Profiles in Leadership

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By almost any standard, Sara Blakely was living an ordinary life. Blakely had never taken a business course and was clueless on patent law. But doggedly, without quitting her day job, she did the research and took time off to get her invention manufactured and sold. She named it SPANX ...

Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke is a quiet guy, the engineer father of two engineer sons who describes his family as “boring.” He loves working behind the scenes. Most of his career has been spent simplifying processes, building teams and slowly scaling the ranks in Latin American obscurity. For Nestlé, this was perfect.

Even though it’s a cliché, it's still true that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. For Thomas Jefferson, his strength lay in trusting people. But when it came to financial matters—he trusted too much. To use the signature phrase of a much later president, Jefferson needed to “trust but verify.”

After his death in 2010, at age 99, accolades poured out for John Wooden, the greatest men’s college basketball coach. Wooden had 10 national titles. Collectively, the four runners-up have 13 titles. In 27 years at UCLA, Wooden sometimes won with more talent than his opponents and sometimes with markedly less. How? Here's a glimpse.

Author Sarah Miller Caldicott, great-grandniece of the inventor, is working on a second book about Thomas Edison’s collaboration methods. Edison believed in collaboration not only as a way of accelerating the innovation process, but to expand the solution set, Caldicott says. He liked to create diverse groups of people from diverse disciplines.

“The only thing that’s worse than ‘bad’ is ‘boring,’” critiques Sydney Brenner, a founder of molecular biology who shared a Nobel Prize for his achievements in 2002. At age 84, he keeps traveling the world, opening up new fields of research and stimulating ideas. Here's how.

Even in his youth, Ulysses S. Grant picked his battles. Arriving at West Point to study, he decided against arguing with the adjutant about his own name (actually Hiram Ulysses) and accepted the name given to him in a mix-up, realizing it would serve him better than the initials H.U.G.

Emily Roebling was a working mother ahead of her time. Her father-in-law—a serious, humorless, severe man—was the visionary who designed the Brooklyn Bridge. Enlisted into service after her father-in-law was killed and her husband injured, she eventually was considered the bridge’s chief engineer. It took 14 years and the pretense that her husband was still in charge. Here's how she defied naysayers who called the bridge a “wild experiment.”

What do you do after you've already created the world’s largest social network? Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes saw a community of people wanting to help victims of natural disasters. His vision—call it Philanthropy 2.0—was to speed the pace of positive global change. So he created an online conduit for people to identify social causes and build relationships.

Cartoon creator and producer Chuck Jones credits his success to a lack of constant supervision early on and his father’s string of business failures. Every time his father launched a business, he’d print new stationery and pencils. Using his cast-offs, Jones drew and drew. Here are his six success tips.

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