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Todd Benjamin's Boardroom Blog

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Todd Benjamin is CNN's Financial Editor. Here he gives his own thoughts and impressions on the subjects he interviews in The Boardroom.

December 18

What happens when you think you're going to do something the rest of your life and then suddenly someone waves a unimaginable amount of cash in front of you.

Enough cash that you never have to work again, so much cash, that you can live like a king, just off the interest.

It happened to Scottish entrepreneur Tom Hunter at the tender young age of 37. He sold a sports retailing business for £290 million in 1998. His worth eight years later is now estimated at £800 million, making him the richest man in Scotland.

His wealth has grown through a private equity partnership he founded in 2001 called West Coast Capital. And even though people still call him a retailer, his big money in recent years has come from property.

But that's Tom Hunter the man with Midas touch, the Tom Hunter that fascinated me was Tom Hunter, the philanthropist. He plans to give most of his money away. His Hunter Foundation has already committed more than £35 million to try and make the Scots more enterprising. He's pledged a $100 million to the Clinton Initiative in Africa. In all his programs the idea is not just give the money away but make sure they can measure success, that the money is actually bringing results.

Ever since I interviewed him, and I see big headlines about vast wealth the first question I ask is what do they plan to do with their money, not want they plan to buy with it. He's a great role model for anyone who aspires to great wealth and then does great things for humanity with that wealth. Enjoy the interview.

November 6

I've met Michelle Mone twice. Once at a leadership conference in London. The second time when we did the interview for The Boardroom at London's posh Dorchester Hotel. Both times she confessed how nervous she was and worried about how she would do in the interview.

I'm not sure how much of this is genuine concern or a bit of still playing the girl from Glasgow underdog.

In either case, you end up rooting for her.

She grew up poor and dreamed of staying in nice hotels ... and how many kids do you know who have a picture of Richard Branson in their room, Michelle did.

What makes a great entrepreneur beyond the actual idea, is a passion, energy, and an obsession to make it bordering on the pathological.

Michelle, risked it all the make her dream happen and for this alone you have to admire her. She put it all on the line ... that's more than most of us are willing to do and for that alone she deserves a lot of credit.

October 23

In every interview, the trick is trying to figure out what's really interesting about this person. A couple things about Ron Sugar struck me immediately. He's smart, very smart. Graduated from college at 19, had a doctorate in electrical engineering at the age of 23 and more remarkable because he was the first person in his family to graduate from high school. But at the same time has an emotional intelligence, because when I spoke to him about leadership he understands its about empowering people.

The second thing that intrigued me about Ron Sugar is the business he's in, the defense business. He grew up during the age of Sputnik and the Cold War. How much the U.S. spends on defense, the Iraq war, the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism -- these are questions of huge debate. But at Northrup Grumman there's a great sense of purpose. During the interview (not included in the version you're seeing because of time limitations,) Sugar says what drives his people is not just a normal business imperative, but they know that "people's lives depend on it." He's absolute in that belief. "Our purpose is to provide the technological firepower so that people don't maim and kill us. And that we can protect our way of life. And while it would be nice to live in a world where there are no weapons, and it would be nice to live in a world where everybody has the same values and respect that we might have, that is not the world we live in."

As the son of immigrants, America has given him a lot. When it comes to protecting America's way of life, shades of grey don't hold any place for Ron Sugar.

October 9

When doing an interview with Robert Milton was suggested, the peg was his turnaround of Air Canada. But when I met him it became readily apparent to me that was only part of the story.

After reading about him, and meeting him, what stood out above all is that he is a complete airline freak ... can't get enough of it ... a passion that began as a boy.

My colleague Richard Quest also loves the airline industry. He's never happier when he's 30,000 feet above the ground.

But I ask you, how normal is it for a kid to be reading airline schedules, or helping his parents friends plan their airline trips? But that's exactly what Robert Milton loved to do.

Fortunately he realizes this is an obsession, and doesn't wish it on his son. I think something all good leaders share is passion for the business they are leading. He has it in spades. He found his passion early and by his own admittance if he hadn't ended up running an airline, he probably would have been working on the tarmac.

For me, I'm just happy if the plane leaves on time.

September 18

Tesco is the company the press loves to bash. Its dominance in the UK, and its growing international business, makes it an easy target. But I don't buy the criticism. Consumers have choice, and if they didn't like what Tesco is offering they can shop elsewhere.

I'm not a Tesco shopper, I don't like the way the stores feel, but I really liked meeting its chief executive Terry Leahy.

He's a man I admire. I don't often say that. He was genuine, clearly has a vision, focused, and has never forgot his working class roots.

He's the only of four sons in his family to even finish high school. I like self-made people.

During the interview he told me that "if you run a retail business well you can make small but important improvements in people's lives. You know the weekly wage goes a little bit further. People are treated with respect when they go shopping. This matters to people. You know that when you come from a council estate not many people treat you as an equal. You get treated well in a store that matters."

That lack of pretense has served him well. He understands his customers. Even Tesco's headquarters is plain vanilla. It's in an industrial park, not a place you'd want to have your wedding. But Leahy insists this helps reminds his team that the important place is in the stores where the customers are.

All this sounds like pretty basic stuff, but it's made Tesco, led by Leahy into a juggernaut.

So let the press malign the beast that is Tesco, the British press often likes tearing down people. I like people who inspire.

As Terry Leahy told me: "Working with people has taught me that of course the important thing is what you cause other people to do rather than what you do yourself.

"And so over time you learn that's much more about motivating and inspiring other people and challenging other people to do more, to do things differently."

Good advice Terry.


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Todd Benjamin

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