June 8, 2014

First Time CEO (Marissa)


"The interesting thing about being CEO 
is that you have very few decisions you need to make, 
and you need to make them absolutely perfectly."

Marissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo

When I first read that quote, I related to the stress in the statement.  You need to make big decisions, and they need be perfect (or bad things will happen). These are not situations to be taken lightly. It's a high-stakes poker game. In Marissa's statement is the recognition that she is playing all-in on every big hand. The fear of being wrong is a heavy burden, and can lead to over-thinking, delay, and the worst possible outcome: not making a decision at all.

This is Marissa's first CEO job, and so she has a lot to learn, but she's got to learn it on-the-job, quickly.

Of course, no human is perfect, and therefore we can not expect any CEO to make all the decisions "absolutely perfectly".  When she said this she was probably still smarting from her $58 Million dollar mistake of hiring the wrong sales manager.  She hired him quickly and then she waited for 15 months before firing him! As a rookie CEO, Marissa violated one of the most elemental principles of success in business: 

"Hire slow, fire fast."

In lists of the biggest regrets by CEOs, the one that always makes it near the top is the regret of having waited too long before firing someone. After all, who really likes to fire someone? Not fun. And the worst part is that you have to admit that you made a mistake in the first place by hiring that person. Double not-fun. Then there's all that work of finding a replacement, getting them up to speed, time lost, distractions, yadda, yadda, yadda. Maybe the person will finally "get it"...  Yeah, when pigs fly, maybe.

The practical advice for first time CEOs is to not worry about being perfect, and to move resolutely forward, making decisions that you know can be / will be flawed, and resolve that when it becomes obvious that a decision turns sour, to act quickly to address the issue.


See also:
GigaOm: The CEO's weekly checklist
Quora: Advice for a young, first-time startup CEO