From The New York Times
This interview with Jonathan Klein, chief executive of Getty Images, a distributor and creator of photographs and other media, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Q. Any early leadership lessons for you?
A. My father was C.E.O. of a manufacturing company in South Africa. He wasn’t entrepreneurial, though. He worked for the same company his whole career. He just made his way up from an engineer to running the company. We sort of grew up with business around the dinner table. I have two older brothers. One had his first C.E.O. gig when he was 24, and the other has always had his own companies. I went into law, then spent 10 years in investment banking before deciding that I wanted to do my own thing.
Q. Tell me more about those dinner-table conversations.
A. More often than not, the conversation had to do with both the challenges and the joy in managing people. And he had challenges that I have not had to face because he had thousands of workers in apartheid South Africa. We were brought up in a very liberal household, so he felt very strongly about what his obligations were toward his people.
Q. Were there certain expressions he would often use with you?
A. The main ones were around your word and reputation. He would always say you could spend a lifetime creating a good reputation, and you could lose it with just one bad judgment. Always focus on the long term, because the short term is, by definition, short. And he would say: “Jonathan, you talk too much. There’s a reason you have two ears and one mouth. If you’d shut your mouth, you might learn something.”
Q. And what were your school years like?
A. I was a rebel. I was challenging authority all the time. It’s partially my personality and partially my upbringing. Because of growing up in South Africa, I associated authority with bad stuff. So whenever somebody told me to do something or not to do something, I would challenge it.
Q. And after college?
A. I went to study law in London. I had decided when I was 7 that I was going to be a lawyer because everybody told me that I was so articulate and argumentative and kind of difficult, so I should be a lawyer. But I didn’t like it. It felt almost like an extension of the private school and Oxford-Cambridge system in England.
So I began working at an investment bank, and I stayed for 10 years, working with entrepreneurial and smaller companies until I decided to build a business myself.
Q. What are other leadership lessons you’ve learned from running Getty Images?
A. I’ve learned a lot from my executive coach. Anytime someone came to me to show me their work, I would critique it. I would almost behave like a schoolteacher — my mother was a teacher — and bring out the metaphorical red pen. And what I didn’t appreciate at the time is that before you mess around the edges, you’ve got to say to yourself, “Am I going to make this significantly better, or am I going to make it only 5 or 10 percent better?” Because in fiddling over the small stuff, you take away all the empowerment. Basically it no longer becomes that person’s work. And after a while, those people get into the habit of giving you incomplete work, and then you have to do it for them.
I also used to always debate and argue whatever point was under discussion. And my coach said: “You’ve got to stop. You’ve got to pause, and think, ‘Are you debating the point to get a better outcome or because you just like getting the last word and you like winning?’ If you’re debating to get a better outcome, absolutely do it. If you’re debating because of the latter, cut it out.”
Q. You’ve taken the company from a start-up to about 2,000 employees. What are your thoughts about fostering culture?
A. I learned very quickly that titles, especially mine, do not matter, and that you have to find ways to get people to do things because they think it’s the right thing to do, and so you need to explain the reasons behind your decisions.
We also went through a period when we acquired a lot of companies, and everybody was still feeling like they belonged to their original team rather than being part of Getty Images. So I wrote seven leadership principles, and they are still the bedrock of the company.
Q. What are they?
A. The first is “trustworthiness, transparency and openness;” followed by “the obligation to care;” “lead by example;” and “raise the bar.” Then “one voice, collective responsibility,” which is about creating a culture of us and we, not me and I. Next is “bring me solutions,” because in a lot of organizations the person who points out a problem gets credit. Here, you’ve got to also come up with a solution. And, finally, “no silos.” Every year, everybody is rated on how well they live up to those principles.
Q. How do you hire?
A. I always ask, “Of all the jobs you’ve done, what was your favorite?” Then I’ll ask, “Why?” And I always ask: “What do you enjoy most about working and what do you enjoy least? And what do you do when you’re not working?” I’m really trying to put together the person’s narrative.
Q. And when a new hire hasn’t worked out, what’s typically been the problem?
A. One problem is when people don’t ask enough questions, and have too many opinions. They don’t spend enough time trying to understand the business, the people and the culture, and they reach conclusions too quickly. And then the company turns against them because they were disrespectful to what we’ve achieved, or think we’ve achieved.
Q. What advice would you give to college seniors?
A. Be open to anything. And I don’t say “follow your passion,” because you usually don’t know what your passion is when you’re that age. You can’t. So I’ve always told people you’ve just got to be open to stuff. Expect the unexpected, and then prepare for it.