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Apple Computer Pioneer David Sun Says, “Be a Sponge”

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Guest: David Sun, a partner and coach at CEO Coaching International. David has 30 years of experience penetrating international markets in the technology industry, including introducing Compaq computer (now Hewlett Packard) into China. He also established Apple computer in Hong Kong and founded a company that became the fifth largest reseller of Apple products worldwide. David is also an investor, entrepreneur and a global leader in technology, marketing, strategic planning, manufacturing, and corporate structure.

Episode in a Tweet: The best CEOs are sponges constantly soaking up new learning from the world around them.

Quick Background: Vision. Cash. People. Relationships. Learning. Only the CEO can tackle those key responsibilities. If those five things aren’t the focus of your day, then you’re wasting your time and hurting your company.

Like cutting the ad budget when you have to reduce costs, CEOs often push learning to the back burner in favor of higher-profile things like casting a vision or visiting top clients. And while vision and meeting clients are critical, so too is taking the time to learn and stay on top of the latest changes sweeping the business world. Setting aside that time might feel indulgent when we know there are projects to monitor, books to balance, and teams to manage.

On today’s show, CEO Coaching International’s David Sun explains why self-improvement isn’t selfish – it’s essential to mastering your space, inspiring your team, and growing your business BIG.

Key Insights on Learning
from David Sun

1. Be a sponge.

“Every day when I wake up, I want to be a sponge,” David Sun says. “I want to learn everything from everyone, from everything that I touch and see around me every morning. We should immerse ourselves in learning every day.”

One of David’s most memorable “sponge” opportunities came when he was building his Apple resale company and worked closely with Steve Jobs on several projects. “His dedication and attention to detail is beyond belief,” David remembers. “He was also very, very consistent in his pursuit of excellence. He started to look at things from outside the box before that term became popular in the business world. He’s a pretty focused person. He always gets projects done correctly. He always creates something that none of us realize we need at this moment, but he’s already making it.”

Of course Jobs, famously, was a sponge in his own right. Apple’s products and services filtered through Jobs’ interests in things like Eastern philosophy, graphic design, and classic rock music until the end result was perfection.

Thinking you “don’t have time” for learning is a mental block you need to clear away. You’re the CEO! You’re in charge of your calendar! You just have to acknowledge that learning needs to be on it, whether that means attending conferences, daily reading time, lunch with mentors and other CEOs, or listening to an audio book while you’re on the treadmill.

If you need a recommendation, any book on this list is going to make you look at your business in a new way. David Sun also recommends “The Art of War,” which you can download for free right here.

“When you read it, you start thinking deeper,” David says. “Sun Tzu says that if you know your enemy – in business, the competition – as well as yourself, you will never have to worry about a thousand battles, you’re going to win them all. What he is saying is in today’s business world, knowledge and data are very important, because they will make your business much more successful and you can achieve your goals much easier.”

2. Follow your core values

One way to structure your learning is to think about the values that are most important to your business and how you can go about improving them. David Sun has gravitated to “Three Cs” that he believes are the foundation for the culture and goals that any successful business could want to achieve. The “Three Cs are so important to David that he recommends his entrepreneur coaching clients screen potential hires for these traits, both during face-to-face interviews and via Talent Insights assessments:


“I am very much into commitment, which is what Apple demonstrated to me,” David says. You also want committed team players working for you who are going to come to work excited to hit the next target and keep moving the company forward.

David Sun: Every day when I wake up, I want to be a sponge.


The only way to hit the BIG goals you set at the beginning of the year is to be diligent in tracking, measuring, and managing the everyday steps you’re taking towards those goals. David adds, “Sometimes I think most of the failure that you see in businesses come from people who are giving up too early. You have to stay the course.”


Today’s best and brightest want to work for someone who cares about more than just making money. Look outside yourself and your business to find a mission that’s bigger than profit and you’ll attract people who want to do good work the right way for the right reasons.

3. Communicate an inspiring vision.

One important aspect of David Sun’s “sponge mentality” is that learning isn’t just something you do in isolation. A true lifelong learner always has his antenna set to receive. The more curious and observant you are, the more learning opportunities you’re going to have during the course of your day.

Provided, of course, you’re not the kind of CEO who always has to be the loudest voice in the room.

“Sometimes we’re so quick to just put out whatever’s on our mind,” David Sun says. “We all want to say too much too quickly. But be quiet and listen, because other people have a lot to contribute. Sometimes by us rushing to get out whatever’s on our mind too quickly, we actually miss the opportunity to listen to the other side, which is very important. We have a Chinese saying: ‘Think about it three seconds before you say it.’”

The louder you are as CEO, the more likely you are to drown out your own message. What resonates the loudest at successful companies is a vision so BIG and inspiring that everyone wants to pitch in their own unique voice, their more valuable talents, and their most sincere, committed effort.

“I think it’s so important that every day we just think about who we can inspire that works around you,” David Sun says. “You need a really strong leadership team that you can trust. We can motivate them and inspire them to the performance that you need to achieve the goal. As a leader, if we can define the goals that we are trying to achieve very clearly, everybody knows that we’re all marching to the same tune, trying to achieve at the same level. And once that’s achieved, we celebrate together.”

Top Takeaways

  1. Learning is part of your job. What’s good for your mind is good for your business.
  2. Live your values and learn how to improve on them.
  3. Listen more than you talk or you might be silencing a valuable voice

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.

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