Bluescape CEO On What Many Silicon Valley Leaders Get Wrong About Management

As far back as 1985, Bluescape chief Peter Jackson has been able to call himself a CEO. He admits though, back then, he didn’t nearly know enough about the job and what it entailed.

“I think it’s probably through the trials and tribulations of those 30+ years and having to go back to school a bit too, I started to learn it’s a tough job to be a CEO and there’s a composition of tools you need to have on an organic basis to be decent at it.”

These days, it’s fair to say Jackson knows a little bit more about the job. Throughout the years, he has founded and led several startup tech companies to acquisition and IPO exits. His latest move was joining San Carlos, California-based Bluescape in October 2017, a company which makes virtual workspace technology. The company was founded on the idea that companies were running out of wall space and whiteboard space to collaborate on new projects. Its software offers workspace collaboration capabilities on a touchscreen that can be presented virtually on a wall.

The company has seen significant growth in the past year as CEOs have been pressured to enact digital transformation initiatives. “When I took the job two years ago, it was very risky for me because I didn’t see the cost of hardware coming down yet and I didn’t see the innovation leaders pushing towards it. And literally in the last 12 months, we’ve gone from a cute little company to a fast-growing company because we are now a part of the future of Dell, the future of [cell phone] carriers and 5G, the future of a Ford manufacturing company.”

Chief Executive chatted with Jackson about recruiting tech talent in a tight labor market, the idea of the modern elder in Silicon Valley leadership, and more. Below are excerpts from this conversation.

How does Bluescape stand out when it comes to recruiting tech talent in Silicon Valley?

I sort of felt when I got here that our ability to recruit talent was almost impossible. We weren’t growing. People look at equity as wallpaper if they don’t see a growth path. And so you sort of stagnate…not just on vision but on productivity. You’re fighting to get head counts and you’re not getting the ones who have the experience in the particular areas you need. That was real tough. Those talented people can pick and choose where they want to go and know that they’re going to get a public offer from an Uber, Slack or wherever. They’re saying, ‘I came in two years ago so I could buy my two-bedroom condo for $1.7 million.’ It’s a rat race for sure and it’s a tough market to get a talent. It’s tough on the people too—they’re making $100 grand, they’re living on the edge, and they are spending 2-3 hours per day in traffic.

It’s a really tough environment. I think the shift for us…a lot of it has to do with faith and trust and who the senior management [can bring on]. It’s your Rolodex in a sense. One of my first hires I got was bringing over a guy who I had hired out of college 20 years ago who was working at Tanium, which was a great company.  He just said, ‘I just want to go fight the battle with you. Whatever the financial differences are after taxes doesn’t matter. It’s more about my heart as long as it’s within reason.’ He came in and then two other people came in. And then on the engineering side, I hired the guy who built flash for Adobe. He was looking at a number of different things in the interview process and we just sort of hit it off. He’s a great guy and I really needed somebody like that. He literally has brought in about 35 people that had worked for him at Adobe or BlackBerry.

And we opened an office in Waterloo, Ontario and added a dozen and a half people up there. We expanded more into Vancouver. We had a bunch of local Bay Area people came on board.

I’d love to hear from you on this idea of the “modern elder” in Silicon Valley companies. You’ve led a lot of companies and been a CEO for several companies. A lot of leaders in Silicon Valley seem to follow the Steve Jobs model—if you created the company, you should be the CEO and put no one else in charge. But it seems like after your experiences, you believe that just because someone founded a company doesn’t mean they are fit to lead it. I’d love your thoughts.

I came from a different background than most leaders when I came into the real world. My natural instincts were about listening, communicating and trying to figure out what people were feeling, whether they were telling me or not. You may lose your point of view, don’t take it personally, but it was really valuable that I heard it. I took that approach.