Christmas reflections on talent… what I’ve learned over 21 years of managing people… what we look for at Ariadne, and how entrepreneurs manage
At the age of 28, in 1994, I became a manager at Cunningham Communication and started managing a small team of PR professionals. They were great, but the next two years were a baptism of fire for a first time management job. I had one of my direct reports leave her husband, and move in with a woman. Her bad mood was such that she looked like she was going to kill me as she walked the hallways, and then claimed to not know what I was talking about when I brought up her attitude. The firm wanted all of us to move to Austin, Texas, which none of us were intending to do, but we had to ‘play along’ and travelled there constantly – working 100+ hour weeks. Then I discovered that the new Managing Director who had been brought in, and was deeply unpopular, but who promoted me to manager, had low balled me on the salary, and told me the entry level salary was X, and in fact it was 1.5x. To top it all off, I inadvertently discovered that 4 people at Cunningham Communication were sleeping with clients, and to say that I was a babe in the woods at the time was an understatement. I was shocked.
So, the good news is that nothing really amazes me anymore, and I know that managing people is one of the hardest things you have to do when you run a firm. I’m so fortunate that I have a great team. I’m sure it has nothing to do with me. Seriously. I’ve just tried to build the type of firm that I was looking for all my life where no one could hold me back. Limitless ambition – people who have that do well at Ariadne.
Entrepreneurs – not all of us – but a lot of us tend to assume that everyone is built like us: optimist, self-motivated, driven, hard-working, persistent and deeply flawed individuals who live in the future, want perfection, and are totally and utterly obsessed by it. It came as a shock to me through my thirties to realise that the world is not full of people like that, but many who don’t have an over-arching mission to their life. Who knew?
Over the past 20 years of managing people, I have come to take the interviewing process extremely seriously. It funnily enough doesn’t mean I’ve made fewer mistakes, but I have found some amazing people who have joined my firms. The expression kiss a lot of frogs comes to mind.
We’ve had the best luck with people who are outsiders though not insecure people. People who are not part of the establishment tend to buy into our vision of building a new country, and creating the gold standard for the financing of entrepreneurship in Europe. They are naturally hungry to learn, establish themselves, comfortable building structure, and aren’t looking for someone to treat them like employees. They are self-motivated typically and looking for ways of standing out not fitting in.
The second attribute that I look for are Non-Zero Sum People. The world breaks down into those who believe in abundance, and those who live by scarcity. Ariadne Capital operates in a world where technology is a layer driving growth in all businesses. The world is no longer about linear growth, but network-driven growth and exponential growth. EntrepreneurCountry Global, one of our businesses, is driving the establishment of consumer data as an asset of the individual but granting real property rights to individuals’ data inside of the perimeter of EntrepreneurCountry. We fundamentally believe that the opportunities for new assets, new GDP, growth in the European economy, abundance in business and society is there to be seized. The real economy which is driven by entrepreneurs is one where opportunities are perhaps not limitless, but huge to create new jobs, new services based on new assets, and to develop sustainable economics: Ecosystem Economics™.
It can be hard to determine whether someone is Zero Sum until you get to know them. You have to be quite clever to really uncover the way they view the world, and their role in it. But my biggest mistakes in hiring have been by bringing into the Ariadne team Zero Sum individuals.
‘Lead, follow or get out of the way’ – Candace Johnson, one of Ariadne’s early shareholders
Can you have a team of all leaders? Well it comes down to definitions. Leaders are people who in the words of Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, create the conditions of trust so that great things can happen. Leaders are not (just) generals. I believe it is essential that everyone is a leader in their domain, in their life, and in the pursuit of their professional goals. I want everyone to be a leader at Ariadne. My way of provoking that is to set clear goals, but allow people to rise to the challenge themselves rather than putting them under our collective Ariadne thumb.
What you find when you hire for leadership potential and assume strength, assume success and assume drive is not that you always get it. But the system, the company and the team sort out and reject those who can’t keep up, or who run on another operating system – that of win/lose, or people who are arguing for their limitations. Self-policing mechanisms are the best.
I’ll never forget when I went into the deal team room last year and spoke with one of our firm’s best employees about someone who had just left under a cloud. I said, ‘hey I know it’s not great when someone leaves but….’ He interrupted me and said, ‘Julie – we want people like that to go to our competitors.’ Indeed.
When I set up Ariadne Capital on the 8th of December 2000, the first thing I did was commit to writing that The Ariadne Capital Way. It is still what makes this firm tick and gives us the potential and trajectory that we have.
•Make things happen
•Challenge the Status Quo
•Be open and honest
•Believe in yourself
•Make tough decision and stick to them
•Have the courage to say no
•Be an agent of change
•Push your limits
•Maintain personal integrity
•Never compromise quality, not even for a deadline
•Treat people the way that you want to be treated
•Take intelligent risks
•Be a team player
•Keep others informed
•Take an active role in the industry
•Connect the dots that others don’t see
Written by: Julie Meyer
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Wishing you a prosperous 2016 and all the success that you can handle…
From the Job Monster Team