John Hass has worked at Goldman Sachs, a small startup and now as CEO of Rosetta Stone, the Arlington, Virginia-based company best known for teaching foreign languages. Five years ago, Rosetta Stone acquired Lexia Learning, which helps teach reading in K-12 schools.
In addition to the lessons he learned on those career stops, Hass has picked up tips from his family's construction business in the Midwest. Hass shared his insights with the Associated Press. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self about managing people or running a business? What did you learn from your early mistakes?
A: I certainly made many... The one thing that I've clearly found over time is that if I'm humble and I surround myself with great people and I learn from them that I will continue to improve as a person and as an executive. Every day, I learn from all the people I work with. That's what makes this job incredibly enjoyable.
Q: What have you learned about problem-solving over the years? What are the keys to tackling your most difficult challenges?
A: If a problem gets to me, that means in all likelihood there is a disagreement. Usually it's a thoughtful disagreement. For better or worse, I tend to work through problems somewhat methodically. I try to seek a diversity of views and to work through those problems from as many perspectives as I can.
Q: What key things can a manager can do in terms of workplace culture that separate a mediocre business from a high-performing one?
A: You have to know who you are and why people work for you. Don't try and be something you aren't. Don't chase fads. Be true to yourself.
Q: What advice do you have for small business owners right now given the tight labor market and the difficulty many companies have in attracting and keeping workers?
A: What we and others who are successful discover is that ultimately you can't compete on compensation alone. Obviously, you have to be competitive. But you have to know why people should want to work for you. What is your essence as a company? What is your culture? I grew up in a family business. So I know that even smaller companies have clear cultures. Positive, strong cultures attract and keep great people. The benefit of a small business — and I saw this clearly though my father and my uncles and my brother more recently — is that it's very easy for the owners or the principles to set the culture, to visibly live by it. It gives small businesses a great advantage in being able to hire really talented people and keep them.
Q: How do you manage work-life balance?
A: First of all, I allow myself to know that having a good balance is important. There are things you can't control, but you have to know what is important and make it a priority. For me, it is family. I have two young children — a 10-year-old and a 9-year-old, and I travel a lot. When I'm gone, I miss my wife, and I miss my kids. So when I am home, they are the priority. Something that I try and do is actively include my children in as many things that I have to do as possible.