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.



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