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Collect a group of smart friends

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

On a trip to France in the early 1950s, Chuck Williams marveled at the cooking equipment that he saw. After returning to the U.S., his friends in a local cooking group expressed interest in the items he discovered abroad.

Williams decided to buy a hardware shop in Sonoma, Calif., and sell cookware, eventually introducing American consumers to French pots and pans such as a souffle dish and madeleine mold as well as Dijon mustard. By 1958, he moved his Williams-Sonoma shop to San Francisco and it took off.

The 93-year-old Williams credits his friends for his success. He met Julia Child in 1960 and she inspired him to think big. As her cookbooks and television show gained popularity, Child encouraged Williams to open more stores to cater to her new fans. He wisely agreed.

Another friend, Edward Marcus (who launched the Neiman-Marcus catalog), advised Williams to incorporate his business and publish his own catalog to boost sales. Again, Williams accepted his pal’s advice and later made him a partner.

In the 1970s, Williams also became friends with successful cookbook author Marion Cunningham. In a 2005 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, she called Williams “jovial, kind—the way people ought to be but few of us are.”

Williams made many smart decisions in building his retail empire. But in media interviews over the years, he doesn’t boast about his entrepreneurial triumphs. Instead, he prefers to recognize his friends for providing guidance and encouragement.

Like Williams, amass a group of knowledgeable friends and heed their insights. Strive to learn from their experience rather than trumpet your own success. Ask questions to discover mistakes they made and lessons they learned.

You may also want to emulate Williams in other ways. When asked in 2005 to explain his good health as an energetic 90-year-old, he said, “I have always eaten well, but never excessively. I like fruits and vegetables, and I have never been one for junk food, never acquired the soft drink habit.”

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