a musical talent, even though he swears he has no musical talent whatsoever.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Yes.
Steve Pomeranz: But the way he phrases things, it’s true. He seems to get everything just…he nails them on the head. What are some of the things that he said during your interview that you wrote in the book that really has stuck with you?
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, one of the things that he told me, he taught me that you can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow.
Steve Pomeranz: What does that mean?
Gillian Zoe Segal: Yeah, it sounds funny, right? This is a piece of advice he received from a friend of his about 50 years ago, and he said it’s still one of the best pieces of advice he’s ever received. And I have to say it’s probably the piece of advice in getting there that I have passed on the most frequently. And what it means is really don’t spout off in a moment of anger. If you do that, you might do something you regret. So, Buffett says to hold on, wait for a day, and then you could tell them to go to hell tomorrow. You have not lost the opportunity.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s right. You always have that opportunity the next day to say what you want, but just wait a day. Let it cool down. It reminds me of a story of Abraham Lincoln who used to write a lot of letters to congressmen and to others. But most of them, he didn’t mail. He would just put in a drawer and then forget about them, but it was this idea that he had the thought, he wrote the letter, but it didn’t necessarily make any sense for him to actually act upon it. I think this is somewhat in a similar vein. What else did Warren say about the way he thinks about his own life that caught your attention?
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, one thing that I thought was really interesting is that he also told me that the people you choose to associate with matters. So if you surround yourself with people who are better than you are, you’re going to end up behaving more like them and they in turn sort of will get it back from you. He says it’s like a planetary system. But if you hang out with people who behave worse than you, you pretty soon will start being pulled in that direction. And so, Warren, he really has an incredible group of friends. I think he lives by this, and I’m happiest when I go to his meetings or to his events because, no matter who you talk to at one of those, you know it’s going to be a pretty good quality person.
Steve Pomeranz: Absolutely. Talking about hanging out with people that are better than you or worse than you. One of the interviews in the book was with J. Craig Venter, and he was the inventor of being able to decipher the human genome. And he said in his story that he hung out with bikers early in his life. Tell us about that.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, he’s a good example of somebody who had an unexpected, for what he turned out to be. He was the first person to sequence the human genome and he’s an incredible scientist and an incredible entrepreneur. But his history is pretty surprising knowing who he is now. So I think that he’s someone who made a huge change in his life from those beginnings. And that’s inspiring to know because you don’t have to be born a certain way. You can evolve.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, he mentioned in his story that he barely passed high school. He got a D+ only because they actually gave him an extra test because he says, “I don’t think they really wanted to see my face anymore.” So in order to get me out of there, they let him take a test. But even Bloomberg, who you interviewed said he was a straight C student. So there seems to be a theme there that maybe it’s not only about the grades, maybe these people succeeded for other reasons. What do you take away from that?
Gillian Zoe Segal: Definitely. I think that the most common thread between my subjects is determination and resilience. They all have that. And I sort of imagine it like life is a game of whack-a-mole. You know that carnival game with the moles?
Steve Pomeranz: Sure, yeah, you hit the mole down and another one pops up.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Exactly. They keep popping their heads up and your job is to whack them over the head. And I think life whacks us all over the head from time to time. I certainly saw that in my book. It can whack people in huge ways and it can whack people in small ways, in personal ways or ways that have to do with your business. And I think that everybody in my book is where they are today because they are super resilient and determined. And I think that the fact that a lot of them didn’t do so well in school didn’t get in their way because they really had a lot of resilience and determination.
Steve Pomeranz: One of the interviews was Matthew Weiner, who is the creator of Mad Men. And I’ll tell you from all the stories that I’ve read, I’ve never seen someone who really lost so much, who was unsuccessful to the degree to which he was unsuccessful. Tell us about that.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Yeah. Well, Matthew Weiner, his TV show Mad Men, it took seven years from the time he wrote it till the time it finally made it on the screen. And during that time, it was rejected and rejected and rejected. He used to carry it around on him in case he ran into someone else who he hadn’t pitched it to who could maybe be helpful. But that’s not the only rejection he received in his life. Earlier in his career when he graduated from USC Film School, he couldn’t get a job and then he couldn’t even get a meeting with an agent to help him get a job. So he spent three years writing spec scripts from home, which sort of evolved into him watching TV all day and lying to his wife about it. And eventually, he describes how he eventually got out of that rut and got on the track that he’s on now.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, one of the statements that he made, which really got my attention because he had to work as a waiter. You have to have a job, you have to live. If you’re in the creative industry and you haven’t succeeded, he says “Get a second job, of course. But don’t get too good at it. Don’t become an expert in that second job.” Right.
Gillian Zoe Segal: I think that kind of goes back to the resilience. If you’re going to be successful at something you can’t give up. So you have to live in the real world. You have to have another job. But I think you wouldn’t want somebody to get defeated by the whacks life gives you and give up on his or her dream.
Steve Pomeranz: In the book, there is an interview with Ian Schrager who opened Studio 54, that incredibly famous nightclub, in New York City and you talk about life, him making mistakes and getting whacked. I mean he went to prison, didn’t he?
Gillian Zoe Segal: He did. He opened Studio 54 and it became wildly successful and he was pretty young and he sort of got intoxicated by that success. And thought that the rules wouldn’t apply to him and he didn’t pay his income taxes and got sent to prison for 13 months and he lost everything. He was close to $2 million in debt when he came out. But he was eventually able to reinvent himself as a real estate developer and a hotelier. Well, first of all, the whole episode set him back 10 years. So it wasn’t just like he got out of prison and within a year, he was doing the hotel business. It took him 10 years to get back to where he left off. But he says there’s very little in life that you can’t recover from. And he thinks he’s proof that the prison system works. And he also talks about that same theme. That he says that in the end, there’s little that separates people. Those who really want success the most and are relentless about pursuing it are the ones who get it.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, because I think that if you read it, it’s sort of like having each subject talk to you like a mentor would. They give practical advice, they open up about their own experiences, they share whatever wisdom they have and it’s sort of like having a virtual mentor. That’s why.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Gillian Zoe Segal. She is the author of the book, again, the book is Getting There: A Book of Mentors. One aspect of the book that struck me was the humaneness or the humanness of the interviews. It was as if I was having a beer with them or a glass of wine and we were very relaxed and just sitting around. And so I applaud you on being able to get these kinds of people to that stage because they are on the public stage a lot, and I’m sure many of them have a public face and a private face. You really feel like you’re listening to them in a private conversation. I was impressed with your interview with Bloomberg because he again did not start from any kind of advantage position and wasn’t a great student. I think he said he was a straight C student. Take us through his life a little bit.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, he didn’t do well in school in the beginning, but then I think when it was time to apply to business school, he took a double course load and really set his mind to it and got A’s. But this was when he was already in college. But he started off by getting a job at Solomon Brothers and he loved that job and he was doing really well at it. But the thing is after 15 years, they fired him and if it happens to him, it can happen to anyone, right. So what happened is nobody came rushing to give him another job, so he decided to start his own business and that’s how his company, Bloomberg was born.
Steve Pomeranz: But he was incredibly tenacious. I mean, even taking it back before then, he would be the one to get into the office the earliest. He would leave the latest and he even said, and this is for salespeople all around the world to listen to this. He would say that CEOs who were good CEOs were in before everyone else and you could usually get them on the phone directly and you didn’t have to go through their gatekeepers. So he was thinking about that. Also, tell us the story about him roaming the halls with coffee and tea.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, first of all, he’s an example of the fact that it doesn’t just magically happen. This guy worked harder, the stories that he told gave the phrase working hard, a new meaning. Even after he was fired from Solomon Brothers, he said he still made sure to work six days a week from as early in the morning as he could until as late as he could. He was even looking for new office space for himself because he had gotten fired and he told the broker that he could only look on the weekend because he didn’t want anyone to ever say that he didn’t work 110%. He had an ego problem with that and I think that’s the kind of ethic that got him re-elected as mayor of New York City for three consecutive terms.
Steve Pomeranz: Right.
Gillian Zoe Segal: But when he was starting out, he wanted feedback on his new company. So he would show up at the coffee shop across from Merrill Lynch’s headquarters at six in the morning. Get a little tray with two coffees and two teas. One with milk, one without milk. And he would roam the halls and look for someone sitting alone reading their newspaper. And when he found someone, he would pop his head in with his tray of drinks and say, “Hi, I brought you a coffee. Can I bend your ear?” And he figured no one was going to kick him out if he brought them coffee. If someone said they didn’t drink coffee, he would say, “Well, then I have tea.” So that’s how determined he was, but I love that image of, you can’t think that you’re above anything when you’re starting your own business.
Steve Pomeranz: Earlier in the show, I mentioned this individual who had it very tough at the beginning as his brother committed suicide at age 23. He was 21 and he went into a tailspin. I was speaking about Anderson Cooper who came from a very privileged family. He came from the Vanderbilt family. What can you tell me about things that he said?
Gillian Zoe Segal: Well, first of all, yeah, Anderson Cooper is someone when people see his name in my book, they say, oh, he couldn’t have had a hard time. He’s from the Vanderbilt family, which is a very wealthy family and it’s true. His mother is Gloria Vanderbilt, but [inaudible 00:15:13] starts, “My father died during heart bypass surgery when I was 10 years old. And when I was 21, my 23-year-old brother committed suicide. He’d jumped off the terrace of our family’s penthouse apartment as my mother pleaded for him to stay put.” So he definitely, he describes the tough time he had after that. And how that affected him. And then when he graduated from college, he wanted to be a foreign news correspondent, but he couldn’t even get an entry-level job at any of the major networks. So he ended up working at an agency that produced youth-oriented news programs for high schools, and he taught me something really interesting.
He said that when you work at a company, people there tend to pigeonhole you in whatever role you happen to be in. And if you don’t want to be in that role, you have to make your own opportunities. You have to do things for yourself. So he says that sometimes you have to do something drastic to change people’s perception of you. And what he did to launch his career was he quit his job, he went overseas to shoot stories by himself. He lived in roach-infested cheap, cheap hotels, and he shot the stories that were as interesting and as dangerous as possible. Then he sold them back to this youth-oriented news company for such a low price that it was hard for them to refuse. And that is how he became the person we know him to be.
Steve Pomeranz: So it’s differentiation. It’s breaking out from the pack in order to reach that separate level of success. That’s what it takes. And we’re talking the full range, and we’re not only talking about monetary success because I mean, obviously, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, are all billionaires. But we’re talking about others who have made contributions in science, entertainment, and other areas as well. The book is Getting There: A Book of Mentors. My guest is Gillian Zoe Segal, the author, and I highly recommend it. And if you read it for yourself, buy it for your kids, buy it for your grandkids. I think it will really make a difference in their life. Gillian, thank you so much for joining us.
Gillian Zoe Segal: Thank you so much for having me.