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Advice du Jour: Do Whatever Gets You Tenure
What's the problem?, I asked.
"Fucking board full of VCs," he said. "They undervalue me. I'm knocking myself out getting this company on analysts' radar, getting our systems in place, hiring good people, and even closed this recent round. And what do I get? Grief at every board meeting, and at weekly calls inbetween."
What are they giving you grief about?
"Number crap," he said. "They are hung up on a couple of key accounts, ones that we thought we would have closed by now, but haven't. It'll either happen or it won't, but beating on me every week isn't going to change anything. These fuckers should get a real job sometime and see what it's like on the other side."
I don't want to sound glib, I said, but why don't you just close the deals?
"What?", we're trying. "But it's complicated and time-consuming, and I can't spend every minute hanging with my sales guys as they work the process. There are too many fires to spend my time only on those ones."
I told him the story of another super-smart friend of mine. Harvard Ph.D. One of the most intelligent people I've ever met. Quicker than quick. He took a job as an academic at a top-tier U.S. school, had a great research program, and proceeded to not get get tenure, despite being the smartest guy in the place, which everyone knew.
Why? Because to get tenure he had to publish papers, and he had a couple of key papers in the edit cycle, and he knew they would eventually get published. He spent the bulk of his time doing other stuff, like consulting, teaching, helping other faculty, and doing doctoral supervision. Trouble is, those key papers weren't accepted in time for his tenure review, so he was terminated -- even though the papers were accepted 3-4 months later.
The moral of the story: Do what gets you tenure. If he had been knocking himself out getting other papers in other publications, even if they hadn't published, he would have been cut more slack than he was for what he did (however laudable it was).
Same thing for my CEO friend. Boards are wrong about many things, but if you balk at the thing they unanimously want, then you are going to have to soon find other employment. Do what gets you tenure. If they want to see you selling, be seen selling. A lot.
And if you think that's being cynical or pandering, then you have no business in real world of business.
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By Paul Kedrosky
About the Author: Paul Kedrosky
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Dr. Kedrosky is currently the Executive Director of the William J. von Liebig Center in San Diego, California. Using an innovative seed capital program, the Center catalyzes the commercialization of technologies from the internationally-ranked University of California, San Diego. Dr. Kedrosky is also a venture investor with Ventures West, Canada's largest institutional venture capital firm, where he is most active in consumer technologies and software. He is currently on the board of Marqui Corporation, a marketing automation software company.
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