It was a strange day at the Los Angeles Times. We knew Tribune Media was sold, and we were summoned to an all-hands meeting with a guy named Sam Zell. I didn’t know what to expect. I had work to do and I was hoping that we could just get this formality over with and get back to the real business of the day. I had already pictured what the speech would go like; I imagined, “blah, blah, blah”, or something similar. Then Sam came into the room.
Sam started using some colorful language. I had not quite experienced this in such a forum. It got my attention. It got everyone’s attention. Then he said some things that really resonated with me. One of the first things that he said was, “if your IT Department is blocking content, that shit stops now.” He was all about getting things done, and the IT filters were, in fact, an issue. He went on to say, “I don’t give a fuck if you’re looking at porn three times a day as long as you’re getting your job done. If you aren’t, you’re outta here.” Wow. It was refreshing. He spoke to us average Janes and Joes like he knew what we were thinking. Everybody screws around occasionally and has less productive days. He knew it. He didn’t want to punish us and kill morale. He wanted us engaged with the company. He didn’t want to be our boss, he was going to be our leader. I still parrot his words to my teams.
Another thing that stuck with me was more of Sam Zell’s philosophy on productivity. He wanted to cut out the red tape and bureaucracy. He was all in on eliminating road blocks and hurdles. He said, “if your boss is preventing you from getting your job done, go around him or her. Go to your boss’s boss if that’s what it takes.” He wasn’t big on excuses. He was a fervent believer on taking the most direct route to accomplishing a task or solving a problem. Wow again. I was in awe of this man and his get shit done approach. These weren’t just empty words; he was right.
I will never forget Sam’s words. He has accomplished so much in his life, and there is a lot to admire. I will hold on to that day at the LA Times. I’ll reach back and grab Sam’s words whenever I see a better way to do something, or an opportunity to be more productive.
Thank you Sam Zell. You will be missed.