It seems the best tech founder-CEOs are doing better than their counterparts in traditional industries when it comes to leadership. The model I saw repeatedly when I spent time with these firms was of a founder-CEO who focuses on the future of the product and industry, and on the company’s relationship with the outside world. It meant leaving a large proportion of management responsibilities to an experienced president or chief operating officer.
The most striking example was at Box, the cloud storage company started by Aaron Levie as a nineteen-year-old from his dorm room, now worth more than $1 billion. At the age of 29, Levie has handed over the day-to-day management of his company to industry veteran Dan Levin.
“I run the company,” says Levin. “The entire executive staff reports to me, and I report to Aaron. He’s the head and I’m the neck. He’s got the eyes and the ears, he decides what direction we should go, he decides what the next mountain to climb is, and then I try to figure out how to get the body to do it.”
No more than 305 of Levie’s time is now taken up with operations. He spends the rest of his day reading about the history and future of technology, talking to customers and meeting people from outside the industry to gain fresh perspectives. “The CEO should be in perennial start-up mode, thinking deeply about the core product, about new business and about rapidly changing external forces in the world.”
Levie believes Silicon Valley CEOs are “ahead of the curve” but fully expects other sectors to catch up because “no one is exempt from the increased pace of change that will require leaders to focus more on the big picture.”