This week, I attended Accel Partner's CEO Summit at Stanford University, along with 150 CEOs from Accel's portfolio companies. We were joined by some well-known public CEOs and the Accel partners in a series of "fire side chats" and networking sessions to talk about leadership and entrepreneurship. During a morning session, Michael Dell was asked for his best advice for entrepreneurs, and reminded us to: hire great people.
During the day, the theme of hiring great people raised some interesting ideas from the audience and the panelists, and even on Twitter as I tweeted online during the event.
1. Spend HOURS with candidates and insist on a good cultural fit. Michael Dell went on to share a simple, but powerful idea: toss out the idea that interviews should last an hour, and spend HOURS with new candidates. He told a story about a time where he picked up a candidate and drove to work together for an extended period of time, getting to know each other. Apparently Dell is a very "aggressive" driver. The candidate's reaction under stress told him something about his character.
2. Go to a U2 concert. Mark Zukenburg (founder) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO BusinessWeek profile), co-leaders of Facebook, talked about going to a U2 Concert together, and spending nights and evenings talking about the future and culture of Facebook before committing to work together.
3. If there's no cultural fit, fire away. Lee Scott, recently retired CEO of Wal-Mart, said that there were two things at Wal-Mart that would get you fired immediately, regardless of performance: stealing and not "matching the Wal-Mart culture," which is:
a) The customer is the boss,
b) Treat people with dignity,
c) Improve every day
4. Hire people better than you. Lee Scott's story of a key point in his career illustrated this well. He was a logistics manager, and was suddenly promoted to VP and handed one of the most critical new roles in Wal-Mart. The move ignited his rise to the top at Wal-Mart. The reason he was handed the job? "Because you were the only one on our list who had hired someone strong enough below him that we knew would do as good or better job than you would, so we could promote you," he was told.
5. Ask candidates: "Describe your sense of humor." In response to my Twitter tweet about this (follow me at @mrkwpalmer), my former colleague and CEO Peter Beard said that his favorite interview question was to ask candidates to describe their sense of humor, or to tell their favorite joke. Leanne Browne from Progress said she thinks the best way to interview someone is to take them to the pub. I was reminded how one of my most insightful interviews happened on the golf course, where I learned that the candidate was a great golfer (he was very skilled at work too), he was late for the tee time (he was consistently late for meetings), he was lazy and always drove in the cart instead of walking a short distance (he cut corners at work too), and he was very creative in his shot selection (he was creative at work too).
6. Get great investors. These comments came in the context of Accel's CEO Summit. Accel was just named number one on Red Herring's List of the Top 100 Global Venture Capitalists. Enrique Salem, CEO of Symantec, explained how his VC's helped him decide whether to sell BrightMail or go public, eventually deciding on a $370M sale to Symantec (on $25M trailing revenues) that catapulted their business in a way he didn't think they could do on his own.
6 great reminders about one of the most important things we all do: choose the people we surround ourselves with.