Guy Kawasaki’s CEO credo: ‘Make meaning in the world’

(Originally published April 5, 2010)

If you’re interested in CEO issues, you probably already know about the Corner Office feature that appears each Sunday in The New York Times business section. Each week, writer Adam Bryant conducts an interview with a top executive – usually a CEO – to learn more about the individual’s leadership and management style. (Thanks to Arizona Public Service’s Dan Wool for calling Corner Office to my attention.)

Recently, Bryant spent time with Guy Kawasaki, a co-founder of the Alltop news aggregation site and of the venture-capital firm Garage Technology Ventures. If you spend any time at all around social media, you know about Guy Kawasaki. He’s everywhere and has a massive following on Twitter.

Two simple but powerful ideas came out of Bryant’s interview with Kawasaki:

  • To create a sense of mission in a company, you have to have a desire to make the world a better place. The companies I’ve worked for with the strongest sense of mission all shared this simple idea. Copper mining company Phelps Dodge wasn’t about digging rock out of the ground; it was about making the copper that kept modern society running and brought data and electricity to developing nations. Telecommunications giant Southwestern Bell Corp. (now once again AT&T) wasn’t about wires and phones; it was about creating connections and improving productivity for people and businesses worldwide. Without this simple sense of mission, companies flounder and die.
  • “A” players hire “A+” players. People of excellence try to hire people who are better than themselves so the company can improve and grow. Sadly, Kawasaki notes, egos and fear get in the way of this principle; “B” players hire “C” players so they’ll continue to look good by comparison. The end result is that companies have a difficult time finding their way to innovation and increased productivity.

The 55-year-old Kawasaki, a native of Hawaii, has all the right credentials, with an undergraduate degree from Stanford and an MBA from UCLA. He also is one of the bright lights of Silicon Valley with a career rooted in Apple. His influence might be built on those platforms, but he has stayed relevant by doing what he urges others to do – making meaning in the world.