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Leader of the Month for January 2007:


Nido Qubein

LeaderNetwork.org has provided two mediums for you to experience the leadership insights of Nido Qubein: read them below and listen to excerpts from a leadership conversation between Brian McCormick and Nido Qubein. In order to begin playing the audio in a separate window, click here Nido Qubein audio. To download LeaderNetwork.org's leadership podcasts (including the conversation with Nido Qubein), copy and paste the following RSS link into your preferred podcast software: http://www.leadernetwork.org/leadership_podcast.rss.

Nido Qubein's Story

In Nido's own words:

[There was a] guy who had a store at the corner of two streets in a certain town, and he built [that one] small store into a chain of stores. He eventually became a very successful person with a lot of business everywhere. One day he was taken sick to the hospital, and he called all three of his adult children to come into his hospital room. He gave every one of them one dollar, and he asked them to invest this dollar any way they chose to. [He told them to] buy something and bring it back that evening to the hospital. [He said that] whatever they bought with that dollar [should] fill the [hospital] room from corner to corner. Of course, the [children] all went and spent their dollars. One fellow bought some bales of hay and took the hay and threw it up in the [air]; momentarily the room was full, but of course the hay fell on the floor and the daddy said, "No sir." The second [child] went down to Sears and Roebuck and bought a pillow made with feathers; of course, [after they were thrown into the air] the room was momentarily full of feathers. But then the feathers all fell down and the daddy said, "No, sir." The third [child] took fifty cents of the dollar, and he invested in something very worthwhile, just like the Bible says, "Invest thy talons." He took twenty cents of his dollar, and he gave it to his place of worship. He took ten cents and gave it to the Boy Scouts of America, ten cents and gave it to the Girl Scouts of America, and that left ten cents: one dime. He took the dime and went to the store and bought two items: one was a matchbook and one was a little candle. Then he took this candle, struck a match, and lit up the candle. The [hospital] room was filled from corner to corner. And the room was filled, not with hay, not with feathers, but with light.

Somehow, in some small way, I hope that whatever I do and whoever I do it with will light the path so that others can travel down the highways and byways of life and live lives of significance and also [enjoy] careers of success and experiences that are valuable and meaningful.

The life of Nido Qubein is a classic story of success. He came to America at the age of seventeen with only $50 and could not speak much English. Through his raw talent and sheer determination, he achieved great personal and professional success, becoming a bright beacon of light in America. He then spread that light to others with both his personal and professional actions. Professionally, his authoring, speaking, and consulting have provided valuable leadership for others. In his personal life, his desire to shed light on others--such as the $3 million plus that his foundation has given in scholarships to aspiring students--makes his impact all the more remarkable.

About Nido Qubein

President of High Point University and Chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company

Bio: birthday: August 21; spouse: Mariana; four grown children; resides in High Point, North Carolina, USA; grew up in the Middle East and arrived in the United States at the age of seventeen; president of his alma mater, High Point University; chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company; founder of the National Speaker's Association Foundation; recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor; member of Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans; author; professional speaker

Favorite quote: "Always give without remembering. Always receive forgetting." -William Barclay

Favorite book: My book How to Get Anything You Want because my mother was the most influential person in my life. She had a fourth-grade education, yet she had so much wisdom, and I summarize much of that in the book. We have given so many copies of [the book] to people all over the world. It is translated into like twenty languages. So it's not my favorite because I think it is the greatest book written, it is my favorite because it reminds me of the connectivity for wisdom of a woman who did not have a formal education yet [inspired] this book that went on to help so many others.

Current personal passion: My current personal passion is to provide holistic education to the students of High Point University who come from 51 countries and 42 states. That means not only give them a solid education in the disciplines that they want to major in, but also provide them with an all-around understanding about the wisdom and the values that they must have to excel in an ever-changing marketplace. How would you say that has been being done over the past few decades in your average college in America? I would say that colleges by definition focus on teaching people the skills and the competencies in their primary disciplines, whether it is chemistry, or whether it is history or business, whatever the major might be. That's what [colleges] saw their role as being. I, on the other hand, am trying to show people how to have a total education, which means master communication skills, relational capital, getting along with others, and fiscal literacy. [These are] the kinds of things that allow you to graduate from college and then go on to have a successful business and excel with other people who are also educated, who also have an understanding about life issues.

Dream: It depends on what category we are talking about. My dream for the moment would be to make High Point University--and the outstanding institution that it is--excellent at all levels and attract some of the finest students in the country. Also, [to make sure it] has very solid fiscal, financial standing for generations to come. My larger dream would be to ensure that every student who is accomplished and who is focused can get a university education and go on to follow their aspirations in a way that brings them both profit and privilege.

Place in the world you most like to visit: It depends for what purpose, but a general answer would be Paris. I have been there many times, and it [probably] continues to be my all-time favorite city.

Can you think of any time when your leadership was challenged or tested, and how did you respond to that? Any time that you try to create change in an organization, the natural human response when someone doesn't understand or someone is afraid is to resist. So it's natural when you are trying to employ and initiate new policies and new directions that you find that some people resist that. The way you deal with that is you create within people a sense of understanding to inform them to answer their questions [through] sitting down and talking to them to understand what they are afraid of. [You] attempt to remove the resistance not through conflict and authoritarian methods, but rather through understanding and listening, conversing, and dialogue. When that happens, you find that people unlock their resistance and really cooperate.

Experiences vital to your development as a leader: A primary turning point is the fact that my father died when I was four years old and, if I could change one thing in my life, I would rather have had a dad who would have sat me in his lap, read me a book, etc. So my mother brought us up and that was a mega turning point. A second turning point was coming to America at age seventeen with no English, and no money, and no connections, and learning how to survive and thrive. I imagine that was quite a challenge. Yes, that really was. How would you advise someone who is coming to America now who is in a similar situation to the one that you were in? Number one: Learn the English language because that is the primary language of the land, so it is important to really learn how to be flowing and fluid in the use of the language. Number two: Have a solid desire that is backed up by a commitment to excel; in other words, don't give up. Have tenacity in that it takes hard work and smart work to achieve anything of value in life. Number three: Walk hand in hand and side by side with great people. Could you talk a little more about that point, the importance of who you choose to associate with? In other words, who you spend time with is who you become. So if you hang around successful people, you're much more apt to become successful yourself because that's what you focus on, that's what you see, that's what you understand, and that's what really works for you. The same thing goes for what you choose is what you get. So to make good choices, you have to hang around people who are making good choices. If you want to be someone who succeeds in business, you need to hang around with people who are successful in business and pick up on some of their methodology that makes them successful in business. Also, your level of achievement is limited only by your exposure to certain levels of achievement. For example, if you hang around people who have simple jobs and make a little bit of money and have sort of an average achievement that becomes your standard. If you hang around people who are really entrepreneurial--risk takers and movers and shakers--then that becomes your standard.

Turning points in your life: In 1975 someone heard me speak and decided they liked what they heard, so [people] started booking me to speak everywhere. That was certainly a turning point that opened the door for my professional speaking. In 1980 somebody heard me speak several times and said, "Hey, we would like you to be a consultant for our company?" That certainly opened the door for my consulting business. In 1985, a few guys and I started a local bank. That became a turning point for beginning to invest in companies entrepreneurially. Today, I am chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company and other things. These were all turning points: If you are open to opportunities and you are open to suggestions, the law of attraction [comes in to play]. What you think about the most begins to come your way, and that's predominantly what happened to me in business and in life.

What is next for you? I am where I am, and love what I am doing, and this job needs a little while to get it completely fixed (mature it and nurture it and nourish it). We have some specific goals to grow the university. I still have my other businesses and my children are running the other businesses, and I give them guidance. I am chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company and serve on several boards of New York Stock Exchange companies....Life is not about jumping from one thing to another. If you're really open minded, what you find is that what you're capable of creating passion, excitement, and fun even in areas where maybe you are repeating and doing it differently and approaching it differently. [This happens] because maybe you are open-minded to new opportunities, and you are willing to tackle issues from different perspectives.

If you had to categorize, would you say there is some complacency in the youth of America today? I'm not sure that there is complacency. I'm sure there is some comfort because they grew up in a time [in which] America is very affluent, so they grew up in a time that they had many resources available to them. That is natural, obviously, that they are more relaxed about issues of achievement because so many of them have had so much come their way.

Chris Dudley, assistant vice president of community relations at High Point University, shares the following thoughts about the leadership of Nido Qubein: "Dr. Qubein is a remarkable person and leader. He has made me a believer in the value of leadership. It is truly amazing to me the transformation that has taken place at High Point University since his arrival. In this case, one manís vision and leadership has completely remade an institution. At High Point University, Dr. Qubeinís main message is that caring for our students is the #1 priority. This was never more evident to me than when President Qubein took time out of his extremely busy schedule to attend a very small and informal 9/11 memorial service. One student had carefully and sweetly planned this event, but had done very little to promote it. When asked if he attended the event and if many people were present, Dr. Qubein said that there were very few people there but that the studentís mother and father drove several hours to attend the service. I was overwhelmed at what it must have meant for this student and her parents to have the president of the institution supporting the student in this manner. This is but one small example to illustrate Dr. Qubeinís leadership style. He models values and behaviors, and he outworks everyone."

Nido Qubein and Leadership

Advice to aspiring leaders: Follow your passion. Have a clear vision of what you want to do. Slowly define a solid strategy for how you are going to do it and employ practical systems in doing it. Whatever you do, commit yourself to consistent execution.

Most admired leader: Norman Vincent Peale would be somebody that I have admiration for because he was a positive thinker and because he taught the world to become positive in their thinking.

Traits most important in a leader: Number one is trust: A leader who is capable of creating trust (people trusting you). Number two is the authority. Authority not as in being authoritarian, but authority when it comes to developing competence which then develops into confidence, which then leads to authority. People want to follow a leader of authority; they don't want to follow someone who has no authority. Number three, of course, is perseverance, the capacity to "stick it out" when things get a little tough. And the most important one, in my opinion in leaders, is the ability to help others become all that they can become. Is there any specific tactic or technique that you would recommend that leaders should utilize in order to achieve that fourth and most important trait? I think the most important thing is to listen to others so that one can really decipher people's strengths and weaknesses. Don't be a problem solver: Be a solution finder. Try to solve an issue once and for all, and be an encourager. Help people to know that you trust their judgment and that you encourage them to make decisions, even if those decisions are wrong. Encourage them to "keep on keeping on."

What are the best training programs for leaders that are out there? All your major universities like Harvard would have leadership institutes. There is an organization called The Center for Creative Leadership based in Greensboro, North Carolina. That is an excellent place for leadership development. The National Speaker's Association has a long list of experts and consultants on leadership.

What can organizations do to encourage leaders, or conversely, to stifle leaders? Number one: Have an open-door policy that would allow people to connect with each other however and whenever. Number two: Allow for a growing environment. Have things like a professional development budget and encourage people to learn and grow continually. Number three: Give people a sense of empowerment, so that [they] can try things on their own, do things, start things, and experiment with things.

Books recommended for aspiring leaders: Rogers Ailes wrote an excellent book titled You Are the Message. Karl Albrecht wrote a book called Service America! which is sort of [about] doing business with leadership.

Metaphor, story, or analogy for leadership: There is a fish in Japan called the koi. You put a koi fish in a fishbowl and give it all the food and water you want to give it, [but] it never grows to more than about two inches in size. But if you take the koi fish out of the fish bowl and throw it in a pond somewhere, the koi fish grows to about a foot in size. The moral of the story simply is that the koi fish grows proportionately to the environment in which it lives. Leaders understand this premise and principle and create for others the kind of environment in which, through which, and by which [others] are willing to excel and grow and be nurtured and nourished.

What else do you think is important for you to share about leadership? I think predominately [the message] is that leadership is not lessons that you learn.... [Leadership] is not about what you do, it's about who you are. It's about being built from the inside out. It's not about personal achievement but empowering others to become all that they can become.

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