Wednesday, June 09, 2010

You are not a functional manager. You are a venture capitalist.

While I was at DigitalThink, I worked for @ErikSowa. Erik behaved more like a venture capitalist than a traditional functional manager. He looked at most of his team members as CEOs of their operations. He funded all of us with money, support, advice and contacts. In return he demanded and got the best out of us. He even came up with a brand name for the team - Solare.

Here is a simple example of his behavior. In 2001, When I wanted to create a customer extranet to improve collaboration with customers, he did not go to the CFO for his permission or the IT team for support. He just "funded" me with $35 a month so that I can get SharePoint workspaces going for about 35 customers, who together brought more than $25 M to the company. I just expensed the software cost every month and, in my spare time, ran the site myself with the entire company's customer collaboration running on less then 100 MB space hosted by Microsoft. It was the best return on IT investment ever. There are several more examples that I won't go into.

To contrast how efficient Erik was with deploying people and money, I want to point out that just a couple of years later the company spent more than $250,000 on a collaboration system, which was retired after a while without accomplishing much.

I was thinking about this experience a few days back and realized that every manager needs to have the same mindset, if he or she needs to succeed today. A good manager needs to identify what his team members are good at, give them what they want and let them excel at their work. If you are a person managing NetGen workers, I suggest you take the approach that Erik does. If you are an employee, I suggest you search for and find a manager with Erik's mindset. It is worth the trouble.

By the way, the team that Erik led, developed a CEO mind set. The Solare alumni now work at places such as InsideView, Zurich Financial, McKinsey, Infosys, Accenture,  FLUID and SAP. Thank You Erik for being our "Venture Capitalist".

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