Dinner advice on creating $100 billion in value

As technology executive with a broad range of functional experience, I am struck by the observation that most successful technology companies are run by their founders. Last year as I was considering running a company, it led me to ponder whether the move was futile: was I doomed by history to achieving a mediocre outcome by the simple fact of being a hired CEO? Happily, I found a situation at 10gen where I am President and partner with a founder/CEO that I like a lot; our roles are very complimentary, six months in things seem to be working well for both of us, and last but certainly not least the company is over-performing both of our expectations.

Tonight at a dinner event I found myself seated next to one of the handful of exceptions to my observation about the most successful companies having been run by founder CEOs. Naturally, I was eager to get his advice on the topic. His advice was simple:

  • Remember its the founders’ company and you’re there to help
  • Find a way to add value
  • Build trust over time
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way

This was a great example of the exception proving the rule. What I had thought was one of the handful of exceptions of a hired CEO building a great company might better be thought of as a hired CEO helping founders to build a great company.

Of course founder leadership will not always produce a great company; most companies fail, including most that are founder led. My instinct (and I would love to see the data) is that strong founder leadership improves the average return but also increases the odds of failure.

Where does this lead? I think the rational conclusion is that companies which have the potential to be home runs should be led by their founders; if you’re looking for a solid base hit, hire a CEO. And if you’re a hired CEO looking to hit that rare home run, take the advice of one of the very few who has done it and shape your role accordingly.

— Max

1 comment so far

  1. Cliff Elam on

    What a great opportunity at a dinner!

    The last three points are pretty universally germane for almost everything – wise words to keep in mind.


    PS – The first point is only true for private companies, obviously. For places like Oracle where the founder is by far the majority stockholder it’s a trickier question.

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