“How did you survive here?” I asked my friend Steve. We were having lunch about one month after I joined Micrel as general manager of the communications division of the company.
Steve and I had known each other for years, and Steve was now my employee. He was the only competent direct report I had. I already knew the rest of the team would have to be replaced.
I knew I would have to make changes when I joined Micrel, but the enormity of the changes was not what I expected. I was literally going to have blow the whole division up and start over.
“I’m going to view my time here at Micrel as lessons in what not to do if I am ever CEO,” I said to my friend Steve over lunch. Then, I continued with my rant, “It’s mind-blowing how poorly run this company is.”
You should view every situation you’re put into as a chance to learn.
I finished my thoughts by saying, “For the first couple of weeks, I wondered what they (the CEO and Micrel’s management team) knew about business that I didn’t know. Then, I realized they don’t know anything. They just got lucky.”
Throughout my career I always had the thought process that I could learn from any situation I was in. Good or bad. It didn’t matter because my mantra was that I was going to learn from the situation.
So, that’s what I did. For the next three years, while I was turning the division’s fortune’s around, I watched, I listened, and I learned.
You should view the time before you become a CEO as your time to develop your strategies for when you do become a CEO.
I already had a great experience of at Maxim Integrated Products about the right way to build a company. Micrel, a direct competitor of Maxim’s, gave me the chance to test my ideas.
From stock option plans, to employee management, to hiring criteria, to product quality, to sales management, you name it, there was a contrast between Maxim and Micrel. My job, in terms of my career, was really to just observe and take it all in.
Usually, Maxim’s way of doing things was superior to Micrel’s. Now, I had more conviction about how I wanted to run my yet to be launched company.
Spend as much time as you can with senior management, especially when you’re young.
You want to spend as much time as you can with senior management, so you can learn how decisions are made. You’ll see things you agree with, and you’ll see things you disagree with. Most importantly, now you can start formulating how you would do things if you were CEO.
At Micrel, I was a senior manager when I joined the company, so it was easy for me observe what the other senior managers and the CEO were doing. It really gave me an appreciation for how lucky I was earlier in my career at Maxim.
I was employee number one in a new organization that Maxim had set up to be the general management arm of the company called, “Business Management.” And, I was even luckier that the leader of that group was the late Ziya Boyacigiller.
Everyone, at least once in their career, should work for someone like Ziya.
I was 26 years old when Ziya hired me to help him build this organization. Even though I was very early in my career, he gave me tremendous authority.
With the authority came visibility and significant interaction with Maxim’s CEO, the late Jack Gifford. Yet again, I got lucky.
Gifford’s style was different from Ziya’s, but I learned a ton working directly with Jack. I now had two role models, Jack and Ziya, to learn from.
I didn’t know it then, but the lessons I learned working with Jack and Ziya would form the basis for how I would run and build my future company. Indeed, all these years later, I still use these lessons.
Your journey to becoming a startup CEO will likely be different than mine. Just remember to learn from all your life and business experiences all along the way.