After my first day at Brainstorm in Half Moon Bay I have this comment to make. Great business leaders such as Michael Dell and Jeff Bezos, people whose companies reach hundreds of millions of consumers and whose revenues are in the tens of billions, are not necessarily great communicators. While bloggers who reach millions and whose ad revenues are in the single digit millions, people like Robert Scoble, Kara Swisher and Om Malik, are phenomenal, entertaining, insightful communicators. Dell´s and Bezos´sessions were hard to endure, while the bloggers where tremendously fun.

What I don´t understand though is how come people who do so much are able to communicate so little and people who do so little in comparison, as the bloggers, can communicate so much. Or is it that business leaders like Michael Dell or Jeff Bezos could present much more interesting stuff but because they manage publicly traded companies their hands are tied when it gets to talking to the public? While I think that some of that is true, as I have had the opportunity to have social and private conversations both with Jeff Bezos and Michael Dell, what I can say is that CEO´s like them achieve so much because they are focused, not because they are amazing communicators. In my talks with Michael Dell in private for example, I have found him to be extremely knowledgeable (no surprise there) about the computer industry, about his competition, and about the exact situation at his own company, the challenges, the opportunities. But when it gets to talking about the world the impression I get is that Michael feels that his hands are full with his $61bn revenue empire. Kind of… what else is there to know well? And same is true of Jeff Bezos, amazing understanding of his consumers.

In Spanish they say “el que mucho abarca poco aprieta”, something like if your reach is wide your targeting is poor. Both Michael and Jeff have an amazing understanding of their target, their consumers, and that is all they are focused on. As Michael Dell put it today, we have “big ears” at Dell. And they do, and they are tuned in to the Dell consumer. And this obsession, which makes Michael so successful, may not make him the most interesting speaker. Michael Dell is about learning what he needs for him to make the best computer he can make for you. He is not about sharing his trade secrets.

Now sometimes some business leaders can actually communicate extremely well in public, as in the case of Steve Jobs. But interestingly, as well as Steve Jobs communicates to the masses, he is almost rude at a personal level. On a one to one basis, Jeff Bezos is funny, considerate, kind. So is Michael Dell. Steve Jobs is the opposite, most of those who don´t know him personally think he is great, most of those who do know him think he is abrasive and difficult, a genius, but extremely hard to deal with.

So what´s the conclusion here? That I still need to find the business leader who is both fascinating to listen to in public, great in private and very successful at running his company.

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Jan Karel Kleijn on July 22, 2008  · 

Great post!
Whaddabout guys like Ola Ahlvarsson, Tariq Krim and that funny Argentinian guy…. what’s his name?… Martin…something ..

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uno on July 22, 2008  · 

Bill Gates is the one.

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andres on July 22, 2008  · 


Ive never seen someone do something similar to teh developers developers developers

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Yani on July 22, 2008  · 


good point.
God is not always fair, but still not giving 20 talents to one single person … I have come to the same conclusion :” That I still need to find the business leader who is both fascinating to listen to in public, great in private and very successful at running his company…” and maybe one more thing – that this person has something that I can respect. Maybe too much ?

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Alexey on July 22, 2008  · 

That must be you, Martin!

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Javier on July 22, 2008  · 

Hola a todos,

Creo que Ray Kurzweil (emprendedor en serie) puede reunir esas características. Además de ser un technologist (¿tecnólogo?) sabe mucho sobre historia, política, física, biología, cosmología… Es humilde y siempre interesante:

A ver que os parece.

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Stackhouse on July 23, 2008  · 

Interesting post!

In my opinion the thing is that if bloggers weren´t great communicators, they wouldn´t have a remarkable presence on the Internet. I mean, if a good blogger has a great presence on the Internet, it is just because he is a great communicator, something that a business leader might not need.

What about what “uno” mentioned? What about Bill?

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Javier on July 23, 2008  · 

Oops, sorry. I posted in the wrong language 🙂

I think Ray Kurzweil (serial entrepreneur) meets those characteristics. Apart from being a Computer Scientist, he is very knowledgeable about history, geopolitics, biology, cosmology… He seems quite humble and is always interesting

Hope you like it.

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Chuck on July 24, 2008  · 

Apples and oranges. Not all rectangles are squares, and not all beautiful women have beautiful bodies. So what’s the big deal?

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Martin Varsavsky on July 24, 2008  · 


Bill Gates is not a great presenter either, but, as we all know, he is another brilliant entrepreneur.

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Cem K. Mimaroglu on July 24, 2008  · 

2 comments/arguments:

1- Great communication does not necessarily mean that one has to talk about interesting matters, but that one has to talk very succinctly & effectively about the topic/subject. Great communication is about zeroing or “focusing” into the essence and not about pleasing…
2- Meg Whitman is great in person, public as well as around her employees. So, humbly speaking, look no more!

Regards/Cheer – CkM

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Jonathan Marks on July 24, 2008  · 

I do think people who organise conferences need to make a lot better use of the top names they get. Richard Branson is a good example. Fascinating character. Terrible public speaker. But put him in a “fireside chat” with a good interviewer and there is some fascinating information that pours out. The key here is the interviewer. I have seen too many interviewers who either just go into attack mode, or think they are the star, that the best doesn’t come out.

I still remember the way Martin’s son did a great interview at DLD this past January. So it runs in the family 😉

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Simon on July 25, 2008  · 

getting caught by your own writting Martin, and unconsciously fishing for compliments here; but it’s true you’re an entertaining speaker to listen to and, I guess, a successful businessman; the only thing I don’t know is : are you a Dell or a Jobs in private 😉

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Martin Varsavsky on July 28, 2008  · 

Thanks Simon, but I am not at a level of a Dell or a Bezos.

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Martin Varsavsky on July 28, 2008  · 


I met Meg a few times and thought very well of her.

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