Yahoo Correspondent Julia La Roche on What She's Learned From the World's Top Executives
La Roche regularly interviews CEOs including, Google's Sundar Pichai, Salesforce's Marc Benioff, and Starbucks' Kevin Johnson.
Google's Sundar Pichai. Salesforce's Marc Benioff. Starbucks' Kevin Johnson. Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman.
Yahoo correspondent Julia La Roche has interviewed them all. Known for her exclusive one-on-ones with the business world’s top executives and dealmakers, La Roche often gets rare access to the CEOs who rarely agree to do sit-down interviews.
How does she land the initial interview and gain their trust? What has she learned about how they navigate their greatest successes to their most devastating failures?
La Roche participated in an hour-long, live "Ask Me Anything" with readers who are part of The Profile's members-only Telegram chat. (To join, consider becoming a premium member here.)
In this Q&A, La Roche discusses the importance of preparation, persistence, and why she approaches every conversation with genuine curiosity.
Below are the highlights of her Q&A with the readers:
Q: Who is one person you've interviewed that really surprised you (ie: how they were in person didn't match public perception)?
LA ROCHE: One of my all-time favorite interviews has to be Mark Bertolini, who served as CEO of Aetna, the third-largest insurance company.
I knew I wanted to interview him after hearing him speak at a Bloomberg conference in 2017. He showed up to our first interview that summer in a black T-shirt, wearing Vans sneakers, and with his tattoo on his arm exposed — not exactly the image you might have of a health insurance CEO.
He was awesome. What folks might not know is that Bertolini's views of the health care system were shaped by 2 life-changing events — first, his son's cancer diagnosis at age 16 (today, his son is the only known survivor of that rare and deadly form of lymphoma) and a year later Bertolini suffering a spinal cord injury in a horrific skiing accident.
Bertolini explained that those events made it apparent that we have big holes in the health care system that we need to fill and the importance of treating people as whole people. I recommend his book, "Mission-Driven Leadership: My Journey as a Radical Capitalist."
How do you prepare for your interviews?
I love the preparation process! For some of my interviews, it's taken me years to land them. I'm persistent, though. When I decide that I want to talk to someone, I keep a running Google Doc to add notes, whether it's from a podcast, book, speaking appearance, article, or television hit. Some of these can get to be several pages long.
When I get that "yes," I know I'll have a solid foundation to work with. My first big on-camera interview was with Howard Schultz in December 2016. I didn't do CEO interviews at that time. I didn't even cover Starbucks.
Ahead of time, I made sure to read every book Howard had written (3 at the time), watched past interviews, read memos he had written, watched a speech he had given the night before. I think it's crucial always to do your homework before you sit in that interviewer's chair.
Another example was Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, it took me probably three years to land an interview with him. I read all four of his books and continued making that ask.
Our first interview was in November 2019. My preparation was evident during that conversation. I think guests appreciate it when you're prepared. It pays off. I did five interviews with Benioff in 2020.
What is one question you always ask each interviewee?
I don't think I have a go-to question. I probably should! I'm trying to think about that actually. I do think it's important to follow up with something that was said in a prior interview.
For example, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson made a commitment in 2020 during the depths of the pandemic to honor the benefits/pay, boost wages for partners working, and commit to no layoffs.
Right now, we are hearing of companies facing labor challenges. During my interview with Kevin last week, I asked him about the results from that commitment, and the big takeaway he gave is that it built trust with those partners, which drove the company's record results in Q3.
What are patterns you see in terms of how people respond to being wrong or making mistakes publicly?
I think those that come out and just own it do much better than those that don't.
Many of these business figures rarely agree to do longform sit-down interviews. You've managed to interview some of them multiple times. What do you do to gain their trust, and how exactly do you approach them to get the initial interview?
I think that process has evolved. I'm fortunate enough to have a portfolio of past work now to show to help get that initial interview. I think it goes back to the preparation process and demonstrating that I care by showing that I'm willing to do the work.
I don't look at "no" as being a rejection. Instead, it might mean, "not right now." I've been told "no" many times! I remain persistent and focused in my efforts. When it comes to making that ask, I get out of my comfort zone too. I'll go up to folks and say hello at a conference or event or shoot a quick note when it's relevant.
You previously recommended 'Richer, Wiser, Happier' as a good read. What other business or investing books would you recommend?
There are so many to choose from.
When it comes to mentality, I’d recommend Robert Cialdini’s books (Influence & Pre-Suasion), Atomic Habits by James Clear (I’ve re-read this one so many times now), The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel (highly recommend), Mindset by Carol Dweck.
And for finance folks, “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator” never gets old. I know there are tons I'm missing here. That's just off the top of my head.