Meet Some of the World’s Most Unconventional CEOs
These business leaders are thinking outside the box — and forging new paths to success.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because not all CEOs are created equal.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? With this year’s wave of billion-dollar tech IPOs — the highlight of which is today’s $8 billion public debut by ride-hailing giant Uber — it’s easy to get caught up in the massive profits they’ll offer insiders and, potentially, future shareholders. But a new crop of free-thinking leaders, profiled in OZY’s new original series Unconventional CEOs, proves there’s far more to a successful business than numbers. Whether it’s by embracing altruism, promoting personal freedoms or fighting back against a stodgy status quo, these CEOs are blazing new trails to succeed in business.
Why does it matter? Changes are gripping the business world faster than ever. A robust social media presence, for instance, is no longer a novelty — it’s essential. Meanwhile, climbing the corporate ladder isn’t what it used to be: A recent 10-year study dubbed the CEO Genome Project found that more than a third of so-called “CEO sprinters” reached the top by leaping at opportunities for which they might have felt unprepared.
But taking such risks might seem all the more daunting considering the current state of the global economy, which the latest Global CEO Survey by PwC claims has heightened pessimism among business leaders. In fact, nearly 30 percent believe global economic growth will contract this year, whereas only 5 percent felt that way last year. Can thinking outside the box break through this uncertainty?
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Staying free. Siberian tech entrepreneur Arsen Tomsky operates by a simple principle: Everybody loves freedom. That’s why the 45-year-old former programmer launched inDriver, a ride-hailing app that ditches surge pricing and empowers riders by letting them haggle the best bang for their buck. Now inDriver is operational in more than 200 cities in 20 countries; its priority is to elbow in on markets underserved by giants like Uber. Citing Tomsky’s enthusiasm and eye for innovation, some have called him Siberia’s Elon Musk.
Saying ‘no’ to bro culture. Former sex crimes prosecutor Martha Hoover is taking aim at a male-dominated restaurant culture long known for its fast pace and boozy late nights. By pioneering anti-bias training at her network of 14 restaurants and bars, this Indiana-born feminist extends the same degree of hospitality to her employees as she does to guests. It’s led to what supporters say is a noticeable “lack of toxicity” — and serves up a shining example for other restaurateurs.
A history of bold decisions. Forward-thinking CEOs aren’t just a 21st-century thing. Take former Volvo chief Gunnar Engellau, who passed up profit for ethics in the late 1950s by opening up his company’s patent on the revolutionary three-point seatbelt. The unconventional decision meant any car company that wanted to could use the design, and it’s estimated to have saved millions of lives. It’s a legacy that’s lasted: Today, the Swedish automaker is synonymous with safety.
Be happy … Michigan-based Menlo Innovations is far from your average software firm — which is why thousands of visitors drop by each year to see what it’s doing right. CEO and co-founder Richard Sheridan has developed a work culture based around “joy,” in which employees work in pairs, make communal personnel decisions, stick to strict 40-hour weeks and are peer pressured to stay off the grid during vacation. Customers, meanwhile, benefit from Menlo’s research-intensive approach, designed to dig into how the firm’s bespoke products will delight its end users the most.
… and bring the fight. By standing up to South African retail giant Woolworths, Shannon McLaughlin proved small businesses can defeat big checkbooks and expensive lawyers. The retailer, which she claimed copied the design of her company’s baby carriers, pledged to improve training for employees and partners in its “values-based approach to the design and sourcing process.” Even before the controversy broke out, her firm, Ubuntu Baba, was becoming a popular brand — and now, in addition to growing her 12-employee business, McLaughlin is often invited to give talks on intellectual property.
WHAT TO READ
The Secret to Asking Better Questions, by Hal Gregersen in The Wall Street Journal
“Most people want to be handed the five paradigm-smashing questions to ask. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible. But what is possible is creating the conditions where the right questions are more likely to bubble up.”
How Successful CEOs Start Their Mornings, by Stephanie Vozza in Fast Company
“Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella practices meditation each morning, but just for 90 seconds. He gets up in the morning, puts his feet down, and pauses.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Meet 13-Year-Old CEO Hillary Yip
“To any young female entrepreneurs … You are your own person. There’s no need to be swayed by extra influences, because there will always be people who belittle you, tell you that you can’t.”
Watch on South China Morning Post on YouTube:
What I Learned From Giving Up Everything I Knew as a Leader Jim Whitehurst
“Leadership isn’t about control and compliance — it’s about creating the context for the best ideas to emerge out of your organization.”
Watch on TED Institute on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Lessons learned. One of America’s most prestigious business schools is getting all emotional. In a bid to endow budding CEOs with a more acute sense of emotional intelligence, Stanford University now features a course on “interpersonal dynamics” — better known by its nickname on campus, “Touchy Feely.”