Who Wants to be a CEO?

Jeff Miller cut straight to the point: “Money’s a terrible reason to be a CEO”. Why? Because it’s short term. Jeff knows all about the day to day pressures faced by a high-performing leader. As CEO of Documentum, Jeff took the company from a staff of 15 with $500k of sales in 1993, to a listed company of 1,200 with revenues of $200m in 2001. “It’s hard being a CEO. There are days when you want it to end”, said Jeff. So there needs to be more than money at stake. “You won’t be doing right by other stakeholders, including customers. The financial rewards will come, but as a side-benefit.”

Joni Reicher advises business leaders to clearly define their values early and often.


Advice from the Top

Joni Reicher offered an alternative motivation for the assembled CEOs: “get a philosophy”, she said. Get your set of values clear, front and centre. They can evolve, but at least know what values you’re driven by right now, then you can be motivated by the desire to see them manifest in your company. Having worked closely with Steve Jobs and his successor, Tim Cook, at Apple, Joni was able to describe with conviction how a clear awareness of the “why” of your decisions will greatly empower your sense of purpose.

We also welcomed a walking, talking piece of Silicon Valley history in the form of Larry Sonsini, Senior and Founding Partner of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Larry is an acknowledged Founding Father of the Valley. When he casually mentions “Steve” or “Sergey”, he’s talking about Messrs. Jobs and Brin. His credentials stretch far back into Silicon Valley’s past as well as US legal and governance history.

Motivations Aligned with ESG

There’s one big question facing CEOs today, Larry said: “should a corporation stand for something beyond its commercial purpose?” He cited ESG — environment, social impact and governance — as the new components of the commercial equation. For the individual CEO, motivations aligned with ESG concerns will serve them well. The fact is that private as well as public companies are now responding to ESG matters, particularly in areas of diversity and transparency, and this makes good business sense. Thanks in part to social media, there’s no hiding place for companies who ignore their broader responsibilities. A CEO who has these concerns running through their veins will be best placed to tackle the intense scrutiny many CEOs experience on a daily basis.

Larry gave us an astronauts’-eye view of the state of the Valley, the US and the global situation. One of the macro trends he observes is the rise of patient capital. “Investors today are looking for business models that are enduring, able to capture market share.” Not long ago, private equity looked for early exits, with ten or even five years viewed as long term. Today capital is more diverse, coming in from a broader spread of sources, with 20 or 30 year timescales. Today’s CEO therefore, needs to be of a different mindset, motivated by the long game rather than driven by quick gains.

The Art of Alignment

Lily Kanter (founder of Serena & Lily) had some advice for co-leaders. “Co-led businesses are very tough unless the roles are completely defined”. Often, a founding CEO will be as much an artist as a financier. The entrepreneurial spirit demands it. A conscious alignment of goals between co-founders should ensure their motivations are balanced.

Finally, Dave de Walt (FireEye) passed on his own personal take on motivation, revealing “Dave’s hierarchy of needs”: fun, learning and money, in that order. If the first two are in place, as Jeff Miller said, the financial rewards will be the inevitable side-benefit.

CEOs, clear about their motivations, are ready to extend them through their surrounding team. In our next post, we’ll pass on some interesting new ideas — and job titles — our guest speakers suggested for achieving just that.


“I came back fired up about being more than a Founder, about being a CEO, and about the heights I can lead the company to.” Sarah Hesz, Mush

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