Warren Buffett once gave a group of college students career advice that runs counter to climbing the elusive corporate ladder to build the perfect résumé that will land that coveted job at that dream company.

Buffett told the students, "The real thing to do is to get going for some institution or individual that you admire. I mean, it's crazy to take in-between jobs just because they look good on your résumé​, or because you get a little higher starting pay."

To Buffett, getting your nose bloodied at big companies just to "round out" your résumé and put you in an ideal career position isn't as important as finding an "admirable" leader now--one who can open up doors to opportunities you have yet to imagine. 

Buffett added, "Go to work for whomever you admire the most," because, he says, not only will you be jumping out of bed in the morning and having fun, but also "you can't get a bad result." 

The Admirable Fab Four

Whether you're a recent graduate or a seasoned veteran seeking sound examples of leaders you can truly admire, a few people I've interviewed over the years fill the bill of Buffett's "admirable" boss motif. Here are four who are worthy of a spotlight, plus what they told me that has stood out as entirely admirable.   

1. Matt Cain, president and CEO, Couchbase

"Couchbase has made a strong and intentional commitment toward putting our employees first. We continue to hold internal events to promote dialogue, growth, and sharing among the broader team. We've made a concentrated effort to be transparent and inclusive as a company to drive home our value of teamwork. More important to me is answering the question: Have we positively impacted our employees' lives with our approach? If we are successful with that, financial results will follow."

2. David Mesa, executive vice president and chief development officer, PJ's Coffee and Ballard Brands

"Culture is the foundation that creates all of the values and beliefs that guide [our] organization's actions. It's what attracts quality individuals to join an organization. It all starts with transparency. From the onset, when prospective franchisees come to visit our office, we are transparent. We own up when we make mistakes and, most important, do what we can to fix those problems when they arise. In reality, it's not that we don't make mistakes, it's what we do and how we handle those mistakes when they happen that ultimately builds confidence in our brand."

3. Terry Turner, CEO, Pinnacle Financial Partners

"We work hard and with intentionality to make our workplace fun, engaging, and built on camaraderie. If we can get people to love coming into work every morning, then we can build a stable team of professionals and drive turnover out of the system. And that has a very practical effect on client satisfaction. But really both of those things are built on a bigger idea, one you don't often see in business books. It's compassion. So when we built this company, we tried to look compassionately at our associates and say, "What would I want from my job? What would make me excited to come to work?"

4. Sudheesh Nair, CEO, ThoughtSpot

"I believe that all employees contribute to a company's success, and I work to ensure that all employees feel like they have a stake in ThoughtSpot. Employees who simply feel as though they are doing a job will never show up with the passion needed to produce excellent, truly great work. Instilling passion is a matter of making everyone feel like they belong and making sure they know the company they work for genuinely cares about their well-being--that you trust them, that they can trust you. If someone is good at what they do, they can work anywhere; but if they stick around somewhere, it's because they want to be a part of the vision--they want to help grow the business. I firmly believe that everyone should love what they do: Developers should love designing products, copy editors should love writing, and an organization's leaders, well, they should love their people."

Published on: Jun 5, 2019
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