I've Worked For Two Billionaires. Here's What I Learned From Them.

I have spent decades “being educated” –  in college, graduate school, numerous professional certifications, and now a PhD program. All of that schooling and training helped shape the person I am today, but at no point in my life  has there been a more profound education than my time working for Enver Yucel andOprah Winfrey.

Enver and Oprah are two extraordinary people. And on top of that, they’re both billionaires. On the surface, they appear to be totally different people. They are in different industries, have different family structures, practice different religions, and speak different languages. However, once you get past their written biographies and dig deeper, you will notice they possess many of the samesuccessful habits.

I had the opportunity to work with both Oprah and Enver for 6 years collectively and those were, hands down, the best professional experiences of my life. I worked my ass off for them and in doing so absorbed everything I could.

It’s my honor to share with you what I learned from them. Here is Part 1 of the 20 successful habits I learned working for two billionaires:


1) Invest in Yourself

This is a very simple concept, but something you would think someone who has “made it” would stop doing. Not at all for these two. I saw them both spend a significant amount of time dedicating their resources to self-development (whether it be a new language, exercise, social media classes, etc). The moment you stop investing in yourself is the moment you have written off future dividends in life.


2) Be Curious…About Everything

What the average person sees as mundane or overly complicated is not viewed the same way with a billionaire mindset. I once had a 30 minute conversation with Enver about the height of the curbs in Washington DC versus Istanbul, Turkey.  Billionaires are incredibly curious; what the rest of the world thinks is a problem and complains about — that’s what these people go and work on.


3) Surround Yourself With “Better” People

I hope this is why they kept me around :-). Seriously, I never knew my bosses to keep anyone less-than-stellar in their inner circle. There were many times I thought to myself, “Damn, they have dream-teams built around them.” Jim Rohn had it right, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”


4) Never Eat Alone

The last time I had dinner with Enver, as well as the last time I ate dinner with Oprah, there were easily 15 people at our tables, respectively. Coincidence? While most of us derive our key information from blogs or the newspaper, power players get their information from the source (other power players), directly. However, just because you can’t call up the Obamas and break bread with them doesn’t mean eating with others in your circle doesn’t carry value. In one of my favorite reads of the last few years called Never Eat Alone author Keith Ferrazzi breaks down how you can identify “information brokers” to dine with you.  I’ve seen first hand how enormous the benefits are of this strategy.


5) Take Responsibility For Your Losses

I was working for Oprah during the time she was taking heat from the media about poor network ratings. I was also working for Enver during the closing of one of his prized divisions. What I witnessed them both do in response was powerful. Opposed to covering the losses up with fancy PR tactics, both stepped to the stage and said in essence “I own it and I’m going to fix it” and dropped the mic. Guess what?  They sure did fix things (It’s widely noted Oprah’s network is realizing ratings gold and Enver’s assets have probably doubled since the division closing).


6) Understand The Power Of “Leverage”

This is something that was quite a shock to me. From afar, a billionaire appears to be someone who is a master at everything. But, in truth, they’re specialists in one or a few areas and average or subpar at everything else. So, how do they get so much done? Leverage! They do what they do best and get others to do the rest . Here’s a great article on leverage. Keep in mind I see this done with wealthy people and their money all of the time – they use OPM (other people’s money) for most or all of their projects.


7) Take No Days Off (Completely)

I recall going on vacation with Enver several times, yachting up and down the southwestern coast of Turkey (also known as the blue voyage). Sounds ballerific, right? No doubt we had a great time, but mixed in with all that swimming and backgammon was discussion of business, discussion of strategy, planning and plotting. The best way I can describe this habit is thinking about your business or your idea like your literal baby. No matter your distance, you don’t stop thinking of him/her (and after just having a second son, I can attest to this).


8) Focus On Experiences vs. Material Possessions

When you have money, your toys are big. However, the vast majority of money I saw spent on their “leisure” was on actual experiences versus the typical car, jewelry, and clothes we’re familiar with seeing in music videos and gossip blogs. I recall one time at dinner with Oprah, I spotted a table of about 20 girls off to the side. I later found out Ms. Winfrey was treating some of her graduating girls from her school in South Africa to dinner in NYC. Experiences create memories, and memories are priceless.


9) Take Enormous Risks

This is another one of those successful habits every entrepreneur can attest to. A matter of fact, Entreprenuer.com created a great infographic outlining commonalities of the world’s billionaires and one of the most prominent was this characteristic: billionaires are not adverse to risk. What intrigues me even more about Enver and Oprah was that even at their high financial status and success level, they still possessed a willingness to risk their most precious asset (their name and legacy) on new and bolder projects. If you’re not taking risks, you’re not making moves!


10) Don’t Go At It Alone

Nothing great in life is achieved alone. Especially in business, success isn’t a solo act. This character trait is akin to “surrounding yourself with better people.” It takes teamwork to make the dream work.


What I witnessed from working for Enver and Oprah were characteristics and successful habits that not only apply to business “wins,” but also translate to general life success. I sincerely hope the tips I’ve shared here will inspire you to create (or maintain) great habits for your success. If you’re ready to learn more now and want to get my take on how successful business people build personal brands and an audience, read this! Otherwise, if you want to read Part 2 of what I learned working for 2 billionaires, here it is!


Written by

Paul Carrick Brunson

Why is China synonymous with Bad Quality?

The discourse in the current political arena seems to suggest that Made In China is a dirty word. For consumers, it is synonymous with "cheap", "poor quality", "disposable"...


The very first thing we hear out of the mouth of anyone looking to source or manufacture products in China is the perception that China is synonymous with poor quality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are plenty of “poor quality” products made in the USA and Europe, therefore it is clear that the quality factor has absolutely nothing to do with location.
China is a world-class producer of goods, evidenced by products such as iPhones, flat screen tv’s, automobiles (BMW, Mercedes, GM, VW all have manufacturing plants in China). No one would ever venture to suggest that these products are of poor quality, in fact, they are considered benchmarks in their categories.

In the 1950’s, Japan was associated with cheap, poor quality products and so was Hong Kong in the 60’s. What could have changed? Obviously the people in those countries did not suddenly develop a quality gene.
What changed was the introduction of systems and methods that dealt with the issue of efficiency and quality in a systematic way. Methods introduced by Deming and his disciples demonstrated that anyone brought up in a system of Total Quality Management and Lean Management would be capable of delivering quality consistently and contribute to make improvements on a continuous basis.

The lesson to be drawn from the successes in Japan, Hong Kong and eventually China is simply that Quality is a factor of design, planning and execution. The suggestion that a cheap product is necessarily of bad quality is erroneous.
There is no question that electing to use inferior materials for the sake of cost saving will lead to inferior products and so will the choice to use a supplier that is incapable of managing it’s processes and cuts corners in the manufacturing process.

The fact that China is rife with corruption and businesses willing to take short cuts for a fast gain only suggests that the selection of a partner is even more critical. The willingness to engage with a partner, share business values and participate in the operational excellence of the supplier is critical.
All this leads to the ineluctable inference that quality is not only a factor of the choices made by the contracting company (the designer) but that of the selection of the manufacturing partner.

No amount of Quality Control will ever balance a poor design or a poor choice of manufacturer.

Western companies contracting with suppliers in China seem to think that delivering a stringent “specification list”, monitoring design and pre-production and performing pre-shipment quality checks will insulate them from quality issues are sadly mistaken.
What is required, assuming the chosen manufacturer is carefully vetted, is a complete immersion on the part of the contracting entity thus insuring that the issues are discovered and dealt with as they happen.The Chinese worker’s psyche always tends to minimize the issues, find shortcuts and attempt to fix the issues in silence, until it is too late to do anything about it.

How many times have you said to your manufacturing partner: 

  • Why am I hearing about this now?
  • I thought we had already tested this material?
  • The pre-production sample was perfect, what happened?
  • Why is our testing in the US not matching your results?
  • What do you mean by “the approved material was not available”?

I could go on…  It is all about communication, control and the inherent fact that the sentence that applies best in China was coined by Ronald Reagan talking about the Soviet Union:  Trust But Verify

Try it, and you are assured of getting what you designed and more importantly, what you paid for, or, better yet, open your eyes to the true cost of manufacturing overseas, perform a Total Cost exercise and make the decision to manufacture close to your consumers.

See my article on Re-Shoring here.

Richard S. Ellert

Lean Six Sigma - Black Belt   |   Founder - OnShore Advisory Group LLC