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Executive 'huge on leadership by example'

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Jim Tenuto, president and CEO of Renaissance Executive Forums, is following his passions.

The U.S. Naval Academy graduate spoke to students at California State University, San Marcos on Wednesday about quitting his job at Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER) after 20 years, all because he read a book.

“When I really got down to it, I figured out all I was doing was making rich people richer,” he said.

The book was "The Nightingale’s Song" by Robert Timberg. It follows five graduates of the Naval Academy -- John McCain, John Poindexter, Bud McFarlane, Jim Webb and Oliver North -- and how they managed their lives after war.

The book helped Tenuto realize he wasn’t passionate about his job anymore and that he needed something new.

Reading has always been a love of Tenuto’s and his reading has shaped many decisions he’s made.

He said he reads about 100 books every year, and from those books his company Renaissance Executive Forums was born.

The company is “dedicated to helping top executives accelerate positive change in their businesses and in their lives,” according to its Web site.

It does this by bringing successful businesses together -- no startups or flounders -- and discussing better business practices, networking tools and successful planning.

A focused person, Tenuto told the class humility isn’t important to him, but being responsible is. He said the best ethical advice he ever got on the job was in a memo he received his first day at Merrill Lynch.

His boss told him to not do anything that he wouldn’t mind his mother knowing about, or that he wouldn’t want to see on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

He said the ethical infrastructure of a business relies on the manager, saying that it trickles down.

“I’m huge on leadership by example,” he said. “I believe employees model your behavior.”

Based on that belief, Tenuto advises managers to know their employees well enough to motivate them and help them to become passionate about their job, because those emotions trickle down as well.

“I don’t believe in motivation, I believe in self-motivation. I don’t believe in discipline -- and this is a military guy talking -- I believe in self-discipline,” he said.

Married with three children, Tenuto said hitting the 50-year mark was a turning point.

By then, he said he knew his values -- family, company, etc. -- but he found himself with a “diminishing portfolio of enthusiasm” for the Padres or Chargers, or even the 2008 presidential race.

When he realized that, he said the pressure to care was lifted. He smiled as he showed students his Timex watch, letting them know he had a Tiffany watch with a dead battery at home that he never bothered to replace.

“I’m not cheap, I’m frugal,” he said with a laugh.

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Online Videos

* Jim Tenuto's class discussion

* Interview with Jim Tenuto


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