Playing the Game

Some years ago, we invited a savvy, resourceful young businessman to spend an evening with us at the Walt Disney Studio. The young man worked in technology in Northern California and was associated with a number of impressive high tech enterprises. He even became CEO of one of them.

We sat in a hallway and chatted before the meeting and our brief talk was very insightful. He admired a number of well run organizations and he considered the Disney Company one of them. Where most companies tend to be what he described as, “market driven,” our company worked its magic through creativity and innovation. He considered this an asset, and it would continue to propel the Disney Company forward for decades. I remember having to wince when I heard his remark. Even though this was a number of years ago, significant changes were already being considered. Changes that would move the company in another direction. And, I don’t mean in a creative or innovation one.

I’ve never forgotten our brief hallway conversation. Especially since the young man eventually took on the rather daunting assignment of becoming the CEO of a Northern California software company. I was pleased to have him as an associate and I was always delighted when he recognized me at conventions and trade shows. Though not well known to the general public, he was to us tech geeks somewhat of a rock star. An excellent public speaker, he even authored a number of books dealing with the task of creating and marketing technology. Whenever he spoke at a trade show, you can bet I was in the audience. On one particular talk he defended the then cantankerous, Steve Jobs. Jobs, at the time was taking a lot of heat for his behavior, and truly needed someone to speak on his behalf. The young man asked the audience to cut the Apple founder some slack because he considered Jobs to be a friend and a good guy. However, he did add that Jobs could often be an “asshole.”

So, what’s the point of all this you ask? Well, the young man eventually stepped down from his role of CEO of the software company. And, the reason is significant. You see, when you’re in the position of serving many masters, that daunting task comes with a price. And, you can imagine what that price might be. You’re dealing with shareholders, Wall Street and the demands of the company. Business on occasion can be brutal, and tough decisions have to be made. Often time, the decisions are not easy and they’re seldom nice. I’m no businessman so I was naive about such matters. However, I see things more clearly today. The CEO gave up his post because he had to make a choice. He had to either play the game - or maintain his integrity. This was many years ago and I have no idea what the former CEO is doing today. Hopefully, he’s doing something he loves, and secure in the belief that the tough decision he made was the right one.

Running a Silicon Valley software company can be a daunting task. Nearly as tough as being an animation boss.

Running a Silicon Valley software company can be a daunting task. Nearly as tough as being an animation boss.