Archstone CEO R. Scot Sellers didn't learn everything he needed to know about leadership from surfing. Sellers didn't even jump on a board until his late 30s, but now he spends about 40 mornings a year surfing breaks in Del Mar, Calif.; Mexico; and the British Virgin Islands. Although he says surfing is more about relaxation and fun, Sellers admits that the focus required to learn to surf draws an interesting parallel to earning a senior position in business. MFE paddled out with Sellers for these thoughts.
MFE: What did learning to "get back on your board" while surfing teach you about the importance of perseverance to the leadership role?
SS: I've learned lots of sports in my life and many of them to a pretty good degree of proficiency, but surfing is definitely the hardest of all the sports I have learned. You have to fall hundreds of times during the learning process, and once you start going out in waves that are overhead in height, you can get pretty beat up out there. The first few times out surfing are pretty humbling. In fact, most people have a diffi cult time just paddling through the waves to get out beyond the break. It definitely takes determination and the willingness to take risks and make mistakes to learn to surf, and these qualities are also essential in a good leader. Most of the best decisions we have made at Archstone were outside of 'conventional wisdom' and required the willingness to take risks. Although there is always a little trepidation involved in stepping into challenging conditions, it is also very exhilarating, just like dropping in on a large wave.
MFE: Surfers spend a great deal of time scouting out the perfect wave. How has that helped you find new opportunities at Archstone?
SS: Actually, the hardest thing to do as a surfer is to find a great break that is not crowded. A very good friend of mine and I are always checking out new areas, trying to find those 'secret' breaks. When we find one, we keep it to ourselves and enjoy it as long as we can before others discover it. The same thing is true in a leadership role at a company. The best opportunities are those that are undiscovered or untested by others, and it takes a tremendous amount of research to uncover those. The analogy is relevant in all aspects of our business, including finding unique sites to develop, identifying market assets to acquire, and identifying new innovations to improve our operating platform.
MFE: In the water, you must watch for everything from riptides to white sharks. As a multifamily leader, how do you prepare for risks?
SS: I have always told my kids that the two biggest regrets that people have at the end of their lives are that they wish they had spent more time with family and that they wish they had taken more risks. Intelligent risk taking is a wonderfully exciting and gratifying part of life. If you always think about the ways you could get hurt or make a mistake, you'll rarely do anything very exciting or, ultimately, very rewarding.
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