The “Five Things” column, a regular feature of the Business section, was conceived as a way to connect the work lives of executives, entrepreneurs, and other professionals with the personal experiences that have motivated them to make a difference in whatever field or industry they’ve chosen to take on. They believe in what they’re doing.
Some have been inspired by tragedy or upbringing, others by an unquenchable interior drive or curiosity. Along the way, they have overcome — and, sometimes, accepted — failure, and discovered that the definition of wealth extends way beyond a financial portfolio.
At the year’s end, we’ve compiled excerpts from the last 12 months of “Five Things” interviews as examples. If there’s a common thread connecting them, it’s that success almost never comes without setbacks, and that achieving it is a byproduct of a life lived to its fullest, not the culmination of a competition.
“I grew up in Hong Kong and, because I grew up in a fairly traditional Chinese household, I was always told to be practical and to go get a job and be useful in life and provide for your family. So I had been on a fairly predictable track my whole life. But something was always missing. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do something that has an impact outside of myself?’ This opportunity presented itself and I decided to, I guess, jump into the ocean and embrace it. And it was super risky because nothing in my life had prepared me to be an entrepreneur. I had never started anything in my life.”
— Tracy Palandjian, chief executive of Social Finance Inc., a nonprofit that uses private investment to fund nonprofit social service projects, on being an “accidental entrepreneur.”
”There were a lot of folks famously who planned out when Google went public that [it] wouldn’t survive. And I think [Google has] done quite well. There are a lot of folks out there who like to be skeptical. I don’t think spending a lot of time on that group is worth it.”
— Niraj Shah, cofounder of online homegoods retailer Wayfair, on critics of his company’s long-term prospects.
“I was around for the Welch-to-Immelt transition, and people used to say to me, ‘What was the difference between the two of them?’ One way I described it was that Welch was tough on the outside and soft on the inside and Immelt was soft on the outside and tough on the inside. In the end, all these leaders have to be wicked smart, they have to be passionate about the company because the commitment is high. And they have to be great listeners and learners because you can never have a CEO [start] fully prepared for the job.”
— Susan Peters, who leads Boston-based General Electric’s human resources operations and is retiring on Dec. 31 after a 38-year career with the company.
“People four or five years younger were part of the party/protest crowd in the 1960s, but my parents missed that boat. I can remember my dad breaking my bong on at least one — actually, two — occasions. But at my friend’s house, it was cool to smoke. The hippies didn’t mind at all — in fact, they encouraged it. This is when I started to discover that cannabis wasn’t really a bad thing. Eventually, it became the only drug I would use, because it was always the healing thing you would use to come off the others.”
— Michael Latulippe, the president of the Cannabis Society and development director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, on growing up in a conservative household while being a part of the “druggie crowd.”
“We’re perfectly comfortable ordering all of these expensive [medical] tests for a patient, but I think the truth is we’re not yet really comfortable asking about the most fundamental aspects of a patient’s life, even if those are the things that are going to have the greatest impact on a patient’s health. A lot of Health Leads’ work is around trying to change the boundaries around what counts as health care.”
— Rebecca Onie, chief executive of Health Leads, a Boston-based nonprofit that works to persuade health institutions to address basic needs for low-income patients — such as food and electricity, on her company pushing boundaries.
“My friends and I were graduates from the Boston University MFA program and we thought, what if we brought the rigor of the university to the streets and did this on our own? Right from the start we were astounded. There are a lot of people who don’t fit into the traditional MFA model who are serious about their work.”
— Eve Bridburg, founder and executive director of GrubStreet, on how her experiences at Boston University inspired her to start the creative-writing center.
“The big challenge was managing your load on the way home. Records and books weigh a lot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s how I got my interest in history and the city. You could see the city changing and how different parts of the city had different feels to them.”
— Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for preserving Boston’s architectural history, on what he learned as a teenager from shopping for books and records in Cambridge.
“Most people are looking for a way to stand out. A woman in a male-dominated industry automatically stands out. But that’s the good news. The hard news is when you stand out and everybody’s looking at you, you better be the most credible, you better have the best attention to detail, and you better be ready to make the best decision, because they’re all watching you.”
— Victoria Bondoc, founder of Gemini Industries, a Burlington-based national security firm, on being a woman in a business world dominated by men.
“Nobody’s going to stop progress, in terms of technology and automation. But what we need to do as worker representatives is think a little outside the box. If there’s going to be technology coming in, we have to negotiate that those jobs go to our members, and that training be given to our members if technology replaces those jobs.”
— Brian Lang, president of Boston’s Unite Here Local 26, a Boston hotel and food service union, and a member of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, on what labor unions can do to prevent automation from eliminating jobs.Globe correspondent Natasha Mascarenhas contributed to this report.