Why are you here...?

You're the man!!!

Looking back on my CEO experience (first post here), one of the aspects that I most overlooked systematically is "why was I the person in the first place?" I say systematically overlooked because in my mind, I had an idea what I wanted to do with the company that was "given to me to manage", but I never really articulated it in a way that could have, looking back, helped me. Ex-post, alas, is better than none.

Anyway, I started writing again because I was reading about comments about Marissa Mayer being appointed as the newest Yahoo CEO. Media commentary were divided. Is Yahoo a media company that needs media people? Or is it a tech company in desperate need of product people? The hiring of Mayer is the Yahoo Board saying that shareholders want to see Yahoo revive as a tech company with new products at the core of its revival.

So why me? I had the support of the Board (Tencent representatives were  were on the Board). I was advising the CEO and all the major BUs on its future strategy for over a year. I've demonstrated god business sense. I knew Tencent products. I developed good relationships (I think) with all of the people I advised. I was a breathe of fresh air without any lingering legacy, politics, or cultural issues. 

I had some obvious drawbacks too: I didn't speak the language... so yeah, I can't read our #1 product, the portal, though Google Translate helps a lot. Being a consultant all my life, I have no operational experience. I don't have any advertising experience, and that is the lifeline of the business. I am young, considered a drawback when there are a lot of people who have been with the firm for many years.

The Board understands all the pros and cons of naming me acting / temporary / interim CEO. What I missed was that I should have thought about these pros and cons before sitting in the corner office. Based on what I am good and bad at, I could have easily foresaw what lay ahead of me, and therefore I could better plan what I wanted to do... anyway, here we go:

Consultant: the good ol' 100 day plan fits right in. Identify your allies and enemies. Interview all the stakeholders. Understand and prioritize all the business plans. Find out the strengths and weaknesses of your staff. Of your BUs. Of your company. Do a asset and resource inventory to see what you have at your disposal. 

Acting / Temporary / Interim CEO: Ops, someone might not share their full business plan with you, only the official one that was submitted. Ops, some key staff that you want to talk to doesn't want to talk to you. Ops, I'm pretty sure <insert department name> is trying to slow down your digging when they give you so much information without distillation.

Okay, it wasn't that bad, but my point is that the consultant plan is what it is, a plan. You need people to make a plan work. I think one of the most important things I learned was that since I didn't speak the language, I needed a few trusted lieutenants whom I could always trust to tell the truth. No dancing around facts and politics, just the truth. I also needed to be "out there" with my employees since a Chinese guy who didn't speak the language was going to be a pretty hard sell. I had to reach over some of my direct reports and speak directly to their direct reports so I understand their work. I had to be out there on the street with the cafes and locals to know how our product was perceived.

You need to be the CEO, the EVP, the VP, the Manager, the Analyst, the Customer, and the Consumer all at the same time.

And, looking back now, I think that's why the Board appointed me. They saw that I could connect with the people in the company despite not having the language skills. It wasn't my business mind, it wasn't my knowledge of products, it wasn't portal vs products (like Yahoo). In fact, I couldn't lead the company to the finish line (see all the cons!). But... I could stabilize a company in turmoil and steer it towards the right direction. And that I did. I just wish I did that sooner rather than wrestle with products and operations that I was in a distinct disadvantage to begin with!


From Consultant to (Interim) CEO

Wow, I haven't blogged in months!

This period of no-blogging is, coincidentally, the same period I was appointed interim / acting / temporary CEO of an Internet portal company. For 10 months, I managed the a website that, for all intended purposes, is basically Yahoo in an Asian country. Monster but declining traffic; leader in banner ad sales but being slowly eaten away by Google and Facebook; a portal that is what it is: a portal.

When consultants cease working for a consulting firm, the biggest difference is just the traveling. The mindset is ingrained into our thought process and working style. We want to identify stakeholders, scope the project, lay out an action plan, develop a fact base, draw a story line, sketch blanks, and do all these consultant-lingo things that really can be summarized into three (+1) words: solve the problem (efficiently).

Being a(n) (Interim) CEO was exactly that... with a nasty not-so-little twist: you have to convince your team to follow.

I will resume blogging soon, and this post will hopefully kick start the writing! Public commitment, even though this blog isn't THAT public, is the best motivation.

1st topic: why are you here...?