Many months ago, someone suggested I read “Am I Being too Subtle?“, Sam Zell’s memoir. It’s a good read. Clearly written by Sam itself, as Sam is a go-getting entrepreneur, a true self-made billionaire, but one that didn’t simply have one success, but a whole series of successes in a multitude of industries.
The biggest teaching moments of the book come at the end, when Sam explains the culture he fosters in his companies. Corporate culture is a topic I teach in my classes, but which I’ve yet to write a book about. Creating the right culture can be the difference in a startup between success and failure, whether you have the right product or not.
Sam’s culture is the same as I try and build at my companies. Hire smart people, given them freedom to act, and let them exceed expectations. Not too unlike Netflix, but a bit less intentional and very like less structured.
At our core, we are a meritocracy – an environment that Bob and I cultivated in the early days. A meritocracy gives you the freedom to be yourself by eliminating superficial markers, so you are measured only by what you produce. In essence, it s an equalizer that focuses everybody on what’s important so you have the opportunity to reveal your best. Once you’ve worked in a true meritocracy, it’s very hard to settle for anything else.
I also often say we have an “open kimono” policy. No secrets., no whispers, no closed doors. Everything i son full display. That’s one o fhte key ways we manage risk.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I’ve had the same office for thirty-five years, and just four years ago, during a renovation, I discovered that it had a door. I never knew it was there because it’s a pocket door and it had never been closed once in all those years.
At the same time, I run an entrepreneurial organization. I empower people. I love self-starters. I want people taking the initiate, pushing the edge, questioning, challenging. Of course, that kind of freedom comes with responsibility, so good judgement is critical.
A lot of the trust I have in my team has to do with my hiring process. It can be a little unusual. When I’m looking for a senior person, I don’t write a job description and then look for someone to fit it. I find talented people who fit my organizations and then look for ways to use them. Most of the time that systems works as expected. When occasionally it doesn’t, it’s abundantly clear.
That is just a taste. I highly recommend reading the whole book.