CEO Summit

Day 2: Two Jeffs a Joni and a Tom.

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Communication emerged as a theme on this, our second day in Silicon Valley. “Articulate the WHY”, said Joni Reicher (Apple, then Airbnb, now Mesosphere); “It’s not exactly what your product does — it’s how you communicate the value of it,” said Tom Reilly (Cloudera); And Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn) assured our 16 CEOs that it wasn’t until they were sick of hearing themselves repeat their vision that they could be sure people were starting to listen.

The day began with Jeff Miller (Jamm Ventures) who knows all about the origin of the title “Silicon” in this particular Valley. As CEO of Documentum, Jeff grew 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. “Do not underestimate the number of times your people need to hear the same message from you,” said Jeff, setting out what would become a theme for the day.

Jeff pressed home the point of unity and clarity over perfection, stating that any team 100% focused on an 80% correct solution, always wins. His concluding remark — “we may not be right, but we are not confused” — had one CEO promising to get it tattooed on his shoulder.

 

“Yesterday crystallised a framework for me: how to work, rather than just getting things done.”

Antonio Separovic — Oradian

 

Tom Reilly, CEO of Cloudera, revealed that he is trying his best to make his role redundant. When there’s total alignment (communication again) among the team, he can “let the horses run” because they know exactly where they’re going. With disarming candor and simplicity he spelt out for the CEOs his golden rules on culture, decision-making and orchestrating a board.

Joni Reicher told how she completely reframed the concept of HR when working at Apple. She treated HR as Apple did its product. “Shipping product” — a new medical leave policy, for example — would be treated as a “launch”, the same as any other Apple product. She urged the CEOs to carry out “continuous articulation” of the value of working at a startup to their new hires who might be sacrificing security and earnings. “Let them know what they’re trading it for: your values, vision and incredible learning experiences.”

(John Hamm, Octopus Venture Partner, followed up with a “don’t try this at home” alert, stressing the paramount importance of HR and “acquiring a Joni” to help you.)

 

“Now I have a structure to follow. It’s about leaving a disproportionately large footprint.”

Amir Nejadmalayeri, Phoelex

 

Finally one of the Valley’s most recognisable figures — Jeff Weiner, CEO LinkedIn — spoke of compassion. Treating others as you want to be treated (yes, including the competition) clearly has nothing to do with weakness. Despite being one of the world’s most successful CEOs, Jeff said “being called ‘down to earth’ is not a compliment — it’s a requirement.” He precisely set out the qualities of success: prime amongst them, the ability to tell your story, to evangelize, “to investors, employees, the street, the press and the nay-sayers”.

Many, many more learnings and insights were gathered today and we’ll be sharing them over the coming weeks, theme-by-theme.

Day 2 ended with yet more unforgettable wisdom from John Hamm, Octopus Venture Partner. He reminded the group that “problems age like bananas, not wine”. And that one thing all the guest speakers have in common is that they “actively embrace problems”.

 

What leadership questions would you want to hear about?

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