They say you can learn a lot about people by walking in their shoes. It turns out that you can also learn a thing or two by finding out whose shoes they'd like to try on.
We asked Inc. 500 CEOs to name one person--living, dead, or fictional--they would choose to be if the opportunity arose.
Their responses ranged from Bill Gates to Benjamin Franklin, from Jack Black to Jesus. One CEO even thought he might enjoy life as his own wife. It just goes to show there's more to these CEOs than meets the eye.
CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, NO. 368
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, drummer for the roots
"A leader's No. 1 job is inspiring people to do their best work," says Sam Calagione. "Questlove brings the best out of every artist he works with--Erykah Badu, Eve, Christina Aguilera. His passion is infectious." Calagione also admires The Roots' uncompromising attitude toward their music. "They don't make watered-down, homogenous hip-hop," he says. "That's boring. They would rather be exciting to a few people." Likewise, Calagione doesn't cater to the masses. At Dogfish Head, he says, "we're not concerned with the average beer drinker or making average beer."
Andrew Schultz Sr.
President of Sharn Veterinary, NO. 386
Burt Lancaster, especially in the 1956 movie Trapeze
Founding and running a company is a lot like a trapeze act, muses Andrew Schultz. You've got to take risks if you want to keep wowing your customers. In Schultz's opinion, no one knew how to wow a crowd like Burt Lancaster. "He was a dynamo," says Schultz, who imagines Lancaster could have been Sharn's chief salesman. "He'd have that gleaming smile and convince all of the veterinarians to buy Sharn monitors."
President of Cascade Health Sevices, NO. 353
Steve McNair, Baltimore Ravens quarterback
When his former team, the Tennessee Titans, barred Steve McNair from its training facilities in April, citing liabilities because of the athlete's injuries, McNair handled the ouster with class and discretion. "He could have gone on TV and said bad things about the Titans," says Jonna Underhill. "It was horrible. But he kept his mouth shut and stayed positive." Underhill tries to emulate the McNair response when tough situations arise at her company. In June, the Titans traded McNair to the Baltimore Ravens. Underhill promptly preordered a No. 9 purple jersey.
CEO of Verticalresponse, NO. 402
Janine Popick admires Oprah Winfrey's ability to market not only her talk show, book club, and magazine, but also herself, a talent the formerly shy CEO used to lack. She says she avoided talking to reporters and speaking at events because "I was worried about saying something that was ridiculous or wrong." After an Aha! moment, Popick became a changed woman. She now blogs on her company's website and talks to the press. Like Winfrey, Popick also has learned to treat herself to life's little luxuries. "If Oprah ever comes to San Francisco, I'll take her to Frette and we'll buy overpriced towels," she says.
Founder of Premier Environmental Services, NO. 366
Saint Thomas Aquinas, 13th-century religious scholar
The teachings of Thomas Aquinas have become a "behind-the-scenes guide to our business conduct," says Earl Scott. Saint Thomas's ability to resist temptation--for example, his family's fortune--has inspired Scott to emphasize ethics over easy profits. "One moral hazard in the hazardous waste business is the temptation to recommend more work than needs to be done," Scott says. "I believe that if we treat clients ethically, they'll reward us with more work down the road."
CEO of Hudson & Keyse, NO. 99
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers forward
"LeBron James is a shining example of someone who meets, and often exceeds, his potential," says Joseph Carroll. The CEO has an unusual way of motivating his employees to do the same: Each quarter, he scores staffers based on criteria such as their analysis skills and adherence to procedures. He then rewards top performers with salary bumps and bonuses and provides underachievers with extra training. "As a business owner, my primary responsibility is to get the best out of every employee," Carroll says. "When I motivate them, I wind up with all-stars."
CEO of Datasynapse, NO. 39
Stripey Cat, his parents' tabby
While building a global software company, Peter Lee developed a condition: business on the brain. "We're working in an intense collaborative environment," says Lee. "I think about the business all the time, 24 hours a day." He envies Stripey Cat's lifestyle. "This cat leads a very comfortable life," says Lee. "He's well fed, and he doesn't have much to do except chase mice and sleep. He comes around and gets his stomach scratched." Although there are other rewards at Datasynapse, Lee says, "you don't really get to have your stomach scratched."
CEO of Fishbowl Marketing, NO. 199
Travis McGee, fictional detective of the mystery series by John D. MacDonald
"Travis McGee's kind of a bounty hunter who solves problems, finds lost things, mends broken lives," says Scott Shaw. "He usually takes an endangered woman under his wing and sorts through her problems." McGee works when he wants, takes off in his houseboat when he wants. "That's wonderfully attractive," says Shaw. "When you run a business, there are so many responsibilities that never end."