Posts Tagged ‘management’

Vertu no more

Vertu has wound up.

Was this a case of a string of management failures? This company started at Nokia [sic] in 1998, then sold to a private equity firm EQT in 2012 for more than €200m, then to an obscure Chinese company called Godin Holdings in 2015, then in March 2017 to Murat Hakan Uzan, a Turkish exile based in Paris.

I have only ever seen one Vertu phone in the wild (on a Cathay Pacific flight in business class; she had a 12.9″ iPad Pro as well). I did see a couple of their stores still open and very much trying to flog their wares (Oriental Plaza Beijing, amongst a few others; though I suspect they were not owned by Vertu directly or it takes some time for international foreclosure to work).

FT’s Jonathan Margolis (“UK’s original consumer tech journalist”) sings praises for Vertu. In 2012 he wrote an official company history that was never published as the CEO who commissioned it, departed (warning bells should have already gone off then). Vertu apparently did well under Nokia’s stewardship, and even a year into their new owners; in total they sold 500,000 of their phones.

What struck me as well is how many “luxury” companies bet on China. What China giveth, it can also taketh: “Restrictions on business gift-giving in China from 2014 onwards affected Vertu. The phones were a popular status symbol there. One small city, Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, had two Vertu stores.”

I will respect this one brand aspect: Vertu in its pre-2013 heyday never gave away phones to celebrities. Why don’t more brands realise this? Consumers are getting smarter about product placements.

They apparently also had a niche userbase: Vertu phones from 2002 are said to still work. Updated versions of early voice-and-text-only models were its best-sellers until the end. Many Vertu owners used phones only for calls.

All in, its sad to see a brand I’ve known for so long, reach its demise. It seems like if you owned a Vertu, you were really part of an exclusive club, which is why I never saw many in the wild.

On numbers and getting out there for business

Sidney Toledano (a student of math & engineering, now boss of Dior Couture), via Lunch with the FT:

‘If business is not good, don’t stay in the office’. Some people try to find out what’s wrong through the numbers. But if you stay in the office, nothing will change.”

For a mathematician, Toledano is casually dismissive of too much financial analysis. “My father taught me it’s better to have no explanation for success than a lot of explanations for a failure. Success is intuition, action, decision and take some risks. Frankly, numbers; I see them every day when I get the worldwide update. I can see every single figure for every single piece. But I don’t spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on it because I follow them every day.

“It’s like a good doctor. They see the numbers very quickly – temperature, whatever – but they talk to the patient. I’ve never seen a doctor fixing a problem with a thermometer. And you never fix a problem with the numbers. Don’t look and you miss everything.”

Tips from Paul English on work & management

Via The Way I Work: Paul English of Kayak.

I get about 400 to 500 e-mails a day, and I probably send about 120. At any given moment, I’ll have only 10 items in my inbox. When an e-mail comes in, I read it and decide immediately: Delete, reply, or delegate?

Customer emails? Let everyone see them. Because when an engineer sees the same query coming in a few times, they’ll stop and fix the code. This makes a lot of sense – which is why in traditional organisations, the support organisation needs to be tightly coupled to the engineering organisation. I’ll throw in the sales engineering organisation to this too.

Diversity of success, style, thinking and language – hire for that. 

A lot of companies have the “no assholes” rule. So if the greatest programmer ever is also a jerk, he’s fired. Our rule is “no neutrals.” So when the new guy walks down the hall, is my team drawn to him? Or do they divert their glance? If they divert their glance, we fire that person. I call it the hallway test, but it’s more of a conceptual thing. The idea is when you put superstars together, you can ask, “What did you do today that excited the people around you and made them better at their jobs?” If you can’t give examples, I don’t want you here.

Favourite metric? Revenue per employee.

Talent Management: What football teaches us

I took great interest in an article in the FT Weekend a few months back, titled: Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches. (The FT claims you can now read an article a day even if you don’t have a subscription, so here’s hoping.) I’ve never watched a whole football game in my life, but the management tips in this were excellent for high performing organisations, and I think startups benefit a lot from learnings in other fields.

Learning that the idea behind “talent management” originated from a consulting firm, McKinsey, in 1997, when they identified a “war for talent” was rather fascinating.

Its true that big talent usually comes with a big ego. Smart mangers accept that. Its clear that big talents also know that the employer needs them, hence there’s scope to break the rule of behaviour. Does ego damage an organisation or help drive good talent to become stars (I’m going to agree with the latter)? If you want obedient soldiers (yes-men?), you forsake good talent.

Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger says: “If you want an easy week [in training with the players], then expect a hard weekend [in the game]. If you want an easy weekend, then prepare for a hard week.”

We always hear that no person is bigger than the organisation; however organisations should be large enough to accomodate great talent. But at the same time unchecked egos are probably not the best — high performers are better when they “get over themselves” (so the conventional wisdom of they have a family, a pet, etc. something we looked for hiring when at MySQL since most of us worked from home).

“Football is the most individual team sport” – isn’t that true in most organisations where it really is every man for himself? Manage, but don’t dominate talent is probably also key (I’ve experienced micro-management and I can assure you its a sure-fire way to frustrate talent and possibly to leave; not all good talent graduate to being good managers). Talent need to trust each other, i.e. the team they’re working with, a lot more than they like each other — again, anecdotally, when we started Team MariaDB, we were a team of people that trusted each other from the MySQL days, banding together to become one cohesive unit. Arguably, we still are!

Talent joins an organisation to improve while there. So focus on making sure they are always improving. Send them to conferences to learn more. Give them new tasks.

On motivation:

  • “Good talent motivate itself.”
  • “Our job is not to demotivate them by not providing the challenges and goals that their talents need” – Carlo Ancelotti
  • A big talent is usually self-motivated. He wants to succeed for himself and his career. However, if he senses that the management is second rate, he may decide to go and succeed in another organisation.

I found it interesting that 99% of recruitment is about whom you don’t hire; again its true that if you introduce a weak team member, the best talent may leave. Worse, a weak manager! Overall, one should also accept that talent may eventually leave (I think we have a pretty good record @ Team MariaDB for non-leavers). Its amazing that an average graduate changes jobs 11 times, while the average footballer changes jobs 3.8 times. Managers should seek productivity, not loyalty (though I think loyalty to the cause plays a role; this is where football doesn’t quite transcend say to opensource organisations with competition in the field).

Overall, I think it was a great article, I learned a lot from it, and I think you will too. Remember to read it — Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches.

On grooming

Via Bloomberg Businessweek (July 20-26 2015, page 63):

“I always say no one ever got fired for asking for more. And you manage your boss, not the other way around. (I am going to regret this.) – Mike Sheldon, CEO, Deutsch North America

The importance of having a working knowledge of your products

Rob Young is back in the MySQL ecosystem (now working at Percona), but he was previously at MongoDB (formerly known as 10gen), and he made a really interesting observation:

10gen places a huge importance on all employees having a working technical knowledge of its products. 

I joined 10gen with years of application and database development experience, mostly using relational models. While most concepts apply to a document-oriented model there are enough technical differences that leave me as a complete novice when it comes to specific MongoDB details and its practical use cases. I have spent my first month in a series of self-guided and instructor led technical training sessions and a practical, real-world bootcamp that have proven to be a welcome quickstart to my understanding and working with the technology. This will pay great dividends as I get more overwhelmed with my true PM duties.

I cannot agree more with this stand that MongoDB takes. All employees should have a working technical knowledge of the products that the company makes. 

I remember back in MySQL AB, it was a requirement that support engineers spent their first 3 months on support requests but were also required to get certified during that timeframe. That’s fine and dandy when you have a certification program that you’re selling ;)

I think its important for everyone to know what their products do, instead of just the engineering/consulting/sales engineering teams. It is important for the executive team to know what products they really offer. It is important for the sales team to go beyond what they are given in product brochures. It is important for the marketing team to know what they’re marketing (else they just spout garbage that no one listens to).

Kudos MongoDB for the smarts!