Outgoing CEO Shows Rare Display of Humbleness in Demotion

Although he’ll only get to be CEO for about a month, Jeff Cotten, while disappointed, isn’t getting annoyed.

In a lesson in humbleness for other ambitious executives, he has heaped praise on his successor—and on the company’s board for overlooking him for someone else instead.

It’s rare for CEOs to put their career ambitions on public display, but Cotten did just that after finding out he’d be replaced as head of Rackspace by Joe Eazor on June 12. Cotten had stepped into the interim role about three weeks ago, when Taylor Rhodes left to pursue another career opportunity.

“I don’t mind telling you that when I was named interim CEO of Rackspace a few weeks ago, I was hoping that I would be able to shed the first word of that title and serve as the long-term chief executive of the company that I love,” Cotten wrote in a company blog post.

“my attitude was that if the board could find someone with more relevant experience, someone I could learn from and collaborate with, I would be all for it. And that’s exactly what the board has done.”

“But my attitude was that if the board of directors could find someone better—someone with more relevant experience, someone I could learn from and collaborate with, I would be all for it. And that’s exactly what the board has done.”

Cotten then went on to detail Eazor’s achievements, at one point calling him “one of the most seasoned and effective executives in the entire technology industry.”

While it’s hard to find another overlooked candidate expressing such humility, Cotten’s attitude is shared by some more well-known leaders who have been fortunate enough to occupy the corner officer for extended time periods.

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, for instance, urges ambitious executives to direct their entire focus to the job at hand. “The minute you get obsessed about wanting to be CEO, you forget what you have to do, because you’re more focused on the next job as opposed to doing the current job very, very well,” she told LinkedIn’s Influencer series.

Henry Paulson, a former Goldman Sachs CEO and U.S. Treasury Secretary, said he never intended to reach the top.

“I think if I had said I want to run Goldman Sachs, I would have come in—and I don’t think I ever would have run Goldman Sachs,” he recently told students at Stanford. “I just focused on doing what I was doing when it was in front of me, enjoying it, learning and growing.”

By that token, Cotten, should he still want to be Rackspace’s permanent CEO, is playing his cards right.

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