The Terrifying Act of Being A New CEO

December 17, 2006

The Terrifying Act of Being A New CEO

I just read a truly forthright interview in The Chronicle with new Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Since I follow CEOs in their early tenure, the Q&A was disarmingly honest. Here are a few choice excerpts:

“Q: What has been the toughest part of the past few months?
A: Physical endurance probably ranks at the top of the list (laughs). We are a global company that serves some very important customers, all of whom would like to sit down with me and talk about the future of computing. That requires a lot of energy and stamina.

The hardest part is really just recognizing that the disparity between how big we are today and how big we can be, given the size of the market, and just thinking through how we scale the company to go serve the planet.

Q: Scott was CEO for more than 20 years. Was it ever difficult when you started talking to analysts, other CEOs and customers who were used to dealing with Scott?
A: It wasn’t difficult. It was terrifying.

Q: For them or for you?
A: For me. Here is the guy who established a reputation and created the company that we are today, and (to) have him throw the keys to me and say, “I’ll talk to you in six months. Call me if you need me,” was pretty daunting.

We have a perch in the industry, we have a presence and a reputation which I don’t want to just uphold, I’d also like to amplify. Any new CEO who says he is not scared on the first day of his job is lying.

Over time, being aware of the opportunity and just understanding the depth of my team and the depth of the talent we have across Sun — that all becomes a lot less worrisome. Now, I’m more worried about the opportunity than I am about the first impression or the first experience. “

Schwartz is not the first CEO to mention that day one as chief executive is terrifying. Many CEOs will comment on its loneliness, how the buck stops at their door and how there is little or no training for the grave responsibility. New CEOs also soon realize that once they have their teams in place, the outlook becomes clearer and less overwhelming.

The book I wrote, CEO Capital, is about what CEOs must concentrate on during those first 100 days and beyond. First impressions matter more than you may think.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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