PROFESSIONAL PROFILE that drove him to found a management laboratory in Boulder, where he conducts research and engages in Socratic dialogue with CEOs and senior leadership teams. By far, his greatest accomplishment, he says, is that “I realized that life isn’t about the what; it’s about the who. I enjoy working with people and love spending time with people. Life is not about accomplishments and acquisitions; it’s about people,” says Collins, who has been married for 36 years to wife Joanne. “We got engaged after four days. I was 22 years old; she was 21 years old. I’m most proud of my relationship with Joanne.” Finding Inspiration in Others And it’s people from whom Collins draws inspiration. “Given that I didn’t have a role model for a father, I sought out role models and mentors. I had a great honing mechanism for mentors,” he says. One of his early mentors was Bill Lazier, a professor at Stanford who became a colleague and co-author of his book “Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company” and “Managing the Small to Midsize Company: Concepts and Cases in the 1990s.” Lazier died in 2005; Collins says of him, “Bill gave me a real a-ha moment when he said that the most important thing is to begin everything with the questions ‘What are your values?’ and ‘Are you willing to suffer and sacrifice for them?’” Says Collins, “He taught me the value of commitment. He told me there is never an acceptable reason for failing to fulfill a commitment that you make. In fact, I once flew to Florida with a hurricane coming because I had made a commitment to get there.” While Lazier taught Collins the value of honoring commitments, it was John W. Gardner, another Stanford professor and the sixth U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, who taught him to spend less time trying to be interesting and more time trying to be 18
Lives of Real Estate
interested. “That fundamentally rang true for me. I was 30 years old and teaching at the business school at the time. I became the guy asking all the questions rather than answering them. People are interesting. You never know what struggles they’ve overcome or that they engage in some arcane activity,” he says. Gardner also opened the door to Collins’ work in social sectors, including education, healthcare, government, faith-based organizations, social ventures and cause-driven nonprofits. “John Gardner taught me how to study the great leaders in education, military and more. He taught me that they all have one thing in common—an off-the-charts, sustained energy level,” says Collins. “Regardless of how long they’ve been doing their job, they still are on fire.” In fact, says Collins, that is probably one of the hardest parts of leadership— finding the cause that will bring that energy out of you. “If you were to ask these great entrepreneurs and leaders how they have so much energy, they wouldn’t understand the question. I call these Level 5 leaders. What separates them is that they are truly ambitious for something that is not about themselves and their accomplishments,” he adds. Collins still rock climbs (he successfully made one-day ascents of the northwest face of Half Dome and the 3,000-foot south face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley), and is passionate about the outdoors, seeking experiences that take him outside. “One thing you’ll notice about me is that I’m not sure downtime is anything I’ve ever experienced. Everything comes back to my work, and I’m not very good at downtime,” he laughs. In fact, when interviewed for a newspaper article about her husband, Joanne was asked to give one word that describes him. “She said ‘exhausting,’” laughs Collins, who says he reads between 50 and 100 books every year. “I like to take things and get better at them. I don’t have to be better than others. I want to improve and grow. John Gardner inspired me when he said we should learn more between ages 70 and 88 than ever before.” With his untamed passion and curiosity to know as much as possible about people in all different fields, Collins is that once-in-a-lifetime leader who lives and breathes what he teaches. “It’s all about the people,” he says. And, people make life interesting.