Another year, another book? It certainly seems that way. This week, Jossey-Bass published by latest as part of its prestigious Warren Bennis series: my collaboration with Mort Mandel called It's All About Who You Hire, How They Lead...and Other Essential Advice from a Self-Made Leader. Now leadership books are a dime a dozen, but this one is special--and not because I was involved in its creation.
Over the course of a long career in journalism, I’ve met and interviewed many of this generation’s greatest corporate leaders: Jack Welch, Andy Grove, John Chambers, A.G. Lafley, and Jeff Immelt, among countless others. Then, one day out of the blue, I received a telephone call from a friend who asked me if I had ever heard of Mort Mandel. I had to confess, I hadn’t. But the phone call led to a meeting and then to numerous interviews and the book that came out this week.
Management sage Peter Drucker once put Mort in the company of Andy Grove and Jack Welch. I think he did Mort an injustice. Unlike a Jack Welch, an Andy Grove, or a Lee Iaccoca, whose corporate achievements define their public personas, Mort has lived in two worlds all of his years: the world of profit and the world of social impact. Even as the chairman and CEO of a New York Stock Exchange Company for 34 years, he was spending as much as a third of his time in the social sector. Mort strongly believes that his experience in the social sector made him a better corporate executive, just as he is convinced that what he learned in business made him a more effective social capitalist.
It’s important to note that Mort isn’t an executive who lends his name to the board of a non-profit and shows up occasionally for a meeting or two. Rather, he has been a true social entrepreneur, with his time and his money, founding, either alone or with others, more than a dozen non-profit organizations, mostly serving the general community. They’ve worked to improve the quality of professional leadership in the social sector, to rehabilitate the inner cities, and to revitalize Jewish education around the world.
What makes Mort unusual, if not unique, is his selflessness in pursuing a life of purpose. From his earliest days, he understood that there was much more to a successful life than building wealth—though as a self-made billionaire his is a quintessential rags-to-riches story. Mort understood that a life without meaning, purpose and commitment isn’t a life at all. So he devoted a large share of his time to combat human misery by bringing leadership to social causes.
As a writer, helping Mort tell his remarkable story, it would have been easy for me to lapse into a modern-day version of Horatio Alger. After a childhood spent in the most humble of circumstances, Mort and his two older brothers scraped together $900 in 1940 and went into business as a distributor of auto parts. From a Cleveland storefront on Euclid Avenue, the brothers build Premier Industrial Corp. into a national company that by 1960 went public and in 1964 was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. For 34 out of 36 years, under Mort’s leadership as CEO, and making all major decisions jointly with his brothers, Jack and Joe, Premier reported record earnings and became extremely profitable, selling what many would consider fairly humdrum products—nuts and bolts, circuit breakers, chemicals, lubricating oil, and fire-fighting equipment.