My five hours with Trump

A life­time of learn­ing has changed Shaun Con­roy’s lead­er­ship cri­te­ria since a chance meet­ing with Don­ald Trump years ago

Weekend Herald - - CAREERS -

don’t get in the news­pa­per very of­ten, so on the odd oc­ca­sion the story i s about me and not my busi­ness it gives me pause for thought.

Late last year I changed jobs and it was re­ported in the Ca­reers sec­tion of the news­pa­per. I gar­nered a small pic­ture and a cou­ple of col­umn cen­time­tres to the right of Nel­son Mandela and a huge pic­ture of Don­ald Trump.

I was pretty chuffed but, in re­al­ity, very few peo­ple prob­a­bly saw past the pic­ture of Don­ald Trump.

Above Don­ald Trump, the ti­tle of the ar­ti­cle is “The mea­sure of true lead­er­ship” and the story got me think­ing about my own lead­er­ship jour­ney and the day I spent five hours with Don­ald Trump.

Lead­er­ship style is an in­tensely per­sonal choice, formed through years of ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing suc­cesses, mak­ing mis­takes and re­ceiv­ing feed­back. I landed on five things I wanted to em­body in my lead­er­ship style:

One, I wanted to be “Au­then­tic” to my­self, to my per­sonal style and my ideals.

Two, I worked hard to be “Hum­ble”. It i s easy to let the ego lead, but be­ing hum­ble i s a strong Kiwi value and I think it is a pow­er­ful lead­er­ship tool.

Three I wanted to be “Ap­proach­able”. Lead­er­ship, I be­lieve, is about in­flu­ence and not hi­er­ar­chy. If you are not ap­proach­able you sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mine your abil­ity to in­flu­ence, ex­e­cute and de­liver re­sults.

Four, I wanted to re­ally learn how to “Lis­ten”. I found num­ber four re­ally hard!

And five, I wanted to truly “Em­power” my staff. Em­pow­er­ment means both trust­ing and hold­ing peo­ple to ac­count.

While they look easy, em­ploy­ing all of these things in uni­son is dif­fi­cult. At times they feel mu­tu­ally exclusive.

Two things are ob­vi­ous; I am not a man­age­ment guru and this may not seem like a hugely am­bi­tious list. But I am thank­ful that lead­er­ship i s a jour­ney and I am still on mine. Once I mas­ter these, I might tackle some­thing more am­bi­tious.

So what did I learn from Don­ald Trump?

Many years ago I flew from Tokyo to Hong Kong to go to the Hong Kong Sev­ens rugby tour­na­ment. I had never flown first class be­fore so I saved up all my mileage and booked a seat at the front of the plane. It is the sort of thing you do when you are young, and seemed like a good idea at the time.

The plane was de­layed a few min­utes pend­ing the board­ing of the last pas­sen­ger, and it was Don­ald Trump, who sat down right be­side me. I had just read his book The Art of the Deal and we struck up a con­ver­sa­tion. For the next five hours I had an in­tense and exclusive chat with the fu­ture Pres­i­dent of the United States.

At times it was more like 90 ques­tions or an in­ter­ro­ga­tion on his part, but we spoke for the bet­ter part of five hours. “Do you speak Ja­panese?”, “Do you write it?”, “How many char­ac­ters?” and on it went.

I wanted to know what mo­ti­vated the guy and un­der­stand how he achieved what he had. This was a long time be­fore he was can­di­date Trump or Pres­i­dent Trump and not a lot was known about him out­side of his book.

Look­ing back, it is in­ter­est­ing to look at this ex­change and mea­sure it against my lead­er­ship cri­te­ria now. I think I failed my AHA test. Au­then­tic, Hum­ble, Ap­proach­able were not val­ues I was “liv­ing” at the time.

I liked to think that fly­ing first class on mileage was a case of “fak­ing it un­til you make it”. Maybe so, but 25- year- old self wasn’t au­then­tic and cer­tainly wasn’t hum­ble. Telling Don­ald Trump I had a bit of real es­tate ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause I had rented my first two apart­ments was also a bit of a stretch. But hey, he might have of­fered me a job. In fact he did. He wrote his tele­phone num­ber down on a nap­kin* and said if I could do a deal on a build­ing he was look­ing at he would give me a mil­lion dol­lars.

It was a very in­ter­est­ing five hours. But, the most thought- pro­vok­ing part • “Have I ever bought an airline? Here, read this re­port, this one is for sale.” • The time he went to New Zealand to sup­port a bid for the Auck­land Casino li­cence. • His su­pery­acht, which he had sold a cou­ple of years be­fore and I saw in Hong Kong. He said he only ever went on it a cou­ple of times. • Buy­ing the prop­erty in Tokyo, the burnt- out shell of the Ho­tel New Ja­pan. • New York be­ing the best place in the world to be in real es­tate. of this con­ver­sa­tion for me is the per­son I as­pired to be that day is to­tally at odds with where my lead­er­ship jour­ney has taken me to today.

I was lead­ing with my ego, try­ing to be some­one I wasn’t and happy to be ac­cepted on my ap­pear­ances as op­posed to who I re­ally was.

Thank good­ness for ex­pe­ri­ence. If I had a sixth tenet, it would be “Learn”, learn from your ex­pe­ri­ences and be a life­long learner. There is a lot to get your head around and it may take you a life­time to get there. * No, I didn’t use the phone num­ber he wrote down on a nap­kin for me!

Shaun Con­roy is the NZ na­tional chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for lead­ing global ac­count­ing and ad­vi­sory firm BDO.

Pic­ture / Getty Im­ages

Shaun Con­roy spent “a very in­ter­est­ing five hours” with the man who would be­come Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Shaun Con­roy

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