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

Chief Executive chatted with Bluescape CEO Peter Jackson about recruiting tech talent in a tight labor market, what many Silicon Valley CEOs misunderstand about leadership and more.

And in the early days, I was a weak CEO in many respects. I was CEO for three years in the 80s as a compassionate person and tried to make people be what they could never be. I didn’t take the initiative to guide them either out of the business into something that they be more functional. I think I was really failing. In 1988 or ’89, I got into the Stanford Executives Summer Program…took a month off and went down there with some high-powered executives. All of us came to the same conclusion that we missed in gauging the Myers Briggs look at things. You can’t force somebody to be what they’re not. Also, take a good look at your organization instead of looking at the people, look at the functions and who you need. As a leader, I had to become less compassionate and I had to be a lot more functional.

That shift in my life is what I see all day long in the valley today. The same shift is not applying. And it isn’t that the guys are either being too compassionate, they just don’t understand what it takes to be a great leader. We criticize Facebook, we criticize Uber, we criticize all of these companies. These guys became CEOs like I did. I came up with a good idea and I became CEO. Are they improving themselves? No. Most of them isolate themselves and see the role of CEO as, ‘I’m most powerful person because they came up with the idea.’ That has all kinds of negative effects to customers, partners, employees, and those tend to become trained rats.

What are Bluescape’s biggest challenges—what keeps you up at night?

When you start to get into a growth mode in the valley or with a technology company, you normally can  go out and get large sums of investors to come in during what they call late stage. A lot of the “let’s go spend it, hire people, do whatever,” 20% of it is a waste. Sometimes more. But I’m still being frugal. I have a huge budget, but I’m not throwing it at this spike that we’re going through. I’m part of this manufacturing company who’s the investor and I’m being super cautious about the spend when I probably should be putting the pedal to the metal more. So that’s one thing that keeps me up at night.

The fear factor that there’s a big company in Redmond [Washington] that wants to be in this space and is fighting for the conference room. It’s sort of seems to be a two-horse race at this point. They have a trillion-dollar market cap. They’re obviously in multiple businesses and all that stuff. Trying to stay one step ahead of them and their footprint and trying to work with them because I need their content and all of that is another thing that keeps me up at night.

I feel confident about the technology and its patents and its position in the space. It’s more a functional waking up at two or three in the morning and saying, “How am I going to screw this up?” Thinking about the things I can do to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

Read more: What’s Missing in Silicon Valley Models for Digital Transformation Programs


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