Why you should care
This OZY original series will teach you all about business leaders who lead straight off the beaten path.
Look, we get it. CEOs are cookie-cutters in suits — the same degree, the same tie, the same eat-or-be-eaten approach.
Except that’s not really true. Not anymore. OZY’s series on Unconventional CEOs is here to tell you all about a crop of business leaders who aren’t doing the same old thing — whether that’s with their employees, with their shareholders’ money or with their own lives.
For most CEOs, outside investment is lifeblood. For Arsen Tomsky, it was something he reluctantly gave into after five years, when his business truly started taking off. That business is inDriver, a ride-hailing app with 14 million users launched from the coldest major city in the world: Yakutsk, Siberia. The hook for inDriver is simple: freedom. Drivers don’t forfeit as much of their money to the app as they would to Uber, and driver and rider have to haggle over the price for each ride, meaning nobody’s bound by surge pricing or other algorithmically set numbers.
In 1959, the CEO of Sweden’s iconic car company made a decision: Volvo was going to reinvent the seatbelt. From that decision was born the three-point belt used in cars today. Not only did he order its invention, but Gunnar Engellau’s company then made the belt available via an open patent, meaning all car companies could use the design. It was an unconventional business decision … but it’s estimated to have saved millions of lives, and it more than paid off for Volvo.
It’s not a tried-and-true design principle, but Richard Sheridan — who runs Michigan-based software company Menlo Innovations — has based his career on making people happy. And not just customers, but employees as well. The focus on employee happiness — and the philosophy that happy, well-rested employees create a better product — has put Menlo on the map for the estimated 3,000 people who come to observe the workplace each year as a model for how to treat workers.
South African new mom Shannon McLaughlin became a household name when she turned baby carriers into a successful business. But she raised her profile still further with a battle against retail giant Woolworths when it copied her design wholesale. She turned to social media and won her David and Goliath fight without ever stinting … or worrying about the consequences.
Martha Hoover was a local prosecutor before she decided in 1989 to enliven Indianapolis’ restaurant scene. Now with 14 restaurants and bars to her name, Hoover proved to be a pioneer in farm-to-table cuisine — as well as treating her employees with respect. She doles out unusually generous benefits, counseling and financial literacy courses while keeping the culture inclusive with implicit bias training. In an industry rife with misogyny and high turnover, Hoover’s Patachou Restaurant Group is a revolution.
More unconventional CEOs:
Can a Comics App With 130 Million Users Become China’s Marvel? — Comics artist Anni Chen has now turned her attention to building the next huge comics brand.
This Unlikely Tech Queen Wants to Build a New Global Hub in Kyrgyzstan — While many of her contemporaries leave Kyrgyzstan for techier pastures, pink-haired Alla Klimenko is trying to build something at home.