Get out from behind the desk, people!
As Chenmark grows, we have been allocating a lot of time toward hiring. Candidates for our CEO development programs go through multiple rounds of interviews with various members of our team as the final stage of the hiring process. One frequent theme in our internal debrief discussions is whether or not a candidate actually wants to work in small business.
On the surface, this seems like a strange topic to have to discuss. We are pretty public about the fact that we operate in the world of small business acquisitions and operations. However, we often have candidates who are predominantly attracted to the financial flywheel aspects of Chenmark’s model without being focused enough on the operational necessities to spin said flywheel. This attitude simply has no place on our team.
While we understand that a successful CEO needs to be able to work “on” her business, not “in” her business, in our opinion, a strong CEO is also one who is, at a moment’s notice, willing to roll up her sleeves and get in the trenches with her team. At the very least, this means getting out of the office and understanding what goes into a day’s worth of “real” work. It also means that if there’s a big snowstorm and we are short-staffed, a Chenmark person is happy to pull an overnight shoveling shift regardless of her title. Or, if a boat needs bottom paint, we think it’s fun to save $6,000 of boatyard expenses and go out and paint for a couple of hours.
Given this line of thinking, we were interested to read a recent WSJ article about what Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, learned when he started driving for Uber. From the WSJ:
Using the alias ‘Dave K’ and a gray Tesla Model Y that he purchased secondhand, the chief executive made dozens of trips as a ride-share driver in the following months ferrying people around the hills of San Francisco…. Another trip took him across the Bay Bridge to Oakland—and he swore never to do it again after getting stuck in rush-hour traffic back to the city. It was the latest experiment in the CEO’s yearslong journey to reinvent driving on Uber. Along the way, he struggled to sign up as a driver, saw firsthand something called tip baiting and was punished by the app for rejecting trips. Surprisingly hard to take was the rudeness of some Uber riders…
..The following weekend, Mr. Khosrowshahi hopped on an electric bike and began delivering food in San Francisco. Posing as a gig worker for the first time was a wake-up call, he said. Mr. Khosrowshahi struggled with Uber’s sign-up process, which was different depending on whether workers wanted to drive people or deliver food. ‘The whole experience was pretty clunky,’
By spending time out of the office doing the actual work, Khosrowshahi, along with other Uber executives, encountered a lot of driver experience problems, many of which had pretty simple solutions. For example:
“Other Uber executives were driving, too, and coming up with improvements. Sachin Kansal, Uber’s product head, found the company’s maps could be difficult to read while driving. Arrows marking turns were in colors that made them hard to see when sunlight reflected off a phone’s screen. It was simple to fix—but hadn’t come up when he tested maps in the office.”
While we applaud Khosrowshahi’s initiative, we note there’s no need to wait five years to get around to doing this. As we train our next generation of Chenmark leaders, getting out of the office and into the field is expected from day one. In our opinion, it’s impossible to truly lead for the long term if you don’t spend at least a little bit of time experiencing your product or service from all angles. The bottom line: to be part of team Chenmark, you need to want to do both the analytics and the operations.
Have a great week,
Your Chenmark Team