Results tagged “ceo”

The Ascendance of Tech Execs

January 25, 2013

One of the weirdest things about the tech industry is that, despite its reverence for the Cult of the Coder, pretty much the only way a programmer or engineer gets to be senior management or in charge of a company as its CEO is by founding it. The classic pattern is that a techie founds or cofounds a technology startup, and then it either doesn't succeed and the VCs and board push them out, or it does succeed and once the founder's gotten sufficiently rich, they're replaced by a business person who's usually got a management or finance background.

But some recent counter-examples have given me a bit of hope. At Etsy, Chad Dickerson was named CEO after coming up the ranks as CTO, and this happened despite the fact that he didn't start the company. Even more notably, Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo which is remarkable since she's not only a product person, but someone with serious engineering chops. (Full disclosure, my Activate co-founder Michael Wolf is on Yahoo's board and our company is thus involved with Yahoo.)

Oddly, though, there are very, very few examples of tech companies where a founder leaves or a mature company is looking for new leadership and the successor that's named is someone who earned their opportunity for the position through technical work or development. Being a coder or engineer or having a background that's technical shouldn't put a ceiling on how one can advance through an organization, and I'm hoping there are lots more examples like these that I've somehow missed. Where are the CTOs who've become CEOs in major tech companies?

That personality isn't dead yet?

January 2, 2007

I'd explained how to kill a personality a few weeks ago. Perhaps I was too pessimistic when I said, "[W]hat I see right now is the depressing reality that everybody can be completely reasonable, and the end result is that nobody is allowed to show the most engaging, interesting and unique parts of their personality."

John Furrier was actually at the dinner that inspired the entire conversation, article in Fortune, and ensuing hubbub. And adds some much-needed facts to the discussion. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a witness' account over my third-party conjecture any day. John says, "I was at this 'famous crap porn comment dinner' that Seagate put on for bloggers and press. I sat with Bill Watkins and was there with Jeffrey O’Brien from Fortune."

His conclusion? I was worrying needlessly:

I disagree with Anil ... Bill has a vibrant and dynamic personality - he is viewed within Seagate as a great leader. His comment was part of a bigger conversation - let me translate for people not aware of the slang - "crap = stuff" and "porn = early adopter rich multi media". Everyone in the tech business knows porn is the bellweather for all tech trends. Shame on Fortune because either way they look bad. One they know porn is an early adopter of all tech media, so they look bad for misquoting the CEO of Seagate. Secondly, if they didn’t know porn is the early adopter of media, then they look bad as a publication trying to cover tech with any credibility.

For a church going person then the quotes put forth by Fortune seem offensive - I was there at the dinner Bill Watkins was taken out of context. Fortune owes Bill Watkins big time for slamming him. Does it matter Bill Watkin and his crediblity was positive in the blogosphere and to the intelligent users.

This sentiment is echoed by Eric Eggertson over on Common Sense PR:

Straight shooters may occasionally apologize for things they’ve said, and they may temper their comments sometimes. But in my experience, the urge to speak plainly and openly is hard to overcome, once an executive has had success with that approach.

The business world would be a greyer place without some mavericks who are willing to make comments that haven’t been vetted by a committee.

So maybe there's still some hope yet for executives who speak their mind in public. I would just like to make sure I never see the phrase ''famous crap porn comment dinner" again. Call me old-fashioned again, but that seems somewhat... unappetizing.

How to kill a personality

December 22, 2006

About a month ago, Fortune's Jeffrey O'Brien interviewed Seagate CEO Bill Watkins, and pulled the conversation's most memorable quote for the headline: "Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn."

Predictably, the honestly and entertainment value of the quote got Watkins hailed as a hero by those tired of the usual platitudes for the press. So what comes next? The requisite apology:

In the course of one particular conversation with a Fortune Magazine blogger, in which we discussed a number of topics including sports, business and politics, I also explained how the proliferation of digital content and e-commerce were benefiting the storage business. In illustrating both the positive and negative impacts that the Internet and "we" as technology companies have on the world, unfortunately, and unwisely, I also used pornography as an example to illustrate a point. Fortune Magazine chose to focus narrowly on this example in their headline. I did not state this as our "mission." They are in the news business and eager to get their reader's attention and I should have known better. Even though I believe Fortune's headline writers took my comments out of context, I want you to know that I am sorry if this has in any way offended anyone. Clearly, I value everyone who works at Seagate and the culture we have built together.

Here we have a chain of perfectly reasonable behaviors leading to a result that's unsatisfactory for everyone involved. Watkins reasonably said the quote in the context of a dinner conversation with a number of bloggers, where I'm sure a lot of jokes were being exchanged. O'Brien reasonably included the line in the story because it's a good hook for presenting the company as down-to-earth. O'Brien's editor Jim Ledbetter reasonably used the line in the story's headline because, in his own words, "as O'Brien's editor on this story, I moved the quote high up in the story, and also turned it into a headline that, yes, I thought would grab the reader's attention."

And some Seagate employees in Minnesota reasonably thought, "Hey, my work is more important than just letting somebody store porn."

Hard Drive But the net result is that Seagate's CEO is going to work extra hard to never show any personality or have a sense of humor again when he's on the record. Jeff O'Brien will be a little more reluctant to include the killer line in a story. Jim Ledbetter is going to be more sensitive to charges he's being sensational in his headlines. And Seagate employees are going to spend more time worrying about whether their CEO represents them accurately, or if their work is meaningful.

There must be some lesson to be learned here, about the telephone game. Or about how the fact that any of us can be quoted out of context as public figures at virtually any time. But what I see right now is the depressing reality that everybody can be completely reasonable, and the end result is that nobody is allowed to show the most engaging, interesting and unique parts of their personality. I want to blame the Minnesotans, but it's really not their fault.