>> Amy Draves: Thank you so much for coming. ... Joe Plumeri to the Microsoft Research Visiting Speaker Series. ...

>> Amy Draves: Thank you so much for coming. I am Amy Draves and I am happy to welcome
Joe Plumeri to the Microsoft Research Visiting Speaker Series. He's here to discuss his book The
Power of Being Yourself. He'll be offering simple guidance on how to stay positive, motivate
yourself and others to achieve success in both life and work. Joe began his career with the
company that would eventually become Citigroup. He has been chairman and CEO of Willis
Group and now serves as Vice Chairman of The First Data Corporation. He is co-owner of both
the Yankees double-A minor team and the Phillies single-A affiliate and is recognized for
delivering one of the best commencement speeches ever by NPR for his 2011 William and Mary
commencement address. We are throwing down the gauntlet a little bit. We've got high
expectations. Please join me in giving, little pressure, just little. Please join me in giving him a
very warm welcome. [applause]
>> Joe Plumeri: Thank you. Nobody holds it against me that I'm affiliated with the Yankees,
right? When they do that sometimes it turns people off. How are you doing? Good? I
appreciate everybody coming out. I want to chat about the book. I'll tell you some stories that
are in the book and give you some background behind the stories and maybe have a little fun.
I'm going to give you a sense of why I did this. I'm not a writer. I run businesses. So why did I
do this? A couple of years ago, and you'll read about it in the book and I'll talk to you a little bit.
About six years ago my oldest son passed away and I want to tell you about that relationship. A
couple of years ago my next son ran in the Boston Marathon for my son who passed away and
my son who ran in the Boston Marathon is not a runner, but he trained enough that he wanted
to dedicate his ran to his brother. That happened to be on April 15 which was his brother and
my son's birthday. I go up to Boston with my daughter. There's a picture of it in the book. It
shows me running along. I didn't run that far, just enough to take the picture. I met him at
Wellesley and you can track marathoners because they were a chip and he was very slow and
he was in the back and I'm waiting and waiting and he finally shows up. I found and it was very
interesting. I have never been to a marathon. For those of you who have been to marathons or
are marathoners, I found this very interesting. Once the Ethiopians and all of those guys run by,
which was an hour before everybody else, it's crazy. Then you are you waiting for everybody
else. It blew me away, because I am an emotional person, but then after that were all of the
people in wheelchairs. And then after that were all the runners, but I expected athletes who
just ran and what I found was that most of the people were running for somebody else. They
had, one guy was pushing a wheelchair with his son in it and there was an arrow that said this is
my son. I'm running for my son. And other people with T-shirts on and sweatshirts, you know,
this is for Hal. People were running mostly for other people and not themselves. And I was
kind of moved by all of that. In a day and age where I think we can become more emotional
and more sensitive, you know, about each other, I was just really moved. I expected just go see
a marathon and a bunch of runners run. What I saw was a bunch of people who were running a
marathon not for themselves but for other people and I said, you know, it would be great if the
whole world got up every day on behalf of something else, where somebody else. Would not
be nice? And my son was no different that day because he was running for his brother and he
had his brother's initials on his arm, Christian Joseph Plumeri, CJP. He finally got there and we
took the picture and I was so proud I was crying, which I do often. I said to my daughter let's go
to the finish line and see him cross the finish line. I learned so much that they about human
emotion. So we are standing in front of the Lenox Hotel. It was about five deep and I couldn't
see and I said to my daughter let's get closer to the finish line so we can see him across the
finish line and take a picture. So we moved from the Lenox Hotel closer to the finish line.
There's a big grandstand on the right of the finish line and as soon as we got to the grandstand
a bomb went off and I knew it was a bomb, that it was in a boom. Sometimes you hear these
loud noises and it's a boom, but I knew it was a bomb because I was in the Army and I could
smell the chemicals in a bomb and I grabbed her and went down, which is what I was trained to
do. Even though I was in the Army a long time ago, as soon as I hear one of those things I go
down. Then I started to run toward where we were and a bomb went off exactly where we
were standing, where we had moved from. In the next hour I saw a range of activity and
emotion that I had never seen before in my life. People who had been wounded by the bombs,
that had been hit by the shrapnel of the bomb, people helping each other, which was really
heartwarming. It was just a day that was full of emotion, not only from what I saw in the
runners, but what I had seen people doing that day and helping each other and bonding
together. I tell you that story, and I tell the story in the book more graphically than this,
because it motivated me to rewrite the book. Because I had thought all along that even though
we live in a society that celebrates authenticity, because you hear people say all the time that
person is a real person. We like that and we celebrate it. But then when I see what we actually
do all the time it's different than that. We filter a lot through e-mails. A lot of times I get an email and I don't know what the emotion is on the other side of the e-mail. We send 183 billion
e-mails a day, and I never know when I send one how the other person is feeling when they
read it. I think in a lot of cases it's done and so you are not there when the other person is
reading it, but yet we celebrate authenticity and I don't get that. I get a lot of thank yous by
text, more than I do by somebody giving me a call and saying it was really nice of you to do that,
which I prefer but it's a text. Somebody will say it's better than nothing and I would say I would
prefer a note. When I was CEO of companies I always wrote notes and every time I would go
visit, and they were big companies. They weren't small, and I would spend a lot of time during
the week writing notes saying great job and when I would go visit I would see the notes framed
on somebody's wall or cubicle, but I never saw an e-mail or a text in a frame, never. You just
don't, because it's not the same personality. It's not the same sense of your character and your
sense of congratulating somebody for a job well done. Then you throw in all the extra stuff,
LinkedIn and Instagram and Twitter and what comes out the other end is I don't know it's true
and false. I don't know if it's right or wrong because of all the filtering, but we start with we all
would really like to be authentic. Then I see people on TV who read from teleprompters. I ask
myself today write that or did somebody else write that, and do they really mean what they are
saying? Even though they might be good readers, they're called good speakers and to me a
good speaker is somebody who can talk from the heart and don't really give a speech that give
a conversation because I think that's what we really want and I say I don't know if that's
authentic. I don't know if they really believe what they're saying. And then I see people cry on
television or in person and invariably, unless it's a catastrophe, a wedding, funeral where there
is a licensed cry, invariably somebody starts to cry and they apologize for crying, or they say I
almost lost it. And I say to myself what the heck did you lose? You lose your authenticity, but
yet we celebrate it, but we apologize, at the same time, I don't understand that. That's what I
had in my mind and then when I went through the experience of the Boston Marathon, I'm
really motivated now to put down on a couple pieces of paper how I kind of feel about the
world and use my stories and the things that I've done throughout my life to begin a
conversation about being yourself. Oscar Wilde said this, I didn't say this, Oscar Wilde said be
yourself; everybody else is taken, which I thought was a cool thing to say. When you look at the
book you'll see that it has a mirrored effect, so you can see yourself. If you ever wanted to feel
like you want getting in touch with who you really were, just take a look at the book and you
could see yourself in the mirror. That was really what the thesis of all of this was all about and
it's really been fun connecting as I have been going around talking to people about this and it's
resonating and I'm just going to tell you a few of the stories just to give you a sense of what it's
all about. The stories are not in chapters; they are in principles. And because I didn't want this
book to be the kind of book where you read it and you put it on a shelf, I actually wanted you to
hang around with the book for a while, have it be a reference to you, you know, sort of like a
friend, because there are things that we go through every day and I am very transparent. For a
book that's 200 pages, it took me 2 1/2 years to write it. A couple of them took me a long time
because after I wrote them several times I felt that they were not deep enough and that if I was
going to really have a sense of integrity about what I was doing, I would really have to go deep.
The deeper you go, as you know, the more painful it is, but at least it's a sense of integrity in the
book. One of the principles that you'll find in the book is show me the way to grandma's house.
Let me tell you what that means. We come from different generations, obviously, but
grandma's house is a metaphor for a vision of a place where you want to go. When I was
growing up my father would get us in the car and we would go to grandma's house, and
invariably, my two brothers and I would carry on in the backseat. If you're a parent and you are
taking kids somewhere, they are always going to inevitably ask you, or if you were a child you
remember asking when you went on a long trip, when are we going to get there, because
children are impatient. What parents usually do is in order to have the children endure the trip
or in order to get them to settle down they say look. We're going to go to grandma's house or
wherever we are going and you paint a beautiful vision for where we are going. Grandma's
going to have cake and ice cream and cookies and toys and all the rest of the stuff. The reason
the parent does that is so that the child can enjoy the trip. It's a metaphor, but it's all about
vision and having a vision for yourself. I think it's important to know where you want to go and
if you don't know where you want to go, go find somebody to help you do that because you
can't do what you do every day without understanding that where you're going and what you
do every day are steps towards getting to where you want to go. I think it's important. That's
what in during the trip this, in during your day. It makes it more exciting. And makes it more
lively. You jump out of bed because you got some place to go that you know is important. I
find most people don't have that sense of what I'll call purpose or vision and I talk about that in
the book and I have been guided by that all my life. I tell the story of when I went to law school
in New York Law School in 1968, so I'm dating myself. My last class was over at noon and I had
this vision that I was going to be a great Wall Street lawyer. I was going to be one of the great
Wall Street lawyers of all time. My class was over at noon. New York Law School was not far
from Wall Street, so I said let me go find a job. And I thought that all names of law firms were
three names. I never saw a law firm with one name, so I looked at directories of the buildings
and if it had three names or more I figured it was a law firm. I get to 55 Broad Street and there
is the name of a firm called Carter, Berlind and Wyle. It doesn't say law firm. It just said Carter,
Berlind and Wyle, so I thought it was a law firm. I was 20 something years old. I was a kid. I
didn't know what I was doing. I was full of energy. So I go up to the 35th floor and I said who
can I talk to about a job. I'm going to law school et cetera. She makes a call and says go down
the hall and make a left and ask for Mr. Wyle. I go ask for Mr. Wyle and it turns out to be Sandy
Wyle. For those of you who follow business, he's the guy that created Citigroup, eventually, but
this was in 1968. He says to me why do you want to work here? I said I'm going to law school
in the morning and I'll learn all the academics in the morning and in the afternoon I want to
learn the practical aspects of the law. He said this is a great idea. What makes you think you'll
learn law here. I said it's a law firm. He said no; it's a brokerage firm. So I kind of slink down in
the chair. I'm excited. I envisioned been a great lawyer and all of this kind of stuff. And I start
to leave. He says no. I like your moxie. He says I'll hire you. Come after school. We'll put you
to work. He takes me down to the office manager and the place is packed. It's a small firm.
The guy says I don't have any place to put him. He says take the door off the closet. Put a desk
in there. So half the desk is inside closet and half the desk is in the hall, and that's your office.
And they gave me like go get coffee for people, write a benefits policy, buy the furniture, stuff.
So I would come in every day and do stuff and I was a kid sitting in the hall. You couldn't avoid
me because I was in the hall. After a while you get familiar. They would hit in the back of the
head and call me Joey baby. And by the time I went home my head really hurt. My mom would
say to me how is your job? I said my head hurts. This was in 1968. For those of you who follow
the financial world, that company became Shearson Lehman Brothers in 1990, and that
company became Citigroup in 1998. In 1990 I was the president of Shearson Lehman Brothers.
If you ever see anybody sitting in a closet or half of them is in the closet and half of them is in
the hallway and you hit him in the back of the head, don't do that, because, they may turn out
to have a terrific jurisdiction over your compensation in the future. I remember in 1990 when I
became president of Shearson Lehman Brothers, and we were bigger than Merrill Lynch in
1990, I remembered every one of those people they have in the back of the head. Great story, I
tell more about it in the book. What's it about? It's about engaging. It's about getting out and
doing things. We're in a world where we communicate a lot technologically. I mean I'm
standing in a world where possibilities were created because somebody had a vision.
Somebody had a vision. Bill Gates had a vision and that's what we're doing is we're standing
here and I think that kind of vision and it's important today that we engage more. I tell you that
story that I don't know that I would be standing here if I hadn't had the ability to have the vision
for myself or had gone and knocked on a door the way I did. It's a cool principle to have
because it keeps reminding you every day what's your vision and what are you doing to engage
with that vision. There's another principle in the book that talks about your heart being a
Teleprompter. One day I was going to give a speech at the Georgia Dome and I had never in my
whole life ever spoken and I have given thousands if not hundreds of thousands of speeches,
and never used a note, ever, because I feel if I don't know what I'm talking about and I don't
feel it, then I shouldn't be doing it. I show up at the Georgia Dome and the guy who mics you
up and works everything out for you with your Teleprompter, he says give me your speech and
I'll put it on the Teleprompter. I said I don't have a speech. I said I got my own Teleprompter.
You said to me I don't see it; where's your Teleprompter. Is it in your pocket, the world's
smallest Teleprompter? I said no, my Teleprompter is my heart. I say what I feel and that's the
way I roll, and I use that story metaphorically because we live in a society today, at least to start
the discussion, about whether we really make decisions because of our heart where we make
decisions because the poll says we should make the decision, or survey says we ought to make
a decision, or consensus says we ought to make a decision. I really don't know politically how
people feel anymore because they have to be able to filter it through some sort of consensus
mechanism. God knows I was a public company CEO for a long time and the world has changed
to a point where boards have gotten very risk-averse and you're afraid to make a move even
though your heart tells you, but the consensus tells you that you can't. If we become a world or
a country where we are risk-averse, and I think about one of the reasons how we got here.
We're sitting in a place that was a risk to take to begin this whole revolution. What's happened
to our culture in doing so? I tell a couple of stories in the book that are kind of cool and there
are more as well, but I'll tell you a couple. In 2000 when I became the CEO of Willis, I was a bad
company. It didn't make any money. It had no energy. It had no vision. It was a British
company and I was the first non-British chairman of this company in 200 years. And not only
was I the first non-British person to be chairman of this company, it was me, meaning I wasn't
like your normal cut version where you go to Actors Equity and say give me a CEO looking
person. They thought Fonzie came to run this company. The first thing you do when you go to
a bad company is you check everything out because there's a reason that they're bad. So you
want to see everything. You want to see the processes; you want to see everything. One of the
things I wanted to see was the benefits policy. This was in 2000. One of the things that I saw in
the benefits policy is that it didn't give benefits to domestic partners. I thought that was not
cool. Again, it was just me. This was 2000. It's politically correct now that every company, they
even advertise it, that gives assets to domestic partners. But in 2000 it wasn't a subject that
anybody thought about and I said that's not right. That's not cool. I think this company should
be different and do what's right, so I changed the policy. It turns out that years later we had an
employee by the name of Brian Yeary at Willis who after they changed the law in the state of
New York to allow for same-sex marriage that he and his partner get married and they invite
me to the wedding. The wedding is at the Four Seasons in New York. There's 700 people. I
don't know, this was in 2011, something like that. After I had changed this in 2000 I never
thought anything of it. I just thought it was the right thing to do because my heart told me it
was the right thing to do. So Brian Yeary gets up in front of 700 people and he says I want to
thank Joe Plumeri. I'm standing in the audience and when you don't think you are supposed to
be called out, you think it's a mistake, I turn around and I'm thinking there must be another Joe
Plumeri in the room. I turned around, and he says the reason I want to thank Joe Plumeri is
because I was living in Atlanta and I wanted to move to New York because I had found
somebody I wanted to be with, but I was looking for an insurance brokerage firm that gave
benefits to domestic partners, and the only one in New York City was Willis, so that's the reason
I came to Willis, so I want to thank Joe Plumeri for changing the benefits at Willis back in 2000.
I had no idea that that's the reason he was there. I had no reason to understand that that's the
whole purpose of the way they got together. It's just because my heart told me to do that.
Today, the world is a little bit different. People do things. I'm not sure if it's because of their
heart. It might turn out to be the right thing to do, but they do it because you get pushed that
way. In this particular case there was no pushing; I simply did it and so it's a wonderful story to
begin to think about whether you are doing things are making decisions because your heart
tells you that or whether you shouldn't. The forward is written by Joe Califano, which is a name
that you probably are not familiar with and it doesn't mean anything to you. But for those of
you who used to smoke and don't smoke now or you wonder in the world why the world
doesn't smoke anymore, you have to ask yourself who started all of this? If you watch
television, you watch Mad Men or one of those things from the '50s, everybody smoked. It's
just what he did; you smoked. If you ever asked yourself question who was the person that
started this movement of no smoking. Everything start someplace and I was always curious
about how this stuff starts. Joe Califano, who is my good friend, by the way, was the domestic
advisor to President Johnson and basically wrote The Great Society in 1963, '64 where
Medicare and Medicaid came from. Then in 1978, he was the Secretary of Health Education
and Welfare under Carter. On his own, without asking Carter, because he thought it was the
right thing to do he banned smoking from federal buildings and he also banned smoking on
airlines. He just decreed it. He didn't go ask Carter, can I do this. He just did it knowing full
well that the outcry would be incredible and that people would obviously want his head and
that he was going to get fired. He didn't care, and he did it. Obviously, Carter called him into
his office and he tells me this story because we are good friends. Carter calls him into his office
and basically, and he gets Ted Kennedy in to give him a little reinforcement, and he fires him.
After he gets fired he says he wants to dedicate his life to the whole discussion about smoking
and he calls a slow-motion suicide and started there and if you ever asked yourself the question
how did it ever happen that you don't even smoke in pubs in Ireland anymore. Who started it
all? You would never have believed that that would be the case. That's where it started. Here
was a guy who, I'm not sure in this day and age, that somebody would do something like that
and get fired. They probably would not because they don't want to get fired. We are not in a
world like that anymore. I think we lessen ourselves because there are less Califanos around
then there should be because I wonder how many people who want to do something don't
because they worry about their job or they worry about that it's not what consensus tells them
that they ought to do, and I think as a society we are less because of it. When you say your
heart is your Teleprompter, again, it's because you should express yourself in the way you
should be and I think it's a cool principle as well. There's a principal in there that took me the
longest to write, but I start at the end and if it helps somebody, one person, then it was worth
it. It's called but sadness teach you and it's a relationship I had with my son who passed away
six years ago. When my son was 13 years old he was anorexic. It's very unusual for boys to be
anorexic. It usually happens mostly with women in terms of self-image and self-esteem, but he
got very thin, around 89 pounds when he was 13 years old. I was so concentrated on my career
and I was so obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder, I didn't even see. I thought my son
was getting thin, but how dumb could you be? You see a kid 89 pounds and then one night I
saw that his toes were blue and you would think you should be so close to your children that
you wouldn't even let it get that far, but I did because I had other things on my mind. And my
priorities were all screwed up. They weren't right. That self-esteem disease which was
corrected in terms of the anorexia, but was not corrected psychologically and he became a drug
addict. As a parent I did all of the things that I was supposed to do cosmetically. Find the right
schools to send them to, as a matter fact, I'm so familiar with this area. There's an island off
the coast called Anacortes. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but there's a school there for
drug rehab. The only way you can get out there is to get in a boat and all of the psychologists,
who were terrific, have beards and look like lumberjacks. They scare the hell out of me. If I was
on drugs I would be scared of these guys. But they were crafted well-educated psychologists. I
tried everything. I had to go get on a boat to get out there and he couldn't get off unless he
was on a boat and I did everything I could, but all the schools I sent him to and everything that I
did, the one thing I didn't do was take the time to get closer to him. That was the big mistake
that I made, was I simply didn't do the things that I should humanly do. He went to jail. I was
on the board of American Express at the time. What he decided to do was become a part of a
ring that made fraudulent credit cards and passing bad credit cards just because I was on the
board of American Express to get my attention. I was still stupid enough not to understand
what he was doing and he was saying I don't need school. What I really need is my father. I
was so obsessed with other things I just didn't recognize it. He goes to jail and you'll read about
it in the book. I visited every weekend, so I thought the physical visiting of going to see him was
good enough, when it was the quality of the visit that I should have been worrying about. I
remember the next of the last visit he was going to get out of jail and I said what you want to
do. He said I think I want to be a cook, a chef. I said why? He said because I work in the
kitchen, but he wanted to go to chef school. I don't know what chef school I'm going to get you
into. You are a convicted felon. You don't have a degree in anything and how my going to do
this? But I'm a person who thinks in possibilities. You can do anything. I took him to the
Culinary Institute of America and I tell the story in the book. I'm doing it shorthand now and
when I take him there after he gets out of jail and I took him because I still want to try. I see a
portrait of a guy I think I recognize and it was the chairman of American Express who was my
boss. I couldn't believe his picture was on a wall at the Culinary Institute and I asked the
admissions director, who's that guy, just to make sure. And he says it's Jim Robinson, chairman
of American Express. I say thank you God, thank you, thank you. It just goes to show you, you
got to give it a shot. You got to try anything and think about possibilities and not that it can't be
done. I have never been one of those guys. So that Monday I went to see him and he didn't
know anything about my son. I kept this secret. I didn't want anybody to know about it and
everything. So I told him; I said he's a convicted felon. I really need your help to get him in to
the Culinary Institute. Two weeks later I got a letter; he got in. And the reason I tell you that
side story is because I wonder how many CEOs today would take a chance of doing something
like that because of activists, investors and everybody having a spotlight on what you do. To
take a chance, they'll lie to their own Institute and say let the kid in when his only experience at
a restaurant, because they give you an application, give me all of your experience at a
restaurant. And I made up restaurants, friends that own restaurants that would attest to the
fact that he worked in a restaurant, when he worked in jail, peeling potatoes. So I told that
story and we had the book party a couple of weeks ago in New York City. He was standing right
there and I wondered how many people, again, would do that for somebody, because if it was
known that he did that it wouldn't have been cool. When he got out he graduated and I
thought we had it licked. But the end of the story is he passed away. The whole story is in the
book, but the message I want to give you is that this is a story about me and my son because if
somebody reads the book and one son, one daughter, one mother, one father, a person that's
close to another person is saved from going through what I went through, which is the worst
thing that can happen to you, then I'm glad I did it. Heart wrenching as it is, I totally expose
myself. I don't care if it helps somebody. It has to do with neglect. Don't neglect your family.
Don't neglect your children. Don't neglect your friends. Don't be the one that says I always
wanted call. I was trying. I've been meaning to call and I didn't get to it. The pain of regret is a
terrible feeling. There are two feelings that you have in life. There's the pain of discipline and
the pain of regret. When you think about the two and you close your eyes, virtually, pain of
discipline is short lasting and it's something that doesn't linger. Pain of regret never goes away
and it's much more painful. I don't want you to have that regret, whether it's about children or
relatives or friends, you shouldn't experience that. It's the same thing in business. If you
neglect your customers you're going to find that they'll leave you. That's what that principle is
about and that's why I said let sadness teach you and that's why I'm trying to tell you all. The
next to the last principle that I'll talk to you about, I've been a CEO for a lot of companies. I've
been a CEO for 20 some odd years and in 2008, I made one of the most disastrous acquisitions I
ever made. I thought everything I did was great. But in 2008 I didn't know the world is going to
fall apart. I bought this company for $2 billion when I was chairman and CEO of Willis group. I
write about it in the book, but between June when I announced the acquisition and October
when the closing was going to take place the world fell apart in between. The timing was
terrible. It couldn't have been worse. I did the closing in October, but I did it with lots of
unstable credit because you do it, and not to get too technical, but you do it with a bridge loan.
That's when a bank says I'll give you the loan to bridge your to get the permanent financing
later on. The bridge collapsed because the credit markets closed, so I did the closing but I had
no bridge. It was the Indiana Jones bridge across the mountain that was wobbly. After that in
November my son died, so I had back-to-back adversity going on. There was a choice of digging
a hole or doing something about the adversity that I was facing. I've always been a believer
that you got fear. You attack the fear. They become your limitations if you don't attack them
all your life, and so I attacked them head-on. I wound up having five offices at this other
company had in Chicago and two of my own, so I had seven offices. What you want to do,
culturally you want everybody under one roof, so you have one company not several. And then
secondly, you want to have synergistically the economics of one space and save a lot of money.
I asked my real estate people, and this was 2009 now, what building has the most space in
Chicago. They said the Sears Tower has the most space and the reason is because when the
leases came due everybody wanted to get out of there because they thought that was the next
place that the terrorists were going to attack, because it was the tallest building in the Western
Hemisphere. It was like under 70 percent occupied. Not only was it a lot of space, I thought it
had some wiggle room, some negotiating room. I've always been a believer that when you
have status quo in life things don't move and if things don't move people to make decisions that
are different than -- they're happy. They're content. But when there's upset, that's when
things move. People will listen to you. People will pay attention because maybe there's a
better way because things are not great. I said to my real estate guy, let me talk to the owner
of the building. His name is Joe Moynyon; I know the guy. It's in the book. I said to them I'm
looking for 250,000 square feet in the building. He says I have 250,000. I said I know you have
250,000. He says how much would you like to pay. I said I don't want to insult you. Tell me
what you would like. He said $35 is the average, but I could probably make a good deal for you.
I knew that the worst thing in the world is to have real estate with nobody paying rent. With
the world falling apart, the credit markets are closed. It's like who are you kidding? He says will
what would you like to pay. I said I don't want to insult you. He said no. What would you like
to pay? I said I don't want to insult you. He said please. Tell me what you would like to pay. I
said $10. He said you insult me. So I start to walk away and he says $20. So I said to myself if I
keep walking I get this thing down to nothing. Finally, we negotiate $14.50 a square foot.
Anybody that knows anything about real estate, that's '50s prices, especially, maybe '40s,
especially for a building like that. This was like the 18th and 19th floor. So get this straight.
This was not the penthouse. This was 18th and 19th floor. At $14.50 a square foot he says do
we have a deal. I said not exactly. He said what you want now. I've given you a great price. I
said you know, the problem with this building is the name. Here's Sears. Understand
something, Sears hasn't been in the building since 1993. They weren't even in the building.
They left the building. Elvis left the building. They just had the name on it but there were no
ties to Sears. I said that name, people, connote that name with terrorist attacks. You've got to
change the name of the building to a dynamic, positive forward-looking name. He said what
name is that? I said Willis, of course. Nobody knew, by the way, Willis other than that little kid
on television. What's up Willis? Remember that? Because it was a British company, I was
trying to establish a greater foothold in North America. It's funny because it's you're from
Chicago or if you paid any attention and sometimes as I go around, everyone hated me in
Chicago. The world falling apart, no jobs, 20 percent unemployment. I didn't matter. They
hated me because of changing the name of the Sears Tower to Willis. I even told that once.
Have some fun and call it the big Willie, and on the front page of the Sun Times they said Joe
said call it the big Willie. I didn't know in London that had a different connotation, but that was
another story. He comes to me the next day any says okay. I'll do it but you got to give me a
million dollars a year naming rights for the change of name. Everything that's happened up to
now has been no, no, no. He says green; I blue or whatever. I said that's good. I'll do that. He
said then do we have a deal? I said not exactly. He said what you want now? I said I'll tell you
what. You are not my client. I'll give you a million dollars if you give me a million dollars worth
of business because you've got to buy insurance from somebody. We get the deal done and it's
in the lease that he's got to give me a million dollars worth of business or the less he gives me
of the million it's prorated down in terms of the naming rights that I give him. It was an historic
deal, really great. In fact, this is a side story. Nobody knew me and I wanted to change the
perception of how they hated me in Chicago, so I go on a radio show and this was the most
famous radio show in Chicago, Frick and Frack, whatever was, and they said we have the
chairman of the Willis group who has now changed the name of our beloved Sears Tower direct
from London, the chairman of Willis and we're on the radio. He presumed I was in London. He
presumed I was British. He said, Mr. Plumeri, thank you for joining us today. I said how you
doing? He said you don't sound British. I said I'm not. I'm from New Jersey and I'm in New
York now. I'm not in London, so you've got it all wrong here. You could feel the air come out of
the balloons. We dedicate the building and what was cool is that night we dedicated the
building I was on the evening news with Brian Williams and he said to me I've got to ask you.
All the time that this building has been named Sears, how do you come along and you change
the name of the building just like that? What did you do? I said I asked. I said if you
understand that your core belief is that anything is possible and you're sitting in a place where
somebody believes that anything is possible, then you're going to ask. And how many times do
we live our life every day when we don't think of the possibilities? I think of the difference
between the way the world used to be and the sense of people believing in possibilities has
dwindled. I want people to believe that anything is possible again. I want people to get up in
the morning and say I can do anything. I can make things happen. I think that things are
possible. I want to widen people's understanding of what possibilities are and that's the reason
that building's named the Willis Tower today and will be named for years and years to come,
only because I asked and it was adversity which drove me to want to do something that under
other circumstances maybe I would not have done. Obviously, when I look at that, when I on
television, I think of that might tell people all the time just think of possibilities. By the way, I
was right as it turned out, for the wrong reasons, because I just told them everything would be
great if you change the name. About a year later United Airlines moved 2200 people and the
building and then the year after that United Airlines and Continental Airlines merged and made
the largest airlines in the world, so the headquarters of the largest airline in the world is the
Willis Tower, all because I asked. I want people to be themselves. I like people who get
emotional. I like people who if that's the way you are, do what you do, be who you are, go with
the heart, and if we can get a whole bunch of people doing that maybe there's less Baltimores,
there's less Fergusons and things are a little bit nicer than they are today. And so that's what
that's about. I appreciate you very much allowing me to share my heart with you and for
coming today. Thank you. [applause]. Thanks. Do we have time for questions?
>> Amy Draves: Yes. Let's do it.
>> Joe Plumeri: Yes sir.
>>: First of all I would like to thank you. One thing that came out of your talk and hopefully
more out of the book is you come out as a very honest person. There is an honest integrity
which flowed through your speech. You have been as successful as anybody could imagine, and
I'm sure part of your success is because of the principles you believe in. My question is you
have also met other successful people, CEOs and people in different walks of life. Have you
encountered situations where people have been successful and have not been as honest as you
have been or you think they ought to have been? For instance, what we're talking here, what
we heard from you is that one of the key ingredients, I can be mean. I can be cunning and I can
still reach the top.
>> Joe Plumeri: Yeah, I have. I know a lot of very successful people who I wouldn't call, I
wouldn't give out the trophy for integrity, a lot of them. But what made them successful was
not their honesty. It's that they figured out how to be compelling. I think that applies in
anything in life. There's competence and compelling and I think the thing that differentiates
people, in my opinion, is the people who make themselves compelling, who make themselves
so obvious that you have to do business with them. You have to be with them. You have to
buy what they sell, because it's compelling. And all of the people, I think that's a general
category whether you are honest or not. But the people that I have encountered that aren't,
they had the ability to be able to figure out something compelling. Society, when I wound up in
Wall Street that day, every generation, by the way, has its diversity, what they define as
diversity. In 1968 Italians on Wall Street did not become CEOs. They went to the back office.
They were all from Brooklyn and went to the back office. But I made myself so damn
compelling, I mean, I was in everybody's face. I let them hit me in the back of the head in the
middle of an aisle from the closet. I found that everything that I have done is because I don't
care if you think I'm short or Italian or whatever it is, I'm so compelling that you need me. I
think it's not about honesty so much as it is about compelling and in a crazy way they figured
out how to make their product of the company compelling and there at least was integrity in
doing something good. I don't believe in selling. I believe in helping. I think you help people,
you sell, as long as you figure out how to help them and make their life better, then you've got
the sale. And I think it's very important to be the first one to the market. And there's a
principle in the book that talks about that. Yes sir.
>>: I'm sorry I walked in late, so if you covered it, that's okay. To be yourself you need to first
be self-aware of what you are. A lot of us that happened sometime in our time, but over time
we also change, so you have to keep connecting back with yourself. How did that happen with
you? How did you go back and keep connecting with yourself?
>> Joe Plumeri: From my own point of view, I'm 71 years old. I'll be 72 in July. I think that for
me I must have reinvented myself more times than I can count. But I don't mean that I decided
to get up one day and I'm eating breakfast and I say today I'm going to reinvent myself. The
reinventions happen as part of the adventure of life. Because something happens to you,
something happened to my son, I decided that I could either, somebody said to me why don't
you take some time off. I remember that. And I said no. The worst thing that I could do is take
time off and just think about that. I would rather stay engaged and I get even more engaged
than I did before. That was a metamorphosis for me. And so there are plenty of defining
moments. I mean the Chicago story was what are you made of here? Are you going to do this
or are you not going to do this? So I'm reinventing myself as it's going along. The trick is that
when you have those defining moments you know that they are happening. I know a lot of
people who have defining moments, but they don't know that there is a moment going on. You
got to know that there is a moment going on. Then you look back, and I say boy. What a
defining moment that was. What a defining moment that was. When I showed up in Sandy
Wyle's office, that was a defining moment. There's a whole series of these things. If you look
back and you find that you didn't have any, then you are not engaged. You are not doing what
you are supposed to do, but if you look back you're going to find it there were a lot of them;
learn from them. Does that help you? Okay? Yes or.
>>: Thank you for sharing your story which is very compelling. I have a disturbing question for
you, but you asked us to be sincere. You were one of the most influential persons of the
finance industry. What is your analysis of what happened in 2008 and because you are talking
about having the impact on people, about helping people, what about the role of the finance
industry in 2008 and the impact that it had on many, many millions of people in the USA and
>> Joe Plumeri: I don't mind that question at all. I wasn't running a bank then, but I'll tell you
exactly what happened. The banking industry, and I think I'm qualified to say this, forgot what
business it was in. The banking industry that I came from was in the business of taking
deposits, investing the deposits in mortgages and real estate and helping its depositors grow
their businesses. They had to use the money to buy capital markets so that they could sustain
itself while they were doing business. What happened over time is that the financial products
that these banks and brokerage firms were using and creating for their clients, is what would
happen is Joe Plumeri Inc. would go to a bank or a brokerage firm and say I want to reinforce
my balance sheet. How can you help me? And then the banker would say we'll create a certain
kind of a note that we'll sell to clients, but they won't have any residual value to them. We'll
just sell the note and so it helps the company and then after a while the balance sheet of these
companies get bigger so that they could do more of this business. One day somebody says to
the other guy, you know, we are making a lot of money trading this stuff. Let's have a balance
sheet that is even bigger and we can even make more money. So by the time 2008 came along
their balance sheets and their debt-to-equity, and other words the equity that reinforce all of
the debt in their balance sheet, got to be an astonishing 30 to 1. There was 30 times the debt
that there was of the equity in the balance sheet that reinforced the balance sheet. When I ran
Citibank, and I ran Shearson, my balance sheet's debt-to-equity was one-to-one. If I got it to 1.1
to one I wouldn't be able to sleep. They got up to 30 to 1. The business changed. Their
business model changed into one that is more training oriented than making money off of, I
give you along. I make the difference between what I charge you and what I make in the
markets and that's the spread and that's banking. What happened is that collapsed the system.
I'm a believer, while we're on that subject, I happened to be on TV the day that AIG was bailed
out and I was asked do you agree with AIG being bailed out? And I said yes, and that's an
insurance company. I said yes, absolutely. I said because if AIG is not bailed out the banking
system will collapse. The lady on TV said what does AIG have to do with the banking system?
It's an insurance company. I said because when you go to a bank, statutorily, you have to take
the money and you have to put it in to short-term commercial paper which, very short-term,
like one day or two days because the person who goes in and makes a deposit in the morning in
Seattle could go that afternoon and take the money out, so you got to have the money there. A
lot of the commercial paper that banks bought was AIG paper because it was AAA. Statutorily
you have to buy AAA paper. If they hadn't bailed them out everybody would come to get their
money. The paper would be no good. Jimmy Stewart wouldn't be there and it wouldn't be a
wonderful life. To be honest with you, that's what happened. I don't think much of it has
changed at all. I think it's basically the same way. The ratios are still out of control. If you look
and you follow the earnings of J.P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley and you look
to where the earnings are coming from, just take a look when you get a chance, it comes out of
trading profits. What they mean is trading the balance sheet. If you ask me what's the
difference between 2008 and today, not much. I worry, and I worry because interest rates are
low today because the Fed doesn't believe the economy is strong enough to support higher
interest rates, when in fact, higher interest rates are actually a more healthy society than one
that has zero interest rates at all because that's the way the system works. So that's what
happened. That's the short version of what happened. Yes ma'am?
>>: Are you planning to do any speeches this year?
>> Joe Plumeri: I am. I have to tell you the cool part of the story about, I quit law school. I quit
law school. I liked the closet so much that I quit law school. I only spent three months there.
About two months ago I got a letter from the president of New York Law School asking me if I
would give them a commencement address on May 19 to the New York Law School graduates
and get an Honorary Doctorate of Law. [laughter].
>>: There you go.
>> Joe Plumeri: I think that's cool. Finally I get it. [applause]. Even though it's fake, what the
hell, I'm taking it. I think that's cool, so yeah, May 19. The William and Mary one if you guys
haven't seen it it's on YouTube is the commencement of 2011. You get an honorary degree
from the college that you went to and it's a big deal and I gave the commencement speech that
day. What was really cool about it was that when I went to William and Mary, a southern
school, there weren't many Italian kids from New Jersey at that school. I was truly diversity. To
come back years later and to get that honorary degree and to give the commencement speech
was a big deal for me. So if you've got nothing better to do for 35 minutes of your life or so,
you should look at it. It's pretty cool. And I didn't even know they rated these things, but
apparently, it's one of the best ever on NPR.
>> Amy Draves: I'm going to rudely asked the last question.
>> Joe Plumeri: Okay.
>> Amy Draves: I wonder if you can talk to people who are young in their careers. You look
back on your career and you wish you had spent more time with your family, so figuring out the
balance and actually getting to the success that you have gotten to, how do you do that?
>> Joe Plumeri: I actually think that when I look back I could have achieved the same thing. I
don't know that if I took a trip for a week someplace that I couldn't have accomplished it in two
days. I look at so many things like that or a meeting that lasted five hours that could have been
two. If my priorities were straight, I think I would have made sure that I took care of the
priority and I took care of the business at the same time. I can't think of any time I have
thought of that, the length of the meeting, whether I called people to a weekend session, that it
couldn't have waited until Monday. I've been to China. This is a great example. I've been to
China may be more than 40 times and every time I've been in Beijing, at least 30 times, and I
have never been to the Great Wall. I don't say that to suggest that I'm anything other than
stupid. You go that many times and you can't take an hour or you can take a couple of hours.
The Great Wall is only an hour from Beijing. It's not like it's in the Himalayas. I never took the
time to do that. And so I think of all the times in my life, I really didn't have to do it. I didn't
have to take that trip. I didn't have to make the meeting that long. I didn't have to stay that
long when I did do what I had to do, just get your priorities right. As it relates to young people,
I'll go back to what I said earlier. People need people who can help them achieve their goals,
whether it be professional or personal. I've always believed that if you're compelling and you
can offer something to people professionally or personally that allows them to help themselves
be better professionally or personally, it doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter how tall
you are, how short you are or where you come from, they need you. There's a thing that I call
the value gap. I always tried to define value. A friend of mine finally defined it this way,
because you use that word a lot, value, but it's one of those things that you hardly ever define.
One day we figured out the value is the difference between what somebody can do for
themselves and what you can do. If you can do for them what they can do you are of no value
whatsoever. They don't need you. But if you can do for somebody something they can't do,
then you're needed. The more you can do for somebody that they can do the wider the gap.
The wider the gap the more you're important; the more you're needed, and in business the
more you charge. You got think about that and it goes not only to business but it goes to
personal relationships. When somebody says, you know, I can't get a job because I'm this or
I'm that, I'm telling you that you are not making yourself compelling enough. You haven't
shown somebody your value. You haven't shown somebody that there's a gap between what
they can do and you can do and the wider you make that gap, the more compelling you make
yourself, the greater they need you and the greater they need you they are not going to throw
you out. Capisce?
>> Amy Draves: Please thank the speaker. [applause]
>> Joe Plumeri: Thank you. Thank you all. I appreciate it and thanks for coming. I appreciate
it. Thank you.