The best advice I ever got

Wisdom isn't cultivated just over time, but through relationships. The insights that follow feature some powerful pairings: business partners, government leaders, heads of foundations, mentors, mentees, friends, and something greater -- all share a willingness to learn from one another and grow wise together.

Mellody Hobson & Jeffrey Katzenberg

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A decade ago, when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz introduced Mellody Hobson to DreamWorks Animation SKG (DWA) chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, it took Katzenberg five seconds to decide that he wanted Hobson on his board of directors. Hobson, the 44-year-old president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, is now DreamWorks' nonexecutive chairman and also on the boards of Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500), Estée Lauder (EL, Fortune 500), and Groupon (GRPN). She's a valuable adviser, the 62-year-old Katzenberg explains, because she simplifies complex problems, always thinks long term, and asks questions in an unthreatening way. "If Mellody were a boxer, she would have a knockout punch that would make you feel like you got hit by a feather," the DreamWorks CEO said over breakfast in Los Angeles, as the two recalled one time when he wanted to make a "multibillion-dollar acquisition" and her wise counsel stopped him. --Patricia Sellers

Katzenberg: My favorite expression of yours is "Don't major in the minor."

Hobson: The biggest mistake I see CEOs make is that they get caught up in the short term. That's majoring in the minor.

Katzenberg: I'm an emotional person. [This acquisition opportunity] needed to be a business decision, not an emotional decision. She helped peel away the things that were not the facts and look at it in a way that I wasn't able to do on my own.

Hobson: It was many, many hours on the phone. Jeffrey really wanted to do it, and he didn't have the support. [I approached the situation by] laying out all the potential outcomes and having a real conversation about: Is this a bet-the-ranch move? Did you think of this, that, and the other? As opposed to telling him what I thought, I tried to get at it with questions.

Katzenberg: Therein lies Mellody's art.

Hobson: I'd say, "Do you believe this number?" He'd say, "I discounted the number by 40%." And I said, "Well, if you're discounting the number, what does this say about your belief in the people?"

Katzenberg: She is the Picasso of questions. She can ask a question like nobody else. You have to find in yourself the answer to it. There's a real art to that.

Hobson: Ultimately everyone did the right thing.

Katzenberg: We didn't do [the deal]. I was okay that we didn't do it. I learned a lot from the process. The board and the company are better for the experience.

- Last updated November 01 2013 08:54 AM ET
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