Mar 17 2011

Connecting with Other CEOs

Connecting with Other CEOs

CEOs get introduced to each other regularly.  Sometimes it’s through VCs or other investors, sometimes it’s through other CEOs, sometimes it’s because the two companies are already partners.  I try hard to meet personally or at least on the phone with other CEOs every time I get a chance, sometimes because there’s business to be done between Return Path and the other company; but always because I come away from every interaction I have with another CEO with some learnings to apply to myself and the company.

I have noticed two unrelated things over the years about my interactions with other CEOs who are in our industry, and therefore with whom I spend time more than once, that I find interesting:

First, the personality of the organization frequently (though not always) mirrors the personality of the CEO.  When the other CEO is responsive and easy to schedule a meeting with, it turns out the organization is pretty easy to work with as well.  When the other CEO is unresponsive to email or phone calls, or is inconsistent with communication patterns — one communication through LinkedIn, another via email, another via Twitter — people at Return Path who also work deeper within the other organization have experienced similar work styles.  I guess tone setting does happen from the C-suite!

Second, even when there is alignment of temperament per my above point, there is frequently a disconnect between CEOs and their teams when it comes to getting a deal done.  The number of times I’ve had a solid meeting of the minds with another CEO on a deal between our two companies, only to have it fall apart once the two teams start working through details is well north of 50% of the cases.  Why is this?  Maybe sometimes it’s unfortunately calculated, and the CEO is being polite to me but doesn’t really have any intent of moving forward.  In other cases, it’s a natural disconnect — CEOs have a unique view of their company and its long term strategy, and sometimes the people on their teams have different personal, vested interests that might conflict with a broader direction.  But in many cases, I think it’s also because some CEOs are weak at follow-up, and even if they give their team high-level direction on something don’t always check in to see how progress is or is not being made.  I know I’ve been guilty of this from time to time as well, so please don’t take this post to be self-righteous on this important point. Those of us who run organizations have a lot on our plates, and sometimes things fall between the cracks.  The best way to make sure this last point doesn’t happen is to really ensure the meeting of the minds exists — and for the two CEOs to hold each other accountable for progress on the relationship up and down the stack.

I will close this post by noting that most of the best relationships we as a company have are ones where the other CEO and I get along well personally and professionally, and where we let our teams work through the relationship details but where we hold them and each other accountable for results.