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.
I have been in business for 20 years. Lately I frequently run into former employees who have have become successful entrepreneurs. Indeed this morning I was cycling with a few of them and wondering why is it that I seem to be the last stop to entrepreneurship for so many corporate types. My answer is that, when I recruit, I look for candidates who will run with projects and get them done with little supervision. In many cases, I look for candidates who are better than me at their tasks and I am not afraid to delegate. Corporate executives come to me because they want to do what I do. They see companies that go from idea to global leaders, (Fon has now the largest wifi network in the world) in 6 months and they want to “learn the trick”.
Now my “trick”, I guess, is that they not only learn…they make it happen. And they make enough money through equity in my companies, that the next time they do it on their own, in some cases as much as $50 million. Some examples of very successful former employees now entrepreneurs: Alan Levy, Miguel Salis, Antonio Carro, Christoph Schmidt, Jon Berrojalbiz, Alvy Ibañez, Moises Israel, ex employees of Viatel, Jazztel, Ya.com. And this “learn and start my own” model, is not only true in the case of profit ventures. Rafael Rivera, a social entrepreneur, was one of the first employees of Educ.ar, a very large educational project started by my foundation, and then he went on to being one of the co founders of Red.es, a huge educational internet project in Spain. I once read in Forbes magazine that great leaders are the ones whose followers do well. I would slightly change that. I would say that great leaders are the ones whose followers do so well that they become leaders!