The Rockstar CEO

At my previous management consulting firm:

“Mark, why do the partners work so hard?”

Mark: “Because R, the more money people make, the more they spend. People’s lifestyles go up in expenses, and the more they need to work.”

Me: “Why don’t they just retire and save up some money?”

Mark: “That’s a good question. Easy to talk about, hard to do. You’ve seen Gary’s house and his boat. Those toys don’t come cheap!”

At a cool party in San Jose with rockers:

I'm cute but I have no money!

Rocker guy: “So R, do you manage people or code?”

Me: “I do a little bit of both man”

Rocker: “Cool man. I work at the pier”

Me: “San Francisco?”

Rocker: “Yeah Pier 39”

Me: “That’s fucking far man”

Rocker: “Yeah but it’s the only job that’s paying me right now. I get 4 hours of sleep on the train anyway so it’s fine. Pays the bills”

Me: “I hear you”

The white collar ivy-league managers I see every day at work didn’t have the life that I wanted. They were rich in wealth but poor in spirit. The rockers / low income hippies / alternative hipsters had character, style and an overall sense of good joy, but they were ridden in debt and in constant struggle with the system. My vision of success is in the combination of both. The rockstar CEO. I’m not talking about Tony Donovan of Rockstar games (Grand Theft Auto series)or the “celebrity” CEO companies hire to turn things around. I’m talking about the guy that runs his own company and is in control of his life.

In reading Hugh Hefner’s biography, there was a passage during his early 20’s when Hef was standing on top of a bridge, and saying, “There must be a better way”. He subsequently started putting together plans for first issue of Playboy. Hefner was always about high social status, yet against the system in his stance of sexual freedom. His biographer explains his philosophy in one of the most enlightening passages to me, “To Hef, extreme anti-capitalistic sentiments goes against the system. It seeks to destroy the system. That’s an extreme. While Hef does not agree with the current cultural beliefs about sex, he figured out a way to succeed within the current system. Whereas more radical feminists and even hippies proactive rallied against the government, Playboy played a controversial role publically, but a profitable one privately. The Playboy empire was an economic success, and in becoming successful both cultural and economically, Hefner effectively changed the very system he was opposed against by winning the game within the current system.

I would like to see more rockstar CEOs in the world – men in charge of their own destinies and their own lives. Men (and women) living the life they want to live while winning in the capitalistic system. To me, a rockstar CEO has the following qualities:

  • He has good business sense and the ability to understand how to run a successful business – from finance to marketing to sales
  • He knows when to rely on other people to do the work, and he knows how to recruit others with the skills he needs to achieve the master plan.
  • He has a swagger about him and has impeccable style
  • He is empathetic to other’s needs, and knows how to motivate based on helping people achieve what they really want, instead of through fear or intimidation
  • He inspires
  • He’s not a hardcore white collar guy but a guy who was stuck with the responsibility of leading a team and making it work
  • He’s personable and has a life outside of work
  • He’s not afraid to show his admiration for women
  • He knows that sometimes, in order to win the game, you have to leave the game.

I’ll leave you with this story from 4-hour work week:

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.

“But… What do you do with the rest of you time?”

The Mexican looked up and smiled, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard MBA and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, senor, how long will all this take?”

To which the American replied, “15 to 20 years. 25 tops.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions senor? Then what?

“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play you guitar with your amigos…”

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