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Updated Nov 03, 2023

Inspiration Revealed: 36 Top CEOs Share Their Secrets to Success

Lauren Kubiak
Lauren Kubiak, Contributing Writer

Table of Contents

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Work is called work for a reason. Most people don’t have a job they love, and even if you are lucky enough to find a position you genuinely love and believe in, it can still be hard to stay focused on the day-to-day tasks.

So how do you get through the daily grind while staying focused and operating at your peak performance?

Learn from the best. Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur, an established business leader or a part-time intern, you could do far worse than follow the advice of highly successful CEOs, whose track records prove their strategies worked. Below are tips from CEOs on topics ranging from failure and success to building your business team to addressing the competition.

How to be an entrepreneur and lead a company

  1. “What do you need to start a business? Three simple things: Know your product better than anyone, know your customer and have a burning desire to succeed.” – Dave Thomas, founder and former CEO of Wendy’s
  2. “When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.” – Larry Ellison, co-founder and former CEO of Oracle
  3. “There’s an entrepreneur right now, scared to death, making excuses, saying, ‘It’s not the right time just yet.’ There’s no such thing as a good time. I started an apparel manufacturing business in the tech-boom years. I mean, come on. Get out of your garage and go take a chance and start your business.” – Kevin Plank, founder and former CEO of Under Armour
FYIDid you know

Becoming an impactful leader requires understanding your leadership style, being a great follower, leading by example and effective communication. Learning from others and fostering a positive attitude are crucial for success in this day and age.

  1. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple

inspirational quote with a lion on it

  1. “Every time you make the hard, correct decision, you become a bit more courageous, and every time you make the easy wrong decision, you become a bit more cowardly. If you are a CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.” – Ben Horowitz, co-founder and former CEO of Opsware, co-founder and partner at Andreessen Horowitz
  2. “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” – Nolan Bushnell, former CEO of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s 

[For more inspiration, read these 50 inspiring quotes from trailblazing women we admire.]

On team-building and collaboration

  1. “The secret to successful hiring is this: Look for the people who want to change the world.” – Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of Salesforce
  2. Teaching your employees something new creates an instant connection, and they will respect you for it. If you can do this in a job interview, you will be sure to attract the smartest people. Money doesn’t mean much to a lot of the smartest people in the world; they will want to grow their intelligence rather than their wallet. If you show employees that they will progress intellectually in their career, and economically while at your company, then they will want to work for you.” – Taso Du Val, co-founder and CEO of Toptal

Inspirational quote with a  person writing in a whiteboard

  1. “Hire character. Train skill.” – Peter Schultz, founder and former director of GNF
  2. “Never make an important decision while you are feeling emotional – either too happy, surprised or angry. Similarly, never make a big decision until you have talked it over with people you trust who are knowledgeable about the matter. Then, be decisive once you have heard them out.” – Andrés Gluski, president and CEO of the AES Corporation
  3. “The real damper on employee engagement is the soggy, cold blanket of centralized authority. In most companies, power cascades downwards from the CEO. Not only are employees disenfranchised from most policy decisions, they lack even the power to rebel against egocentric and tyrannical supervisors.” – Gary Hamel, founder of Strategos

The importance of reputation

  1. “Never forget that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression – with investors, with customers, with PR and with marketing.” – Natalie Massenet, founder and former CEO of Net-a-Porter

inspirational quote with a hand holding a stopwatch

  1. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
  2. “People remember character – how you act and behave. No one remembers what multiple you paid or how great an investment it was. But they remember if you were a good person, whether you were fair and how compassionate you were. I tell people that they are paid to make difficult decisions, but how they communicate and execute those decisions will last a lifetime. Life is a long time and deals will come and go, but your reputation will always stay with you.” – Jim Lillie, CEO of Jarden Corporation

How to create and ensure success

  1. “Embrace tough assignments. Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s easier to take the path of least resistance by signing up for an easy job, doing it well and moving on to something bigger. The problem with that theory is that nobody notices when you do an easy job well. It’s far better to challenge yourself by raising your hand for the toughest assignments and work to solve problems that no one else has been able to solve. That’s how you truly become a trusted leader inside an organization.” – Indra Nooyi, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo
  2. “Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.” – Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media
  3. “If you’re passionate about something and you work hard, then I think you will be successful.” – Pierre Omidyar, founder and former chairman of eBay 
  4. “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and falling over.” – Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
  5. “Stay as close to the end product as possible. As a leader, the buck stops with you on every subject, and every knotty problem lands on your desk. And it’s tempting to direct your full attention to the crisis of the moment. But it’s crucial to keep a substantial part of your focus on the core mission and values of the institution – in my case, to remain in perpetual close contact with the artists and artisans [who] are responsible for the product we put on our stage.” – Christopher Koelsch, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Opera
  6. “Success doesn’t necessarily come from breakthrough innovation, but from flawless execution. A great strategy alone won’t win a game or a battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling.” – Naveen Jain, founder and former CEO of InfoSpace
  7. “It’s not about how to get started; it’s about how to get noticed.” – Steve Case, co-founder and former CEO of AOL
  8. “Sell. Don’t apologize for it, and don’t be afraid to beg with a positive, upbeat attitude. Tell prospects you want their business and you will kick ass once you’ve earned it. Have no shame. Pride doesn’t pay the rent.” – Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network
  9. “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” – Marissa Mayer, former president and CEO of Yahoo
  10. “It takes humility to realize that we don’t know everything, not to rest on our laurels and know that we must keep learning and observing. If we don’t, we can be sure some startup will be there to take our place.” – Cher Wang, co-founder and CEO of HTC 

[Discover when (and how) to quit your day job for your startup.]

Addressing the competition

  1. “Never define yourself as a product. And, in fact, I would augment it: Never define yourself by your competition, either. If you live and define yourself by your product or competition, you will lose sight of who your customer is.” – Ginni Rometty, former chairman, president and CEO of IBM

Inspirational quote of a person standing on a rock

  1. “We are really competing against ourselves. We have no control over how other people perform.” – Pete Cashmore, founder and former CEO of Mashable
  2. “If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.” – Jeff Bezos, founder and former CEO of Amazon

How to prioritize work and life

  1. “Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family [and] friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued.” – Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola
  2. “Remember, work-life balance is a myth. All we have is our priorities. Watch where someone spends their time and sets their priorities, and you will know what is truly important to them.” – Walt Bettinger, CEO and co-chairman of Charles Schwab
  3. “It’s not about having a specific set time; both personal and professional lives are 24/7. It’s simply more about making the right allocation to each one and recognizing that it’s going to be different every single day.” – Ellen Kullman, former CEO of DuPont
TipBottom line

Achieving work-life balance in today’s demanding work environment is crucial for overall well-being. Prioritize leaving work on time, taking breaks and saying no to excessive work.

  1. “As a wife, daughter, friend and the founder and CEO of LearnVest, my schedule is anything but simple. But I learned early on how to meticulously manage my time.” – Alexa Von Tobel, founder and managing partner of Inspired Capital and founder of LearnVest
  2. “My advice is to focus on becoming a complete person. Everyone should focus on the content of his or her job, of course. But work is not the end; it’s a means to an end. You owe it to yourself to open up to broader interests. And in the end, it will be better for your career because you will be more interesting and attractive to others.” – Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs

Denise-Morrison-3Denise Morrison quoteDenise-Morrison-3

  1. “Balance suggests a perfect equilibrium. There is no such thing. That is a false expectation … There are going to be priorities and dimensions of your life. How you integrate them is how you find true happiness.” – Denise Morrison, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup. 

[Read related article: How Hiring a Chief Happiness Officer Can Save Your Business]

Don’t be afraid of failure

  1. “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates, founder and former CEO of Microsoft
  2. “Surviving a failure allows you more self-confidence. Failing is a great learning tool, but it must be kept to an absolute minimum.” – Jeffrey Immelt, former CEO of General Electric

Inspirational quote bu Drew Houston

  1. “Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.” – Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox

    It’s a competitive world out there in business. Use these tips to keep your edge and succeed.

Image via Flickr, Creative Commons: Eduardo Arcos

Lauren Kubiak
Lauren Kubiak, Contributing Writer
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