Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to fire a CEO

Let's face it, CEOs get fired all the time.

CEOs with less than 5 years of experience are more likely than the long standing ones to be fired (as found in the University of Miami business school study) so it's going to happen all the time but there are ways to do it, and ways not to.

Yahoo's firing of Carol Bartz is a great example of how not to. Don't fire a CEO over the phone, don't underestimate their balls, don't fire them without an agreed on communication plan.

Carol is known for her courage and her balls of steel. She had put a strategy in place where she told the board there would not be revenue growth until 2012 and - whether you think she was right or wrong in her strategy - the board should have predicted she'd be mad to be fired over the phone with no warning, with lawyers waiting for her.

And her response - to send an email to all 13,000 Yahoo employees - was classic Carol. And much more fiery than one of the last tech female CEOs to depart, VMWare's Dianne Greene who went away quietly after a difference of opinion on her experience. And now there are none...unless the rumors are true and Meg get the job below...
Post ed: She did!

How to #1: If you are firing a powerful personality manage the communication by meeting with them in person! Or get someone you trust to do it for you, in person.

Mark Hurd's departure from H-P provides more to chew on. In Mark we had another strong CEO with a strained relationship with the board. Facing allegations of expense fraud, a sexual harassment suit, broken trust and the specter of bad PR, the H-P board fired their CEO and entered months of he-said, she-said. In this case the ousted CEO promptly went across to another silicon valley giant, Oracle, and one known to have a tougher, less PC culture. H-P sued and then promptly settled 2 weeks later once they realized how important the Oracle business relationship is to them both.

How to #2: Make sure you have a strong separation agreement when you fire the CEO so if they take another job you can live with it and don't have to sue, and then settle. List the companies you really don't want them to go to, especially if you are in California, and put some financial teeth into it.

This weeks roiling H-P rumors also highlight How to #3: Don't let leaks come out of the board room. Ever. Especially if you are thinking of firing your CEO. The level of detail coming out of the H-P board room is astonishing for such a large public company.

You can tell a company has not been doing a good job of succession planning when a board member needs to step into the breach. Usually there is someone who can take over in the interim, even if it is only the CFO. But in Axciom's case, firing the CEO after a bad quarter, even the CFO didn't want to "keep commuting from Florida to Little Rock". Must have been a tough gig the new CEO Scott Howe took over - I wish him luck.

It's never pretty when a CEO is fired but it can be done smoothly, take for example the firing of BNY CEO Robert Kelly- a deliberate, confidential process followed by the promotion of an internal leader, Gerald Hassell, into the top spot. Pfizer also, when CEO Kindler abruptly left was able to replace him with an internal candidate Ian Read.

How to #4: Do a good job of succession planning on a continuous basis so if you do need to remove the CEO you have internal candidates to seriously consider.

Which leads to the question what does it mean when the board has to fire the entire senior team as the Cadence board did in October 2008. They were lucky to have a strong board alternative ready to step in and turn the company around, because there was no one senior enough internally left standing, although indications are the CEO, Lip-Bu Tan is investing in How to #4.

Of course there are many more ways to fire a CEO but in the end the hiring and firing of the CEO is the single most important thing boards do. They are accountable to the shareholders and the CEO has more impact on the strategy, execution and leadership team than anyone else, so the decision of who to put in that position vastly outweighs any other decision a board makes.

It sounds easy. Be clear about what the company needs, have a clear and transparent process within the board for nomination, have a strong succession planning process so you are developing internal candidates, keep confidentiality.

But it's not easy. It is incredibly difficult because companies, and human beings, are complex. Of course board's make hiring mistakes, or the needs of the company change, or the market changes and a CEO may no longer be a good fit.

So if you do have the misfortune to have to fire a CEO, at least make that a well managed, dignified, confidential process.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rome: A short stay guide for the busy professional

Rome is, no question, my favorite city in the world. My friends know it and so I am frequently asked where to go if you have a few days.

Here's my list, biased by my love of the ancient and the baroque, but if it is your first time in Rome you'll get a broad, and deep experience in a few days if you visit these sites. They are listed in priority order if you are short of time.

And remember - wear comfortable shoes!

1. Villa Borghese Gallery
Extraordinary collection of art and sculpture established in the early 1600s by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Best collection of Bernini statues in the world plus several milestone Caravaggio paintings.
Note: The museum limits the number of people admitted at any one time so buy tickets on line 2 weeks before you leave at and get the audio tour when you go in - it's very good. Be sure to go upstairs too, the Titians are upstairs.

2. Colosseum and the Forum and the Palantine
They are next to each other and in half a day you can get a strong sense of ancient Rome. There is a new tour of the colosseum which just opened which takes you up to the third floor and down into the hypogeum.
You can buy tickets at the same site (above). For the Forum and the Palentine (the area above the forum where the palaces were) get the audio tour. It's worth the 2-3 hours to walk around and absorb the deep history of the site.

3. Vatican Museum
Whether you approve of the Catholic Church's accumulation of wealth over the last 2,000 years or not, the Vatican collection is not to be missed - including ancient Greek statues, the map corridor (look up), the Raphael rooms and the exquisite Sistine chapel.
You can buy tickets at the same site or go very early and wait in line. The audio tour is a bit preachy for my taste so read your guidebook or pick up the small paperback book in the museum.

4. Castel St Angelo & St Peters Basillica
Both by the Vatican. St Peters is glorious and took over 100 years to build, Castel St Angelo is really interesting view into an old castle used as a prison and a refuge for the Papacy for a thousand years, and it was originally Hadrians tomb. Good audio tour for Castel St Angelo. Climbing to the top of the cupola of St Peters is hard work but worth it for the view. Don't climb it if you are claustrophobic.

5. The Pantheon
2000 year old Roman temple. Beautiful and fantastic engineering - the science to build a dome like that was lost for 1500 years and reverse engineered when Brunelleschi was trying to build the cupola in Florence!

6. Piazza Navona
Fun (expensive) cafes, street performers, lovely Bernini fountains
7. Caravaggio paintings in Santa Lucia de Francesi.
Three paintings of St Matthew. Very famous and very beautiful. If you have time go to Santa Maria Di Poppolo too - has two amazing Caravaggio paintings in it.
Caravaggio changed the course of western art between 1590 and 1605. He was the first to paint religious subjects in profane modern settings but more importantly he invented a style of strong characters in dramatic poses lit from a single point of light against dark backgrounds to increase the sense of drama - called chiaroscuro - and changed painting forever.

8. Take a half day tour to Tivoli.
There is a bus tour for half a day, or hire a driver for a whole day. Goes to Hadrians Villa and Villa D'Este. Villa D'Este has to be seen to be believed! Cardinal D'Este was Lucretia Borgia's son, extermely wealthy even for those times and he built a palace with a hillside of hundreds of beautiful fountains. He diverted a river to create it!

9. Spanish steps
At the end of Via Condotti which is the fashion district. Gelato from the cafe to the left of Via Condotti if you are looking at it from the steps (the chocolate is fantastic). Sit on the steps and people watch. Watch your wallet in any crowded area in Rome!

10. St Clemente
A church from 1200, built on top of a church built in 400, built on top of old roman streets and a Mithraen temple from 50. You can take steps down to each of the four layers which have been excavated. Weird and wonderful.

11. Caracalla baths
Built in 300 could bathe 3000 people at a time. Absolutely enormous, even as a ruin. Beautiful place to walk around and absorb atmosphere.

12. More museums...
The Capitoline Museum has a magnificent collection of statues and art. The Museum of Rome by the train station has amazing whole rooms preserved from the palaces from Caesars time, like Livia's dining room, and gorgeous mosaics. The Palazzo Barberini has a lovely art collection and gives you a sense of how the rich lived in the 1600s. Palazzo Doria Pamphlii has so many paintings they are hung three high up the walls. More Carevaggio paintings here.

13. Aqueducts and the Wall
Be sure to look out for them. You'll see them as you wander around. Rome was fed by aqueducts more than 150 miles long and protected by a huge wall. Both times Rome was sacked ( in 400 and again in 1527 ) it was to try and break the political power of the city over the rest of the world and both times they destroyed the aqueducts to siege the city. If you are really nerdy like me go to the Museum of the Wall at Porto Sebastiano.

Ninos - wonderful traditional Roman food - Via Borgognona, may need a reservation - and they definitely frown if you get too loud...
Life- fun, inexpensive and delicious on Via de la Vita
Giggetto at Porto Octavia - in the old Jewish district. Has the best carciofi (artichokes) and eggplant Parmesan in Rome.
Don't eat on Via Veneto - it's a rip off to trap tourists. Get off the main streets and look for little cafes.

Most museums are closed on Mondays so that is a good day to see churches and ruins. Most churches are closed for a long lunch. Always check opening times in your guidebook before setting out. It's a walking city and can be hard to get a cab so take really, really comfortable walking shoes. The metro is quite safe too.

Have a marvelous time!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

WSGR and conflict waivers in Silicon Valley

I've used Wilson Sonsini as my outside counsel for more than 15 years now. Like many a tech CEO, I was introduced to Larry Sonsini very early on as a green CEO, grew up with the firm, stayed loyal because of their incredible advice, got frustrated by their lack of follow through on the small stuff, and became fast friends with several partners at the firm. A very typical Silicon Valley tech story I have in common with CEOs at large and small companies in the valley.

But because WSGR is so successful in tech they often find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict and have become masters of the "conflict waiver". Both parties sign that it is OK that the same firm represents both sides because different partners are in the lead and they promise not to talk between the sheets (so to speak).

Which is why when @alacra1 (that's Steve Goldstein) tweeted out this cartoon I laughed out loud. If you have ever done a lot of business with WSGR you've seen this movie.

Thanks to for the brilliant cartoon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

5 leadership keys for women

Do women lead differently than men? Yes, usually. Do women face more barriers than men? Frequently. But do women often hold themselves back ? Yes.

I gave a leadership talk and Q&A, at a tech company in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago where I was meeting with female leaders in a hardcore semiconductor company. Because it's hardcore it was a small group, and because I grew up (professionally) in a hardcore technical environment like that I spoke to the things I have seen women do that hold them back as leaders - and how to flip these challenges around and turn them into advantages.

Here are the 5 keys to leadership as a woman (although not exclusively...) and each one is the flip side of a common weakness:

1. Embrace making decisions - they are fun

Companies need people who are decisive and courageous. A common issue with new entrepreneurs and young managers is that they hesitate to make decisions. It's tough when you don't know what to do, but it's better to make a decision quickly and decisively, and be ready to change it if you are wrong, than to hesitate, hash it over many times, or wait for someone else (your board, your team, your boss) - or even worse time and delay - to make it for you.

Making decisions gets easier when you learn to trust yourself and your judgement - you can feel in your gut and in the tips of your fingers what to decide. Never underestimate your own intuition - it's not a myth, it's real.

I simply did not understand or trust this until I read Blink (the voice is my head is uber-critical) but now I love the feeling. I am not always right, and I definitely need and value advice, but I learned to trust, move forward fast, knowing that if I am wrong I'll also figure that out quickly, or someone I trust will slap me.

2. Never ask whether, ask when

This is a mindset that many men are good at. They come out of of the womb asking when they'll get that raise, when they'll be promoted, when they'll go kill that bear, not whether. Women so often talk about whether. Should I push for that promotion, should I ask for more money, will I get funded, will they promote a woman, will they like me?

Working with mostly men, and a few women, I see a pattern in the successful women. They don't ask whether they have a right to what they want, they assume they'll get it. They don't particularly care what other people think of them, they care about getting the job done. They act like they are competent, it's in their future, they are going to get it, and there is not any question of whether, just when.

3. Hire your betters

The fastest way to build a great team is to hire people who are smarter and more experienced than you in their field, and if you are technical these are probably mostly men today.

It can be intimidating to interview people who are senior to you - I know. It can be downright frustrating when you talk to men who, when they meet you, talk down to you because you are blond and forget that you are interviewing them (can you tell I've been through this?). Remember, you don't need to be "the man" - you need to get the job done better than anyone else.

Stay focused on your vision for your team. A group of people who work for and with you, all of whom are smarter than you in some dimension but who want to climb the hill with you. Plan to grow into being their leader and if they are good people they will give you space to do it. Give in to fear of being usurped and you'll fail because you don't hire a strong enough team.

I confess I used to always try to hire my "elders and betters". As time goes by the first becomes more difficult, but thankfully the second is still easy!

4. Speak up and be sure you are heard

I have often heard the complaint that a woman will say something in a meeting, not have her idea acknowledged and then a man will say the same thing and everyone will jump on a agree. There are even TV ads that make fun of this reality.

Given that this does happen, develop some tactics that help you be heard, and help you confirm that you have been heard. State your input and then ask a question that causes your co-workers to engage in your idea. Repeat yourself in different words. Go to the white board to sketch your concept - whether it is a process or a product idea - it's really hard to ignore the person at the white board. If you are in an online meeting call on a co-worker by name to get their direct input on your idea. What does not work is speaking your piece and then waiting - that is the easiest way for you to be dismissed.

5. Put the company first and get results

And finally - the playing field is not level. Fact. Deal with it. To lead men and get ahead in a man's world you need to work harder, be smarter and be more ambitious than the men around you.

The CEO lives in the place where the company and it's results are all that matter to her. So practice that. In everything you do put the company first, ahead of your needs. Ahead of office politics (I wish I had known this from day one - I had to learn this one). Drive to results, be sure you get recognition for your results, and you will get ahead and become a leader.

Male dominance of tech is not going to change quickly so don't complain, or hesitate, just get on with it. And if you are a leader - men, and women, will follow you. When you look over your shoulder you will know.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Raising over $31,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund

Earlier this year I set out a challenge for myself to do a really long swim for my mother, and on Monday that crazy idea grew into something really big for FirstRain and for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

We started doing athletic competitions at FirstRain back in 2008 as a way to build stronger teams inside the company and this Summer I decided to encourage Rainmakers to get involved in a series of events building up to my personal challenge of a 2.4 mile ocean swim off Maui.

And to my delight many of my coworkers have been with me all the way – and into the race! All summer Rainmakers have been training with me in the pool, competing in the Splash and Dash series and yesterday two of them did the Maui 'Aumakua Swim too. We’ve been doing relays, running, teaching each other how to swim better and generally having fun and becoming friends.

The race yesterday was on a spectacular, perfect Maui day. The water was crystal clear and we were swimming over coral reefs, fish and the occasional turtle. Thomas and Jordy did the 1 mile distance and were both very pleased with their times and I beat my time goal in the 2.4 mile distance.

2.4 miles is a very long way to swim if you don’t compete all the time. It was a huge personal challenge for me but once I set my pace I pushed through, absolutely determined to finish because I was raising money for OCRF, I was on a mission and I was supported by so many coworkers, friends and family.

My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer 18 months ago. She has been through treatment and is in remission but we know the fight is not over. Unfortunately today there is no effective early detection method for this disease and so the statistics are tough. Over 22,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year in the US and over 15,000 die from it. My goal was to raise as much money as possible for OCRF to help find a detection method and ultimately a cure.

And the result was donations of more than $31,000! Truly fantastic generosity from many, many people. We put out a FirstRain press release on the news because the achievement is, to a great extent, the result of my coworkers wonderful involvement and support. It’s a privilege to work with such terrific people.

Several Rainmakers have asked me what we are going to do next Summer – any suggestions for what we should do next?

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