Nuti strikes balance between success, family

Each week, the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship’s IMPACT Speaker Series brings in a speaker—typically one with close ties to the business world—to speak on business, entrepreneurship and leadership and give advice to students.

One of the series’ most recent speakers, Bill Nuti, chairman and CEO of NCR Corporation, spoke on Sept. 22 on the topic of what being a successful manager, particularly a successful CEO, entails.

Before coming to NCR—a company that specializes in business technology—Nuti was president and CEO of Symbol Technologies and held two different senior vice president positions over ten years at Cisco Systems.

Nuti asked students what they wanted to hear before he began. The three topics that arose were his personal story, how his company maintained innovation as it grew and what it is like being a CEO on a day-to-day level. His talk focused mostly on the first and third.

Nuti pointed out that while old standards like hard work and dedication are still important in the business world, there are some parts of success that motivational speakers do not talk about as much, chief among them: luck.

“Luck, whether we tell you or not, factors prominently in this equation. A lot of people say they make their own luck. Maybe. I don’t know….When I got to Cisco in the 90’s, revenues were $60 million. When I left, it was $40 billion in 10 years,” Nuti said.

While skill and hard work were involved, Nuti said it was mostly luck that dropped him at Cisco just before they began their explosive expansion.

Nuti also said that while many will say to never be afraid of failing, it is a healthy fear of failure that keeps most of the world’s successful leaders moving forwards. He emphasizes that, while it is important to never let fear of failure lead to crossing any ethical boundaries, being afraid of failure can be a strong driving force.

Nuti also said to always keep the future in mind, but offered a twist to the advice. He said that a good way of going forward is to decide on a goal, then to work backward. To get somewhere in 2015, plans must be made for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

He also advised Tech that it is not enough to just be smart in the business world. He says equally important to being intelligent is excellence in ‘EQ’ or Emotional Quotient.

Nuti said that a leader who is so emotionally tied to his work that he cannot admit he is incapable of something will never be as good as someone who can detach himself and give responsibility to someone more qualified.

One thing that Nuti was careful to do was point out that, despite their clichéd nature, family, hard work and dedication are still the most important parts of success.

He points to his rise from a working-class family in the Bronx to a CEO of a $5.3 billion a year company as evidence of this.

The time constraints of the business world were also discussed. Nuti admits that, even after decades in the business world, he never got the hang of work-life balance. From working 18-hour days when he started to today, when he has to fight for every minute spent with his family, the balance problem never goes away.

“I think [family] matters a lot: parenting and how you rear your children. That’s why when the presenter asked, ‘What do you want to be known as?’ I said, ‘A great dad,’ Because I know the impact it will have on my son,” Nuti said.

Students interested in the IMPACT Speaker Series can learn more at The program was founded in 2002 and has featured distinguished speakers like Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Vice President Al Gore and Thomas Friedman, author of the book The World is Flat.