Interviewing Operating Executive Candidates

Over the holidays a friend wrote me asking my advice in developing interview questions for an operating executive to be her #2.  “Managing the vacancy is better than managing someone wrong for the job”.  Good point and good question.

Aside from the obvious (basic education, relevant work experience, professional credentials, prior career success, etc) this is what I’d really want to figure out:

is this a person who wants to “operate”?  What makes them feel successful?  How do they engage problems?  Do they celebrate making the trains run on time?  As a leader, how do they feel about failure?  Operations leadership is part engagement and part dysfunction elimination.  Problems are inevitable so I want to find a person that just likes to calmly and quickly “work the problem” and move on.

is this person “adaptable”?  Do they like to learn? Do they have “outside in” radar (i.e., can they see the big picture quickly)?   How do they identify problems?  Can they be happy leaving things alone?  How do they draw the line between “good enough” and “must be better”?  Operations leadership demands knowing what needs to be left alone, fixed and or dismantled/rebuilt. Managing all this requires high adaptability.

is this leadership candidate “transparent”?  I usually test this by asking what they really suck at — a question that on first blush looks like an ego/fakeness test but is really me just giving them a change to be spontaneously transparent.  I want to hear something that strikes me as truthful and insightful.  Operations leadership requires transparency — is this candidate?

will this person be a reliable internal ally in the greater causes and battles?  This is about managing confrontation and resolving disagreements without losing sight of the greater missions.   How do they successfully resolve internal intra-squad conflict?  How do they build trust?  Drill them through some specific examples.  I need my #2 to be “fire and forget” and I can’t waste time watching by back or keeping up with teammates who constantly leave the reservation.

does this candidate’s background demonstrate success in developing deep understandings of their prior businesses?  Ask questions about their prior work and then find items where you can drill in on some part of how their business really operated and made things happen.  Can they seamlessly do this?  Successful operations leaders must have a passion for the details and for getting muddy when the situation demands it.  Operations leadership involves managing rapid change — and you can’t change what you don’t understand.

has this candidate been successful in building and maintaining their work “people network”?  As an operations leader you don’t personally shovel much coal but instead you rely on your people and relationship skills to achieve results through others.  Leaders who are great at this tend to invest, develop and then maintain deep networks of other successful peers and subordinates.  Probe how well the candidate has kept up with their people network.

how well do they manage stress?  Ask them what they do for fun.  I want to hear something candid and lively.  Running stuff and fixing stuff is hard work and I want insight into how they “balance”.  Personally, I prefer “work hard play hard” candidates as I want my #2 to be an energy source for me and the rest of the team.

Good luck!  Cheers DC

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What Should Be In Your Pitch Deck — Part 2 — What Investors Think During Your Pitch

You spent weeks getting your Pitch Deck “right” and your team spent just as much time practicing their presentation — among yourselves and in front of friendly warm audiences. You feel ready to “let it rip” and see if anybody wants to help.

Assuming your Pitch Deck is great — and your Pitch is well rehearsed and really, really solid — here’s what your audience will be thinking as you pour your hearts out and run through your spiel.


How great an idea/”thing” is it?

How big a problem does this address and solve?

How hard is it to sell?

How great are they at selling?

How long does it/will it take to ramp?

How well are they connected and entrenched?

How quickly will this space and the problems/solutions change and evolve?

Who are/will be their competitors and how rough & tumble is their space?

How hard is “it” to start, build, manage and sustain?

How deep do our pockets need to be if we’re wrong on this company/idea?

Do they have the right assets?

Do they have the right people?

Do they have the right partners/advisors?

How good is their 12-24 month plan?

Is this investment worth the investment — time and risk?

If “it” doesn’t work what is their (and our) Plan B?

Hoe much do we know about this space/how helpful can we be in making it successful?

Break a leg!  Cheers.  DC

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What Should Be In Your Pitch Deck — Part 1 — What Investors Want To See

I’ve been asked several times in the last 30 days to help folks get their Pitch Decks “right”. Always interesting to learn about something new — but — much of the time is spent on helping folks understand What Investors Want To See (this post) and What Investors Think During Your Pitch (Part 2 — my next post).

With the caveat that beauty is in the eye of the beholder (in this case mine) — here’s what your deck should address (the order can vary based on your strengths and selling points):


– Mission — what are you trying to accomplish?
– Opportunity — how big is the opportunity?
– Timing — why is now a good time to attack this?
– Solution — what are you trying to do/build to address this?

THE BASICS (yeah yeah – “it’s a thing that does a thing”)
– What is “it”?
– How does “it” work?

– Competition/Competitive Landscape – who’s there now and how do they compete?
– Progress ToDate – where are you now/what have you done thus far?
– Financial Snapshot – $$ raised life to-date and current spending (monthly burn)?

TEAM (impress me here)
– Team
– Advisors
– Partners

– Growth Plan — Now -> Next -> Eventually?
– When/How do you achieve critical mass?
– Selecting Opportunities — how do you choose among the possible alternatives?

INVESTMENT (the ask)
– Investment Needs
– Spending Plan – $ by spend category and timeline (quarterly)
– Expected Return – how and when do “we” make $ on this investment

– Why is this great?
– Why should we care?

Break a leg!  Cheers.  DC

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What Business Are You Really In ?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for several weeks — but had other distractions.

A friend dropped by the office for a catch-up and was venting about his very frustrating relationship with his Sat TV content provider (DIRECTV).  Assaulted by ads for great monthly package deals, his own calls to them to renegotiate his package were met with “Sorry – those deals are for new customers only”.  Feeling de-valued as a long term (heretofore loyal) customer he had spent the weekend shopping for an alternative.  DIRECTV’s website states they are  “committed to delivering the best TV experience for you everyday”.  Where does making a loyal customer feel good about paying them “fairly” fit into that experience?  At least for this customer – what business are they really in?

About the same time I read an interview with an HBO executive where the discussion centered around content unbundling, stand-alone content platforms, the difficulties of getting consumers to pay for content and concerns about digital piracy and logon credential sharing.  I’m paraphrasing here but the gist of his response was “we’re in the addiction business”.  In other words, the primary concern was to get consumers addicted to the content — how they accessed it and and how or who paid for it was secondary.  Necessary sure — but secondary.

The different way these two “stories” resonated — reminded me that how we articulate what business we’re really in — to our employees, our customers, even our competitors — can and likely does make a huge difference in the way our teams think, behave and respond.

I read about a class action lawsuit in California brought against Uber — seemingly in response to complaints by taxi cab companies (and regulators) of them engaging in unregulated/unfair competition.  Uber — again paraphrasing — essentially rebutted the complaint by saying they were not operating a competing taxi alternative but were instead a lead generation app that connects buyers and sellers.    They view their business entirely differently than I had viewed them before reading this article.  Kind of like eBay or Ticketmaster?  Again interesting.

Move forward a few weeks — and I was having a discussion with my favorite restaurant partners about what makes them successful.  Expecting comments about food quality, service excellence, menu uniqueness, etc — the quick response was “we’re in the delight the customer business”.  Smart lads these.

What business are you really in?  What would your employees or your customers say if I asked this question?

Cheers.  DC

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Do Simple Better

I love watching baseball – and my favorite is MLB TV and the MLB iPad app – where I catch any of a dozen teams I follow, including the Chicago Cubs.  I love the Cub’s Manager Joe Maddon — one of those really smart types that can break down the complicated and make it actionable.  In a post game media interview recently he wore a t-shirt with the motto “Do Simple Better” and went on to explain which of the 4 or 5 simple things that happened in tonight’s game made the difference for his team.

What a powerful thought though — Do Simple Better.

The next day — a restaurant owner told me a story about his team pondering how to reduce wasted coffee creamer – the winning solution?  Smaller containers.  Simple.

I think we should all get Do Simple Better t-shirts to remind us that the simplest solution is often the best one — but also often the hardest one to see.

Cheers.  DC

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“Smart People Drag Around More Baggage”

One of my many breakfast discussions with business friends and associates got onto the topic of hiring (or electing) the right people — and what criteria really matters.  Not just the simple stuff like verifying experience or credentials — but the visceral stuff like spontaneous insight, goodness of fit, malleability, transparency, self-throttling, alignment on definition of achievement.  You get it — the “yeah, yeah they’re all qualified” but can our team agree on what really matters most?

Out of this discussion came the statement “Smart People Drag Around More Baggage” (thanks Chuck!).  In a lot of ways this is really true.  In our discussion, “smart” meant really high talent, high intelligence or high achievement workers — these folks are never really plug & play. They are capable of delivering the extraordinary — but much has to be a great fit to see that happen.  Bringing them on demands a pretty astute corporate self-awareness as these folks often have non-linear career assignment and progress, making peer acceptance challenging — or work hour/style flexibilities, built around their own peak performance scheduling — or business allies and enemies from prior lives, so there’s now a band in the background.

You get the drift.

The person matters a lot.  But the baggage (good and bad) they drag with them matters a lot too.  Interesting visual.

Cheers.  DC

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Georgia SB63 Beer Jobs Bill Turned Into Sausage

Much has been written about the trail of tears SB63 — the GA “Beer Jobs Bill” — has had to travel to even get considered by the Georgia Legislature, in a state that stands out for its extraordinarily restrictive three tier alcoholic beverage distribution system.  Unfortunately, most miss the point, the new bill will do nothing for jobs and has become a protectionist piece of legislation that bear hugs the status quo and smacks free enterprise in the face.

Imagine a small start-up brewer in GA.  The start-up makes small batches of different craft beers and wants to build a following and a product base.  They don’t make enough product to rely on others to collect and distribute their product across any meaningful market so they touch their customers the old fashioned way — face-to-face.  Folks come in and visit the brewery or brewpub, buy a tour or a meal and sample the wares on-site.  But now what?  Aside from personally visiting the storefront there’s no way for a consumer to get more of their product — and there’s no crowd build or revenue build for the brewer because the business model has no headroom. You want our beer?  Come tour our brewery (again) or come eat at our brewpub (again).

That’s where the brilliant Beer Jobs Bill came in.  Allow consumers to take home small quantities of beer direct from the brewery or brewpub and, over time, this will build new fans, slowly grow revenues to match slowly growing demand, create new jobs, and provide expansion capital — so eventually the production volumes and consumer demand will rise enough to fit GA’s alcoholic beverage control system.  And its far from radical — 45 other states have already passed similar legislation.

Sounds simple right?  Visit a brewery and you can buy up to 12 beers to take home. Twelve beers too many? OK – how about six?

Nope — can’t happen in GA — because these struggling Nano breweries conceptually threaten the exclusive chokehold Wholesalers/Distributors have on our markets here. (Any wonder Georgia ranks 47th among breweries per capita – 2013 stats

So after the sausage gets made what you end up with is (a) from a brewpub a single container of no more than 64 ounces to go — BUT only if you opened it at the brewpub and drank some of it first before getting it re-closed (which introduces oxygen effectively shortening the shelf life of the bottle) or (b) from a brewery one “souvenir container” not to exceed 64 ounces purchased only as a part of a tour.

Folks this is now window dressing and creates no new jobs.  Is it better than nothing? — yes but just barely.

The shame here is that a Beer Jobs Bill got turned into a Status Quo Protection Bill ensuring brewing start-ups in GA remain small and struggle for growth while the big Wholesalers and Distributors (not to mention the giant Brewers) aren’t threatened by these pesky start-ups.

Meanwhile Georgia legislatures’ seem content to celebrate this great deed and pretend to support free enterprise.

What a disappointment.  Sausage anyone?

Cheers.  DC

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