How the Wise Decide

The Lessons of 21 Extraordinary Leaders

Bryn Zeckhauser, Aaron Sandoski

Crown Business, August 2008

Discover the formula used by twenty-one of the world’s most extraordinary leaders to make consistent and smart decisions.

How do the wise decide and lead businesses and organizations to great success is the question Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski posed to themselves after landing their first jobs as managers. Despite the best training the world could offer—Harvard MBAs and stints at McKinsey & Company, the elite powerhouse consulting firm—they felt unprepared when faced with the pressure to make critical decisions. So they set out on a three-year quest to discover how people with remarkable success and experience in both corporate and public life—“the wise”—went about making crucial, often make-or-break decisions.

  • How did William George, when CEO of Medtronic, get the real story about why a critical tool used by cardiologists was failing and use that information to fix a systemic problem within the company?
  • When inventor Dean Kamen has to make a decision about investing in a new technology, why does he find it useful to “fill a room with barbarians” to get the best thinking from his team?
  • How did Shelly Lazarus assess the risks of making a nontraditional career move, a decision that eventually led her to being appointed CEO?
  • How did Stephen Schwarzman and Peter Peterson, the founders of The Blackstone Group, turn $400,000 of their own money into one of the world’s preeminent alternative asset managers with $100 billion under management?

These and the other accounts of the direct conversations Zeckhauser and Sandoski had with twenty-one major leaders show that between wise decisions and poor ones lie vast fortunes and extraordinary contrasts in success. How the Wise Decide distills their wisdom, and it reveals how you can use this wisdom to be on the winning side of the ledger.

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About the Author

Bryn Zeckhauser joined Equity Resource Investments in 2007 and currently serves as the Company’s head of Business Development. She is responsible for strategic initiatives in the firm, including investor development. Zeckhauser has spent her entire career in strategy and business development, at McKinsey & Company, for the vice chairman of a Fortune 100 company, and at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and one of its portfolio companies.

Zeckhauser holds an A.B. degree magna cum laude from Harvard College, and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.

Aaron Sandowski currently serves on the Board of Directors for Daktari Diagnostics, Pelvalon, Podimetrics and Vaxess Technologies. Previously, he served on the board of Intelligent Bio-systems (acquired by Qiagen) and was actively involved in Rhythmia Medical (acquired by Boston Scientific).  

Prior to co-founding Norwich Ventures, Sandowski worked for DEKA, the engineering think tank of Dean Kamen, where he helped develop partnerships and formulate business plans for emerging technologies. He has also worked in start-up operations where he helped launch a subsidiary of Express Scripts and helped launch a venture-backed payments company. Both companies were acquired in transactions totaling over $500 million. Sandowski began his career as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he advised healthcare clients ranging from leading medical device companies to a rural hospital system.  

Sandowski earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College with a double A.B. in Chemistry and Economics.