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Lesson #2: Surround Yourself With the Best
On Thanksgiving Day, 1925, Hughes made one decision that would forever change his life – he hired 36 year-old Noah Dietrich to be his accountant. From that point on, it would be the decisions that Dietrich made on behalf of Hughes that would help create the massive Hughes empire. Upon inheriting the Hughes Tool Co., Hughes shrewdly recognized his inability to manage the family plant and sought out someone with more extensive business experience.
With a $10,000 a year salary, Dietrich became Hughes’ right-hand man for the next three decades, eventually becoming director, vice-president and CEO of various branches of the Hughes’ empire. Robert Maheu, later Hughes’ chief advisor said, “He was delivering Howard profits of $50 to $55 million a year. Big bucks in those days.” From two relative strangers to one of the most successful business partnerships in American history, Hughes and Dietrich represent the success that can come when you surround yourself with equally talented and ambitious people.
The team that Hughes assembled in 1935 to create the record-breaking H-1 was a similarly successful grouping. As soon as Hughes got the idea to build his own plane that would be able to break the airspeed record, he immediately sent a telegram to Richard Palmer, an engineer who he had met four years earlier at Lockheed Aircraft Corp. The note asked simply, “Would you like to help design the fastest plane in the world?” Palmer found himself giving up the security of his job at the time to become chief engineer for Hughes’ project.
Hughes then called an equally competent and trustworthy friend to join his top-secret mission. Glenn Odekirk, a talented aircraft mechanic with a natural aptitude for mechanics and who even built his own car to tour the US, assembled a team to work under Palmer and Hughes. Odekirk was known for his demand of superior workmanship. The dedicated crew worked for months around the clock until the fruits of their labour were realized. Needing only four successful flights to break the record, Hughes flew their team’s aircraft a successful seven times in front of spectators, each time setting a new speed.
One of Hughes’ greatest talents was in his ability to build good teams. He refused to hire yes-men and wanted talented workers who, like Hughes, recognized that building an aircraft was more an art than a mechanical process. Hughes represented a combination of dedication, enthusiasm and stubborn perfectionism and he expected nothing less from his co-workers.
After he successfully set a new airspeed record, Hughes was quick to credit his team members for their workmanship and good design. “I was just the guy that rode along,” he told onlookers that day. And, in typical Hughes fashion, he ended the day by looking at the crowd and saying, “It’ll go faster.”
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