Leven Prescribes Constructive Change
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Leven Prescribes Constructive Change

New book emphasizes the importance of good relationships in creating meaningful business strategies

Mike Leven has been president of the major hotel chains Holiday Inn and Days Inn.  He’s also been the CEO and chairman of the Atlanta Aquarium and a top executive of the Las Vegas Sands.
Mike Leven has been president of the major hotel chains Holiday Inn and Days Inn. He’s also been the CEO and chairman of the Atlanta Aquarium and a top executive of the Las Vegas Sands.

In his new book “Can’t Do It Yourself,” Mike Leven describes the lessons he’s learned over a 55-year career as a top executive and leader in the hospitality industry. He’s also a prominent philanthropist who helped create the Michael A. Leven School of Management, Entrepreneurship and Hospitality at Kennesaw State University.

The subtitle of the book, “How Commitment to Others Leads to Personal Prosperity,” highlights Leven’s belief that much of his success has come from how he’s treated those he’s worked with and for.

When he was 34 and climbing the executive ladder in the hotel business, Leven met Fred Jervis, who became a major influence in his life. Jervis, who taught psychology at the University of New Hampshire and was a successful corporate consultant, was blind.

We caught up with Leven to ask about his book and success.

Amazon.com: Can't Do It Yourself: How Commitment To Others Leads To Personal Prosperity eBook: Leven, Mike: Kindle Store
Leven’s new book “Can’t Do It Yourself”

AJT: What impact did Fred Jervis have on your life?

Leven: Because he was blind, he judged people on what they said instead of how they looked. And I thought that was really fascinating, His whole theory was that you construct your own change, and to be proactive in making change. For example, as an executive who has a COVID-19 situation that’s going on right now, what do you change? How can you create change? What do you want to end up with?

So you don’t let the world continue to change around you without looking at what you can do to create change within that environment. I consequently engaged in a process called the constructive change process. How can I create change in this environment? That’s constructive change to get to end up where you really want to be. And Jervis taught me that.

AJT: Over the last 15 years or so, you worked for two of the most successful businessmen in America. You were president of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation for Sheldon Adelson and you were the CEO and chairman of the Georgia Aquarium, which Bernie Marcus created. What did working for these two men teach you about what you call constructive change?

Leven: In terms of what Bernie did at Home Depot and what Sheldon has done at the Las Vegas Sands, they’re both incredibly creative. They’re also risk takers and very consonant with their own judgments. When you work as sort of the number two guy for them, whatever your title is, the one thing that you have to make sure that you do is you have to understand what their agenda is. Selling an idea to either one of them to create constructive change is not easy because they’re usually the idea people.

AJT: Why do you think you have been so successful?

Leven: You know, you can be a disruptive manager, but you can’t be a destructive manager. What I have really learned is that the real happiness of an organization is when everyone feels they’re winning and that they’re in charge of change and producing the results that cause them to be feel successful

AJT: You write in your book that what matters at the end of a long career is who you have influenced and how you influenced them. So how do you think you have influenced others?

Leven: Many people really helped me to be successful, both those who worked under me and those who worked above me. I think if I proved anything, you can be successful without being an animal. What I’m saying is that you don’t have to be mean. You may have to be tough from time to time, but if you can maintain relationships with people, you’ll get through it. And I think looking back over it all, for me, that has been really good to know.

Mike Leven will discuss “Can’t Do It Yourself” at the Prologue to the Book Festival of the MJCCA Oct. 29.

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