Imagine that your job is to give away millions of dollars. You do this every quarter. Sounds like fun? Maybe not as much fun as getting the millions. I recently heard a presentation by the man who has this job. His job is to identify innovative technology companies to recommend for this funding. His track record is stellar. What he is looking for in successful companies is just what you need to know to get ahead in business.
Mike Lockerd, is the Executive Director of the North Texas Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization. This organization is looking for innovative technology companies to fund. Mike’s a seasoned executive who has retired from 3 companies, including senior management at Texas Instruments and his own startups. I asked him, “What are the common denominators you see in the successful companies who get funding?” His answer was interesting.
He said that he didn’t look for a star leader, but he looked for a credible team. He talked about the credentials of the people on the team. Sure their academic degrees were important. What was even more important was what they had actually done. Job titles were important to him, but it was what each member of the team had actually accomplished in their previous jobs that signaled to him that the company could be a success and be worthy of funding.
These accomplishments are one of the reasons why Lockerd picks winning companies. He avoids the mistakes that I see some managers make when they select people for promotion. I remember one selection at a company where I worked. Management was looking for someone with sales, operations and management experience. The candidate they selected had them all. There was just one problem.
When he was in operations, the relations between management and the employees in his area were terrible. Job satisfaction was at an all time low. His sales performance was even less successful. His group didn’t make sales goals and his customers did not rave about his work. His reputation as a manager was that he was a tyrant. Would you promote someone like him? You might not, but surprisingly, he got the promotion. He had all the work experience that management was looking for.
Was he successful? No. That was probably the only thing that wasn’t a surprise. If you’re picking candidates for promotion, don’t be fooled by the job titles. Look for results. That’s what counts as Lockerd sees in the companies he recommends for funding.
The next characteristic in people that Lockerd looks for is knowing what to do next. What does he mean? In a startup there are often many situations where there really isn’t a script to follow. Time is critical, too. Resources are scarce. What is most important is to keep moving forward to solve problems. People who are immobilized when problems occur are deadly in startups. Lockerd wants people who can make decisions. Who is able to make decisions? The answer may surprise you. Lockerd finds that people who have failed before and kept on going are ones who are comfortable making decisions. They know that they can do something next and they do keep trying. That’s who he looks for.