Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CEO Archetypes: #7 Joan of Arc


I am not sure how to say this any other way. . .

If you are a woman CEO, no matter how good or bad you are, no matter which of the previous 6 CEO Archetypes you fall into, at some point they are going to burn you at the stake.

And yet, there are these very courageous women who jump into the leadership spot knowing full well that incineration is a certainty.

When Paddy Chayefsky's prediction that countries would be replaced by companies came true, God apparently stopped whispering "Save France" and began suggesting that woman save: Pepsi, Xerox, Yahoo, Western Union, Kraft and about 45 other Fortune 500 enterprises.  God must have a pretty diversified portfolio.

Now, I am not a shrill feminist, but I know that all of these CEO's will eventually become martyrs.

The Joan of Arc jumps in when reason says stay out of the water.   The Joan is compelled to lead.  I don't know these women personally, but I do know their experience.  Actually, I worked at Sun at the same time as Carol, but I was never in her organization, so I observed her more than worked with her. And Carly and I used to get our mani-pedi's done at the same time at La Belle in Palo Alto, so we sat next to each other frequently and chatted a bit (when she wasn't on conference calls), but I cannot say I know her. 

What I do know is that just like the virgin-warrior, these girls are held to a different standard than their male counterparts.  They will be excoriated for minor flaws in judgment or peccadilloes or even potty-mouths...while their male peers enjoy biology-based immunity from the same level of scrutiny.

C'mon, none of the women leading the firms I mentioned above would survive having an inappropriate relationship with a vendor, hide it by lying on expense reports, subject the enterprise to an harassment suit, be allowed to resign with a multi-million-dollar package, negotiate a settlement with the plaintiff without notifying the BOD, be defended by pundits and other CEO's and then land a new C-level job in less than 60 days at a competitor.  No, it takes balls to have a run like that and still have anyone of merit defend you.

When it was reported that, upon learning a senior engineer was leaving Microsoft for Google, by one account Steve Ballmer threw a chair and said:
"Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy. I'm going to fucking bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I'm going to fucking kill Google."


...most of the world yawned a bit and took a Boy-that-Steve-is-one-passionate-guy stance.

But when Carol Bartz told Michael Arrington to "fuck off" during an interview in which Arrington had been blatantly disrespectful, she was quickly called a variety of crude names and labeled unprofessional and unladylike.


Excuse me?  Did you say, unladylike?

I cannot find a single instance of Ballmer being called "ungentlemanly" for his outburst.  Nor do I find the plethora of descriptive obscenities for male executives that are commonly used to describe women in those roles.   OK, so Ballmer called Schmidt an obscene name...but think about it...in a rage, the worst thing Steve could think to call Eric was a vulgar term for a woman's genitalia.  Because really, the worst thing you could call a man...is a woman.

"Joans" are rare; statistics tell us that the majority of women leave the corporate executive ranks early with visions of starting their own companies or joining the consulting world.  The odds against them are monumental.  Most women just give up or wear down and succumb to the voice in their head that tells them the fight is too daunting.  So these driven few who gut it out and excel in the big companies really are unique.  They hear a different voice in their heads telling them to ignore the bullshit and keep moving forward.

Sometimes a woman's family pulls her from the competition.  And it is not always the needs of school age children that make a woman reconsider her corporate aspirations.

In 1992 my friend Kevin Melia came to my house for dinner.  Kevin was the CFO at Sun Microsystems.  We had worked closely together when he ran World Wide Operations at Sun.  It was summertime, his family was on the east coast for a few weeks, so my husband, Kem and I invited Kevin to share some grilled pork-chops and a pleasant evening.

We were having a great time when Kevin turned to Kem and said; "I haven't seen you for a long time, Kem.  You were not at the Christmas party or the last few Sun gatherings, where have you been keeping yourself?"

And my shy, sensitive husband looked Kevin right in the eye and replied, "Kevin, you pay Nancy a lot of money to deal with Sun's sexism, but you could not pay me enough to watch it ever again, so I will not be attending another Sun function."  Kevin actually choked on his pork chop.   It was a very tense moment with two men who like each other, who I love and who I know both love me. 

I was initially perturbed by my husband's candor that evening.  I really thought he just did not get it.  My life as a woman was different in the workplace than a man's.  I knew that and I accepted it. Why couldn't he accept it?  I felt he was applying a man's criteria to my experience and not understanding the unique dance I had to do to remain influential and well liked as a women in corporate America.

I discussed this with my good friend, Ron Lloyd, at Sun the next week and he asked, "What do you do that is different from what I do?"  And like the fool that I am, I answered him.  "Well,” I said, "If I have an idea I really want heard or implemented, I usually attribute it to a male colleague to give it gravitas."  "Why would you do that?" Ron asked.  "Because otherwise it will not get attention." I explained.   I went on to tell him that in a one-on-one situation, if I had an idea or solution I would invoke a colleague who was not in the room.  So I might say to Kevin Melia, "Jim Bean and I were talking and I think Jim said, 'fill in my idea here.'"  Or if I have something I think is important in a staff meeting, I try to get the guy sitting next to me to pick up my idea so it will get attention.

Ron did not believe me.  Sweet man that he is, he thought I had a lot of influence and did not buy that I sacrificed credit for ideas just to get things done.  So, we agreed to an experiment.  At the next meeting of the senior management of the World Wide Operations team, he was going to pay attention to the responses I got when I offered ideas and then he would offer the exact same idea within a couple of minutes.

You know what happened.  On at least three occasions in the first hour of the WWOPS meeting I suggested something or offered an opinion and no one responded at all.  Within a minute or two of my offering being ignored, Ron would suggest the same thing, literally quoting me word-for-word and, what do you know, the group would engage, consider and discuss Ron's offering.  The first time Ron raised an eyebrow at me in surprise, the second time he seemed amused, but the third time it happened he looked at me with such pity that I realized I had made an enormous blunder by ever revealing the behavior.

I had thought I was clever and resourceful, doing what was needed to get things done and not be too demanding of my male colleagues, by making them actually hear me. 

My husband and teenage son, on the other hand, were always appalled by how I had to work and how I was treated as a woman in that world. 

Don't misunderstand, I never had any illusions of being a CEO, but my secret thoughts of one day moving beyond a VP of HR title (a suitable job for a woman) ended when Ron understood how I survived.  I realized that my husband and son were right to be appalled.  So, while I might have been up to the fight, the men in my family could never bear to witness it.  Kem and Andy had long referred to my role, as the "corporate mistress," meaning none of the men in my career would ever acknowledge my contributions in public.  I had found that amusing.  But now, as I looked at my corporate life through their and Ron's eyes, I was humiliated and mortified by what I had tolerated. 

My family could never have withstood any greater ambitions than those I have accomplished.  Even with those early subservient behaviors, I have been called my share of unflattering names during my career.  But Kem and our son, Andy would never have survived anyone calling me the names the Joans get called everyday.

I abandoned those give-the-credit-to-someone-else-behaviors long ago.  I learned how to be heard and did not have to become shrill or screeching.  Actually, I learned to slow down, speak more quietly and try to be the last to speak on any topic.   Do I always get credit?  Nope.  But as a consultant, I now bill for the hours I am in the background.

Every woman ever burned at the stake was first ignored and then called a name: witch, heretic, bitch, etc. etc.  Every time someone hurls an epitaph at a Joan they are laying pavement on her walk to the pyre.

So, I root for the Joans.  I root for those women who have both the talent and the stamina to contend not only with the competition, but also with the unrelenting misogyny of our America culture as it relates to women in business.

I admire their grit, their gonads and their grace. And I mourn whenever one goes up in smoke.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The CEO Archetypes #6 Atticus Finch

Wise.  That is the watchword for the Atticus Finch.  They are first and foremost, wise.  

They are thoughtful.  They are circumspect.  They do not rush in or rush about expending unnecessary energy.  As one Atticus Finch said to me, "you do not win the game by running the ball all over the field, you slow down and figure out how to get it over the goal line."  The Atticus Finchs have a tendency to speak in metaphors, similes and slogans, all adding to the illusion/allure of their wisdom.

The real Atticus Finchs are truly thoughtful.  The Atticus Finch impersonators are indecisive.  You must be very careful in determining which you have encountered.   I have run into both in my career and it took me some time to sort out who was who.  Some authentic Atticus Finchs in my past are Tom Thilman, Bob Adler, Kevin Melia, Linc Holland, Greg Lang and Gene Haley.    These circumspect, values driven CEO's can appear slow moving.  They may not always be the first horse out of the gate, but they do not make mistakes once they are in the race.  They measure twice and cut once.  They do not shoot from the hip.  They are frequently the last to speak on a topic.  They listen well.   They spend a lot of time alone, thinking about what they have heard.  They spend a lot of time considering the future.  They never lead from zeal, they lead from logic and reason.  They rely on their values.  They worry about having the right answer and about doing the right thing.  They take their role seriously.  

I worked with Kevin Melia when he ran World Wide Operations at Sun Microsystems before I consulted to him from 1996-1998 at his billion dollar start-up, Manufacturer's Services Limited (MSL).  Kevin was known at Sun for his leadership style; a combination of wisdom and his competitive spirit.  I got to know Kevin pretty well when we worked together at Sun and saw this recipe of thoughtfulness and stubborness move mountains there.  

But, once Kevin was the CEO, once he was truly in charge, there were some changes to the guy I knew at Sun.  As CEO, Kevin led first with his values.  He took the responsibility of using other people's money very seriously.  He did not just see it as a business arrangement, it was a covenant he had entered into with his investors.  Investing money in a high risk/reward scenario was acceptable, but losing money made his head explode.  He was a steward of the investment, it wasn't his too lose.  So, he drove the company along a set of values that started with the understanding that it was someone else's money.  The juxtaposition of Kevin's philosophy and value set with the values and attitudes of other start-up CEO's is startling.  So many CEO's discuss how many more months or years they will lose money before breaking even without the least bit of chagrin or embarrassment.  That was not Kevin.  He was mortified by the period of time when MSL was not performing at expected levels.  But, Kevin did not rant.  He did not default to drama or drastic measures.  His mantra was "We will manage through this together."
He was calm and focused and kept listening...always listening.  He took MSL public in it's 5th year as the third largest outsourced manufacturing provider in the world.  

I worked for Tom Thilman at a company in Chicago, long before my days in Silicon Valley.  Tom had inherited a large commercial insurance brokerage from his father. He merged this business with a competitor and while the partners shared the CEO title, the truth is, Tom Thilman was in charge.  Tom was 39 or 40 when I worked with him, but he was, as they say, wise beyond his years.  Tom's partner was a likeable-but-always-agitated guy (also named Tom) and Thilman's ability to listen, negotiate, smooth the waters, soothe feelings and keep emotions from running amok was the rock that anchored the company.  Tom was the first person I ever knew who really considered the unintended consequences of an action or decision.  He would say, "Now wait, what if XYZ is true?  Would we do the same thing?  Let's slow down and think this through."  Tom was such an Atticus Finch his employees came to him for personal advice.  They sought his counsel on many topics.  He approached their problems with the same quiet thoughtfulness that he applied to the business.  He asked questions and it was clear he was focused on the problem at hand.  He would never tell anyone what to do, but he would lay out several alternatives, speak to the consequences of each and let the person plan their course.  I was lucky to have known Tom in my early 20's. 

Gene Haley is the CEO of Wilmington Pharmaceuticals in Wilmington, NC.  Gene is a smiley, fun loving, guy.  He certainly has a disarming style, but he is, at his heart, an Atticus.   Gene seeks input from as many sources as he can.  He listens respectfully, always seeking the nugget of gold in all conversations.  It is common for Gene to say, "I was speaking to so-and-so the other day and they really made me think about XYZ"  then it turns out that "so-and-so" is the valet at a restaurant Gene likes or the security guy at the airport or the Chairman of the Board of a Fortune 100 Company.  Gene knows no class boundaries when it comes to seeking input that might spur a new thought or dislocate an arcane one.  That is why Gene enters into conversations; to generate thinking.   Gene is the most patient man I know.  His company, a privately held drug technology provider has taken time to grow.  Gene works the process, methodically.  Educating and reeducating his investors and partners about the opportunity.  A big payoff is worth the patient wait and it takes an Atticus' wisdom to tolerate that wait and be able to bring the less patient along for the trip.   Atticus' also have an innate charm.  Gene is a fabulous story teller, as are most Atticus'.  They use stories to prove a point, teach a lesson or illustrate how they learned something.  They choose their moments for storytelling...and predictably their stories have lessons, morals and ironic twists.  All designed to make us consider our options for a moment longer before plunging over the cliff of impatience.  Most of these introspective types are humble and do not want the spotlight for very long.  But they enjoy the effects of the stories they tell.  Just like a small town lawyer enjoys arguing his case in front of a jury. 

Atticus' like people.  They respect the talent around them.  They trust a process because they trust the people who populate it.  This is one of the secrets of this types success.  They are wise enough to know they cannot do it alone.  They are wise enough to listen to the talent they have around them.  They are wise enough to know they don't know everything. They are quiet but approachable so all the problems get escalated to them and their powerful problem solving capability.  

And that problem solving capability, provided by their wise ways, is the secret to their success.

I am not, by nature, wise nor patient, consequently I love every minute I get to spend around one of these powerful leaders.

#7 is a surprise.

Soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The CEO Archetypes #5 Sheldon Cooper

"And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo
And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo
A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!"   
Dr. Seuss   

Dr. Seuss invented the word "nerd" in 1950 to entertain and educate the baby-boomers.   

And some of those boomers became the nerds who have invented the modern world in which we live.     
                                                                    
Sheldon Cooper, a nerd.
It seems fitting that it all relates to a book called "If I Ran the Zoo!"

I have worked with or met quite a few of this type:  Barry James Folsom, Eric Schmidt, Bror Saxberg, Bill Hughson, Kai Li, Chip Hughes, Abhay Parekh, Rich West, Howard Lee, Scott Cook, Matt Korn.   Bill Raduchel is a variation on this theme, but as in all things in Bill's life he puts his own spin on Sheldonhood.  Bill Joy is the quintessential Sheldon...however, even though I worked at Sun for 10 years, I could not say I worked with Joy. 

Venture money started moving these big brained boys from academia to entrepreneurship in the 1970's.  Once these socially awkward, intellectually superior guys discovered the attraction founder stock has over tenure and grant money, a renaissance of invention was born.  Thanks, God.


The Sheldon has been the smartest guy in the room his whole life.  He doesn't remember ever really struggling in school, except perhaps on the playground.  Sheldons are beyond arrogant.  Really, how can you be arrogant when you have empirical proof that you are as good as you think you are?  And it is not that they think they are superior...the Sheldon doesn't think about you much at all.  There is just too much other stuff happening in their noggins for them to give other people much thought.

Sheldon's are logic driven.  They think in syllogisms. They argue as if they were Steven Toulmin.  They understand what "the real question" is in almost all discussions.   They all seem to have great passion for their interests and treat anything outside their interests with diogenic indifference.

These rare birds love the complex problems, but they are great at distilling the complex into the comprehensible for us mere mortals.  They love gadgets, science fiction, and a wide variety of music (I have known Sheldons that only liked classical, some who loved jazz, quite a few are taken with Punjabi hip-hop, a boat load of hard-rockers, one parrot-headed Buffet fan and a couple of guys who only listened to country). 

Sheldons are often founding CEO's.  They might be the most socially comfortable member of a whole group of Sheldons that start up a company.  Or they might be the most visionary of their start-up team.  They are the sine qua non of their enterprises. 

These guys are focused on technology, invention and breaking glass.  They do not innovate...they invent.  They have little interest in applying new dosing technology to someone else's drug, they want to invent something that did not exist before.  They want to bend light, create new markets, stop time, travel at c, dominate at WOW and if they make a gazillion dollars along the way, great.  I have never met one who did not understand money.

The Sheldons attract other Sheldons to work around them.  They spend a lot of time in their own heads and their early organizations are quiet places.

I once walked into a start-up client founded by 5 Sheldons.  As I came in they were all sitting in the lobby...looking at the floor.  "What's up, Campers?" I greeted them.  One looked up at me and said, "We are thinking about what we will do if Partha has bird flu."  And he went back to silently looking at the floor.  They all did.  Including Partha, who had looked up at me briefly from under a surgical mask, lifted his eyebrows and then returned his attention to the carpet.  I knew these guys well enough not to launch into chatter.  So, I sat down in the lobby and waited for them.  They remained silently staring at the floor for another 11 minutes, then Raj said, "We will just have to rearrange the production schedule.  If Partha has this virus, it will run it's course in 10 to 12 days, barring any complications like pneumonia, we can design around him for those days and when he is well again he will have to make up the design time."  They all agreed and then turned their attention to me.  There was no worry about Partha's health...this was about the design schedule. 

I have watched groups of Sheldons stare at a diagram or a problem on a whiteboard for hours at a time.  Silently.  Each doing the hard work of thinking through the problem in their own head.  That is what Sheldons do best.  Think.  They work hard, they program at light speed, they can work days at a time on a problem with no sleep and even fewer baths (except the OCD Sheldon's... and there are a subset of those).  But what they do best is think about the hard problems.  They spend their time quietly thinking about the algorithms that make our thoughts, words, pictures and money move around the world in a blink.  They have invented the technology that documents, transports, compresses, stores, protects and retrieves the information, entertainment and education of modern life.   It is from their silent thinking that the over-communicative world we live in was born.

These are the Thomas Edison's of our time.  These are the inventors and visionaries.  They impact our daily lives more than Wall Street or Washington DC.  These wacky guys who could not get a date to their Junior Prom.

My experience with the Sheldons is that they make hiring decisions very carefully and then are extremely generous and appreciative of their employees.  They take great pride in affiliation with their hand chosen colleagues.  They are collaborative.  They respect the input of their team on many things.  They build cultures where technologists thrive and marketing and sales types chafe. 

Not many survive as CEO for very long.  (Eric Schmidt is an exception.  And frankly a few of my old friends at Sun would argue with me for loading him into this archetype as he has always been perceived as more manager than inventor.)  Most of these pointy headed geniuses cry uncle pretty early and beg to have someone take over the management, financing and revenue generation in the company, so they can go back to the poetry of invention.  It is not a failure.  It is a courageous triumph when one of these guys says, "Enough!" and asks his board to help him find a McNealy or a Fuller or a Reyes to take over the pilot's seat.

I love these quirky CEO's.  It is such a blast to get to work with one.  It is a riot to participate in the adventure of invention and you can only get to ride that E-ticket attraction if you buddy up to a Sheldon.

OK.  Next up, The Atticus Finch.

Monday, July 19, 2010

CEO Archetypes: #4 The Michael Scott

"I swore to myself that if I ever got to walk around the room as manager people would laugh when they saw me coming, and would applaud as I walked away."  Michael Scott

The Michael Scott: Blowhard, credit-grabbing, narcissistic, boorish, name-dropper who waits to figure out where everyone has decided to go, then runs to the head of the line and declares themselves the leader.

Hell, we have all run into this character a time or two in low-level managerial positions.  They are harmless at that level, which is why we find Steve Carrell funny.  But, let one of them sneak into the C-Suite and you have big trouble on your hands.

What is funny/pathetic in a half-hour sitcom, is just not that charming 90+ hours of every week. 

I have worked for both a Michael and a Michelle Scott during my career and for obvious reasons I am not using their real names.  I have met a few others as a consultant...but recognized the type and did not take the gig.  It seems there are a few of these Peter-Principle-Validators out there.  Other of my cohorts have similar stories about low skilled, ego-centric leaders who just do not get it.

I came to believe that my Michael/Michelle suffered from what I call the Big-Ego-Low-Self-Esteem Syndrome.  Like Groucho Marx, they could not respect any institution that would include them or any person that would work for them.  Also, they have to remind you every single minute that they are in the room.  All eyes on them at all times.  They are desperate for this attention because they are afraid that if they do not draw your focus to them every second, you will forget them.  They are right about this, if they did not have their position power, they would probably never cross your mind.

Michael Scotts are the MBA's who always mention their MBA program.  Even if they finished it 20+ years ago.  They usually attended a good school.  How they got accepted is a mystery.  To be fair, the Michael Scotts are not really dumb.  They are just not quite smart enough to lead smart people.  They know this at the lizard level of their brain and that is the genesis of some of their issues.  So, they desperately try to associate themselves with authentic leaders, real or fictional.

One of the Michaels was obsessed with Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and was constantly invoking Steve's rumored management tactic of arbitrarily cutting 20% from everyone's budget.  I tried to explain that Ballmer was in a very different business, that those stories were totally out of context and that Microsoft was at a different stage of development.  All to no avail...Michael replied that he and Steve saw things through the same lens.  Then he compared himself and his never-met-but-best-buddy, Steve Ballmer to John Galt.  Oh, dear.

The problem with the Michael Scott archetype is that they are so clueless that they are clueless.  Having risen far above their level of incompetence, they have decided that valuing competence must be avoided at all costs.  They believe that divine providence has bestowed leadership upon them.  So, with no value placed on personal competence, they devalue the hard work around them and are disrespectful of all accomplishment (except that which they have specifically prescribed).  If they did not think of it, it just doesn't count.

This is not just arrogant, this type is an ego in search of an intellect.

The truth is, this type cannot tolerate any input but their own.  I never saw either of my Michael Scotts seek the input of their team once.  Not on any topic. Ever.  Of course, they appropriate any good idea a member of their team came up with.  One Michael insisted to me that while they did not think of one idea, they inspired it.  Really, they believed it too.

Micheal Scotts use their staff meetings for monologues.  They are the only presenter at BOD meetings (well they schedule other presenters, but they interrupt them or take over the presentation or sit in the back making that hand rolling "move it along" gesture, totally undermining the presenter).  They are the only point of integration in their organizations.  They work hard to keep their team from meeting as a group and they prefer a team that is at odds with each other.  They maintain control by making certain no other person on the management team has all the facts on any topic.  

In both of my experiences, the companies were on the path to a public offering.  The Michaels each had a talented group of folks working with them.   The talent was  recruited to the company in spite of the Michaels demeanor and reputation (I sold my butt off getting quality folks to work for them, it was the hardest recruiting I have ever been through...I can only conclude that good folks will join a bad leader because an IPO is a compelling sales tool even if the CEO is a tool).

Michaels go through life insisting that they can do everyone else's job better, faster and cheaper than the incumbent can.  So, why would Michael need anyone else's input to do their job?  They are oblivious to the fact that this attitude is fodder for humor from the receptionist to the board room.

The Chairman of the Compensation Committee of the Board at one company called me one day and asked if "Michael" had gotten over his optical problem.
"I am sorry, I don't know what you are referring to." I said.
"Nancy," he continued, "I am asking if  he has stopped starting every sentence with I?"
Oh.  So the board of directors were not oblivious.
No, oblivion is reserved for this CEO.

With Michelle, one of the Board of Directors took me to lunch to "prepare" me.  He explained that he would call me from time-to-time, but he expected he would never see me again.  "She would jump off the roof before she would share the spotlight," he explained.  I saw this first hand as she fumed every time the BOD asked to hear directly from her talented Chief Operating Officer.


One evening over cocktails I introduced a Michael Scott and a few other colleagues to my husband.  Now, my husband, Kem is a smart, quiet, theatrical composer.  He is not the most macho guy in the ballet class, but, he is the big old hairy Alpha Male when it comes to  music and music history.  It is his life's work.  One of my colleagues, wishing to include Kem in the conversation, mentioned that they had attended a concert of Handel the previous weekend.  They asked Kem about Handel's influence on modern music.   Kem understood the question was just a politeness and gave a quick answer about the connection between Baroque music and the music of the 1960's.  That is  when Michael Scott "corrected" Kembo about George Fredric Handel's influence.  Michael insisted that George Fredric Handel was a 20th Century composer.  "I know this for a fact!" he lectured my husband, "You should look it up."  I cringed.  My colleagues rolled their eyes.  And  Kem, who can listen to any piece of music, in any genre from western civilization and identify when it was composed down to a 12 month window, just nodded.  He learned long ago not to argue with boors.  (BTW, Handel lived from 1685 -1759)

So long as there are lucky bastards the Michael Scott archetype will be around.  Congratulating themselves on their accomplishments, oblivious to the  eye rolling and BOD calls to their staff.
I will not work for another Michael.  I am too old, too impatient and lack my husbands class to ever collude with the Michael Scott particular brand of incompetence.

Let's move on to my next archetype.  The Sheldon Cooper.  Bazinga!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The CEO Archetypes #3 The Thomas Crown

Impeccable haircut, impeccable tailoring and impeccable manners.  They are not interested in the trendiest restaurants, but they know the best restaurants on every continent.  They play sports where they never have to actually touch the ball: squash, golf, polo.  They sail.  They have real art in their offices.  Their shirts are the whitest white.  They wear belts.  They have their shoes shined. They are never surprised.  They never sweat.  They can quote Sun Tzu and Rabalais. They are gentlemen.  They are discreet.  They speak more than one language but their language is never vulgar.  They don't use a wine distributor, they are partners with a vintner.  There is an air of either perfect breeding or man-of-mystery about them.  Some are to the manor born and others are self-made Jay Gatsby's.  They all smell faintly of Chanel Egoiste and Gurkha Centurian's.  The Thomas Crowns are...well they are as cool as Steve McQueen.

I have worked with a few of these authentically cool dudes.  Jim Pelkey, Greg Reyes, Ryan Wuerch, Peter Hopper, Roy Sardina and Tom Adams.  I met John Chambers once...he is the southern gentleman's version of the archetype.  John knows the difference between velvet and velveteen.

I have also met or worked with a few close-but-no-Chohiba Thomas Crown's. Larry Ellison appears to be a Thomas Crown, so does Ed Zander.  But, for me, neither one has the subtlety to pull it off. Ted Turner is a Thomas Crown in his own wacky way.

The hallmark of this archetype is complexity.

Thomas Crown's are generally sales and marketing guys that have moved into CEO roles.  They know appearances count because it reflects their attention to detail, not because they are trying to impress anyone.  Who would they worry about impressing?

In my experience a Thomas is a hands-off manager.  They stay focused at the 100,000 ft level, allowing their team to run day-to-day operations.  They are deal hounds, always scanning the horizon for the next big partnership, merger, acquisition or product opportunity.  They think about shareholders.  They care about employees.  They are demanding yet understanding with their executive team.  If you are an employee in one of their companies you might never see them.  They do not practice much management by walking around.  And yet you feel their presence every day in every decision.  They do not need to be hands on because their presence is pervasive.

The Thomas likes engineers and technologists, but has no problem going outside and buying rather than making technology to sell, leaving their team scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.  Nothing went wrong, but when a Thomas sees something of value, they seize it...no sentimentality here about what their own team is working on. 

A Thomas is a loner.  A great guy, but not exactly a buddy.  Too much of a gentleman to be class conscious, he is as likely to ask his favorite barrista at Starbucks to crew on his boat as he is his CFO.  No one would ever think of asking him to be crew.  He is only captain.

The Thomas' always run big companies.  Even when they are only doing $10 mil in revenue, the Thomas already sees it as a multi-billion-multi-national enterprise.  These guys are complex and they need the complexity of the large diverse company to occupy their craniums.  So they create complex products, businesses models and organizations.  It keeps them interested.

For these guys, money is just a scorecard.  It can be made, lost, replaced many times.  That is the fun.  They seem not to fear failure, but to consider failure their adversary.  The are playing a game against it.  Sometimes they play at the hairy, scary edge. 

What the Thomas knows cannot be replaced is time and wasting, losing or squandering it is a cardinal sin.  Don't be late with a Thomas or they will likely have left without you.

These are the glamorous CEO's.  They are legend.  They are the ones movies get made about.  If someone is going to be a super-hero or jewel thief in their spare time, Hollywood believes it is this archetype.  In my experience the opposite is true, most of the Thomas Crown's I have dealt with are family men with long-term marriages and kids.

Of course they play lacrosse with their kids, not baseball.


I like these guys.  They value their corporate cultures.  They worry about whether they have the right talent in place.  They encourage strategic thought.  They don't dip their pen in the company's ink.  They might face an indictment or two...but other than that they are an HR wonks dream.


Ok, #4 is Michael Scott.


Soon.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CEO Archetypes #2 The Harold and Kumar Duos

Ok, sometime it is Kumar and Brooks IV, and sometimes it is Kumar and  Kumar, and one start-up I worked with was founded by Harold and Harold and Harold and Harold.  But you know what I am getting at...the multinational team of founders.  

I suppose most folks think Larry and Sergey first.   I have worked with Mikael and Steve; Charles and Russ; Kai and Howard; Balaji and Milan; Kevin and Bob; David and Vince (not exactly immigrants, but they know why they are included here); Duke and too many names to mention; Steven and Abhay.....

Of course, I always first think of Andy and Vinod. They added the two boys from Michigan to the team as well, but Andy and Vinod were, for me, the original Harold and Kumar.
What is it about a team of founders that includes an immigrant or a very new citizen that makes things happen?  And what is it about these guys that they would rather do things by committee than declare the leader straight away?

My experience tells me that one of the guys will be a technologist and one is a marketeer or finance guy.   These buddy teams rarely include women, but occasionally you will see Harold's or Kumar's  girlfriend on the payroll in a marketing or HR role.  

Often, not always, but often these are young people.  College roommates or colleagues in their first jobs that come together with a great idea.  They live and invent for a time on junk food and their own dime and then go get a bunch of VC's to salivate over what they have built on a shoestring.  Ah, maybe that is the key...immigrant teams seem to understand the shoestring, bootstrap days really well.  A common theme among this archetype, is doing more with less.

The immigrant founder also does not seem embarrassed by their full embrace of the American dream or by their desire to make money.  

The boys who came here on student visa's and then moved over to the H1b and Green cards, do so with clear goals in mind...invent something people will buy and then sell the crap out of it.  They may also want to build a big long-term company...but that is secondary to providing a product that fills a need.  That may be part of their genius as well, they understand creating products that solve real problems.

The only glitch to full realization of the capitalist mentality is a pervasive sentimentality about their founding team.  Some cultures that have contributed extraordinary talent to US technology, hold loyalty as a profound value.  Some also do not come at people problems as directly as their American born counterparts. So, when you couple a reticence to confront a people issue with profound loyalty, you can end up with companies that have some "founder baggage" hanging around in made up jobs, or worse an executive sitting in a role that has long ago outgrown them...with no one willing to confront the issue.  Don't get me wrong, I love the loyalty value.  We could use more of it in US business.  But as an Irish Immigrant once told me, "sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind."  Letting your buddy hang on to a job in which he is failing does not seem like a great way to express friendship.

Conversely, I do not see loyalty/fanaticism about product architectures you find in some other company cultures.  Immigrant teams seem much more adaptable.  They are willing to listen to their customers  and be flexible.  They want to sell a product, not prove they are right, so they are philosophical about product decisions.   
People get loyalty, ideas get improved.

Role clarity is also a US value that is not as obvious to these duos, trios and quartets.  Immigrant founded start-ups have more "Office of the CEO" designations than any other archetype I have encountered.  The "Office of the CEO" is where two or more of these talented young men act in concert as co-CEO's and run the company by committee.  Even if they do christen one of them as CEO, it is often with limited decision making powers; requiring consensus by the founding group.  (Some cultures do not default to the individual as frequently as we do in the US.   Apparently not every culture in the world deifies John Galt.)  This can be a wonderful way to run a small company.  The team lives and dies by the decisions they make together, no one person is the single point of integration and communication is constant.  But, eventually some VC  who has read Ayn Rand, comes along and makes the team pick a leader.  It looks better on an organization chart if one person is the uber-leader.  And, in the American business culture, we like accountability to be clear.  We need it to know who to fire when things go wrong.

I love the Harold and Kumar teams.  I love their focus and their
commitment.  They seem more ashamed of failure than the US centric
teams.  One Harold came to me in a start-up I was working with not long
ago and said, "This has to succeed.  My father sent me to the United
States to become a physician.  I spent the tuition for that education
starting this company.  We will not fail.  I could never regain my
father's respect if we did, so we will not fail!"  That is motivation.
And that company has succeeded. 

High tech as an industry learned 30 years ago that the world was it's source of
supply of customers, components and talent.  The flags of many nations
hang over every important invention since the dawn of the age of
information.  I cherish these immigrant teams that build so much value in
the America economy and contribute so mightily to the American reputation for
invention.   

My next CEO Archetype is the "Thomas Crown."  

Soon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The 7 CEO Archetypes #1 Happy Gilmore

I believe that all CEO's fall into one of 7 archetypes.  I have worked with them all.  In the next few weeks I will discuss each archetype and what it is like to live in the world they lead. Let's start with....
The Happy Gilmore

The Happy Gilmore:  We all know Happy, the suburban jock, frat boy turned CEO.  He is fun.  He is competitive.  He wears jeans and sneakers to work, but he knows how to dress for dinner with senior VC's.  He doles out fist-bumps to everyone he passes in the hallway.  He drinks beer.  He does the  math in his head.  He excels at sports: golf, hockey, football, foosball, baseball, basketball...he likes the game.  It is easy to like him and easy to underestimate him.  He is easy to imitate which is why there are so many failures in this category.

High tech attracts Happy's and I have worked with several Happy's in my career.   In my experience, Dale Fuller is a Happy, so are Tim Davenport and Chas Scarantino.  And, of course, Scott McNealy is the prototype of the archetype.  These guys are usually finance, business or marketing majors in college.  They might have learned the art and language of business hanging around their father's friends, if they are of one social class.  Or, if of another strata, they may have watched closely as  a caddy in their youth, while deals were done in the fresh air.  Either way, they went to school knowing what they wanted to come out prepared to do:  make money, have fun, compete, win.

These are smart, simple guys.  So long as you understand that it is all a game at the core, groking these cats is not too tough.

The good ones learn the rules, play by them, compete, win and make money.

The great ones learn the rules, ignore them, compete, win, make money and change the world.

All while throwing a ball around their office, practicing their putt on the carpet in the hallway, or organizing a pick-up b-ball game.

My experience with the Happy's of the world is that they are not that crazy about staff meetings, but they love standing at a white board with a couple of smart buddies, drawing models that change the physics of the game they are in.

They are the boys who do not let time make any decisions, chafe at process, excel at presenting and have little patience for folks who need to ponder the options too long.  The Happy's can be a little arrogant, but generally have healthy egos that allow them to share success, give credit where credit is due and evoke great loyalty from their teams.

In my past, the Happy's delegate well, because they hire well.  They understand the need for a team made up of great "position" players, and they let them play their positions.  They trust the team.  They monitor, but they do not inject themselves in the mix unless they are asked.  They stand on the sidelines of daily operations, warmed up, like a good relief pitcher.   They understand that being in control helps a company grow; but a CEO with strong control needs is a gate to growth.  McNealy used to say, "Deciding who decides is the only decision I should make."  That is trust.

Happy's are "opportunistic visionaries".  They have a vision or game-plan, but they know how to call an audible and seize and opportunity.

I have never known one that was not a great communicator.  They certainly understand that the team needs information in order to act and they often err on the side of over-communicating.

Tim Davenport careens around the Parature offices on a razor scooter, dropping in on his VP's for 10 minute "drive bys" as opposed to scheduled one-on-one meetings.  He goes to the white board laying out the operational plays like the experienced quarter-back he is.  He has made major changes in brief 90 day windows using this casual but calculated approach.  On deck at the monthly all-hands meetings, Tim "keeps the problems right in front of us," climbing on a chair to be seen by all as he explains what interesting questions the board of directors asked in the last meeting.  His attitude is, "Why shouldn't all employees know what the BOD is asking?  It is likely to have an impact on their life."  He has a winning manner and a bias toward winning.  Who could stop this guy?

Chas Scarantino of Magnus Health met me for lunch one day with his Biz Dev guy, Allen in tow.  "I knew you were going to have some questions, so I brought the expert!" he said, grinning.  Courageous for a 31 year old.  But Chas has no need to over-demonstrate or over-control, he knows that his bright, articulate, young sales VP is a great reflection on him.  So, he pushed his star player to the front of a conversation with his newest board member.  Confident. Beguiling.  I would not bet against Chas.

The common denominator among the Happy Gilmore's is that they like and respect the people they work with.  They might be the quickest guy in the room, but they do not  discount the not-so-quick-but-thorough thinkers and they are patient and encouraging to the propeller-heads.  It was a group of Happy's that built much of the value in Silicon Valley back in the day.

I love the Happy's.

Next time we will take a look at the #2 Archetype:  The Harold and Kumar duos.

Soon.

 









Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dija hear the one about the HR wonks at Microsoft?

Look, there are three kinds of people in this world:
  1. people who make jokes; 
  2. people who laugh at jokes;
  3. people who wonder what everyone else is laughing about.
HR has always fallen into the third category. 

However, even with this common knowledge of the impaired humor status of HR, apparently some of the Microsoft HR Wonks are providing a performance rating on the use of humor in the workplace.  This should be good.

Can I just say this from the outset: if you are competent at humor by the standards of the HR department, any HR department, I guarantee that you are not funny.

And, conversely, if you are even a little bit funny, you are probably at risk of not succeeding at work occasionally (I speak from some painful experience here; my career setbacks are a panoplia of humor gone awry).

But, here we go, with the Microsoft HR designed proficiency levels at humor in the workplace:






















A sense of humor is not teachable, therefore it is not something that has levels of proficiency.

And, if  we are going to start with proficiency tables; let's create some that are helpful.  I have included a couple:

Proficiency Level






















Ok, my point has been made.

HR does not get humor, although they might have stumbled onto a taxonomy for a potato salad renaissance.

More later.