Sunset at DoubleM Systems (, Del Mar, California

Monday, August 9, 2021

Musk on being CEO

A recent news story it claimed that Elon Musk was hoping that Apple would buy Tesla when it was in dire straits, but Musk's condition was that he would become CEO of acquirer Apple, whose.CEO Tim Cook told him what he could do with that idea. 

Here's a recent tweet on that topic:

We all know Elon Musk is smart. What's his take on being CEO? 

"I don't want to be CEO of anything."

I gotta love it. This is some advanced thinking. And it was something I realized about 30 years ago when I got burned out on being CEO of a bootstrapped, fast growing software company that I started with absolutely nothing... no co-founder, no savings, no credit cards, no car... Getting started was easy enough, but after the business settles down to an operational routine after a few years, and the stress of all-or-nothing roll of the dice existence, what I realized is that the true secret of entrepreneurship is to recruit CEOs. The elemental fulcrum of success in business is to Recruit CEOs.

That's not exactly what Musk says, but that is certainly what he implies. 

Being a CEO is the easiest job to get, and the toughest to keep.

To get the job, just start something. And we all know that startups have a 90% failure rate, so the odds of keeping your high-pressure low pay CEO job are about as good as an ice cube in August. 

The problem is caused by the fact that as the business grows, the snowplow effect begins to manifest. The business starts running the management. Inherent friction increases. Joy turns to Fear. Not a happy place. 

The antidote is to Recruit CEOs who are better at operational skills than they are at startup skills. You, the founder, can more easily and freely and joyfully contribute most effectively by elevating yourself to Chairman of the Board and Recruit a CEO.  Be like Musk.

Full disclosure: I hired two different CEOs to take my place at TeleMagic, and they were both short timers. So it's a tough job to fill. 

Finding an operational CEO is really difficult. They are much different than what is needed for a startup CEO. And few successful startup CEOs can evolve into successful operational CEOs.

It's a high stress, low pay, 24/7, high turnover, thankless and lonely job.

Of course there are the few outliers like Musk, Jobs, etc who make it look easy, but the vast majority of CEOs are treading water, fearing death. They need help. Most CEOs never get the help they need and suffer in solitude until everything falls apart. Many find help in the community of other CEOs in groups like Vistage, YPO, Ycombinator, etc. 

Others recruit an executive coach. Their best day will come when their coach suggests they Recruit a CEO.



Inc. Magazine published recently picked up the story, focusing on the huge money Musk makes as CEO, but Musk himself is not really all about the money.

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