Does every executive have a natural company environment that they find most comfortable and should they stick to? That provocative question was posed to me Lisa Hook, ex-AOL exec and current CEO of SunRocket (a fast-growing VOIP company), as part of a panel discussion in front of a room filled with several hundred publishing executives from around the world. The core theme of the discussion was how to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in a large company.
After talking about the methods that a company could use, we step into the thornier discussion of whether big companies inherently attract or can keep entrepreneurial talent. The premise that we came–based on experience not scientific research– is that there are three types of execs: starters; growers; and harversters.
Starters are the folks who are willing to forego normal life, eat cold pizza, endure long hours of either pure isolation or constant contact with a small team to move a business from pure concept to real traction. They are most comfortable in companies with revenue of less than $25MM. When others in their company start to ask for policies, procedures, rules, reporting relationships and accountability, starters begin to feel claustrophobic and look for a new adventure. They welcome compensation via equity but really get their rewards from the thrill of the new.
Growers pickup where the starters leave off. They understand how to add jet fuel to the the entrereneurial fires. They’re good at building teams and putting just enough structure and strategy in place to make the growth process efficient. Growers get an adrenaline rush out of making a startup a major player. They often show up in a series of venture-backed companies. Growers are usually in it for the equity compensation.
Harvesters are most often the folks who run big companies. They understand how to give good power point presentations, how to gain corporate permissionffor their projects, how to avoid ruffling feathers and how to predictably hit their revenue and expense numbers quarter after quarter. Harvesters usually enjoy significant cash compensation, plenty of perqs, and steady employment.
The sense of our panel was that a company needs each of the three types of executives during its lifecycle. The art form is generally getting the right folks into–and out of–the right jobs at the right times. We also thought that, with rare exceptions, people are by choice and experience typecast. I made the mistake of trying to hire large-company execs into high growth environments but found that their need for process and consensus made them uncomfortable in companies where they had to make decisions based on insufficient information and move on.
The rare exceptions prove the rule and command a lot of respect. Two that come to mind are Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They were there in the garage and they are still in the executive suite. How often does that happen?
Me, I am a grower. I like the thrill of building and dread a day filled with too many meetings. How about you? Where do you fit into the business ecosystem? Are there other key types that we missed?