Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's All About Good People

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
Harvey S. Firestone (American industrialist founder of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.,1868-1938)

Software companies, especially start-ups and fast growing companies, depend on good people to keep them going and growing. It's always amazed me how many good people are attracted to these companies. It may be that the 'nine to fivers' see too much risk or too much work to seek out employment in these organizations. The individuals attracted to these companies are eager, energized to compete and win, to work for growth and reward, these are the conquerors, the winners who see the promise of a small organization with no where to go but up. More importantly they see the American Dream at work in these companies, a way to share in the rewards that come with growth if you work hard to contribute to that growth.

"Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws."
- Plato (427-347 B.C.)

Good people know how to act (they don't need a 'code of ethics' stamped to their forehead), they know respect for each individual is critical to team work, and they know debates/arguments are healthy among individuals that respect each other. Good people are worth training in those areas in which they lack experience or education, and it is critical you enable them to train others in those areas in which they have experience or education.

Good people don't wait for the ball to hit them in the head to know it needs to be picked up. Good people don't meander around with the ball and put it down somewhere and forget abou tit. Good people not only pick up the ball and run with it, they go find the ball.

One of my business career mentor's once told me "you don't have to like the people you work with, it's not a marriage, it's a business relationship". I have found that good people almost always are people who will confide in you and you will feel comfortable confiding in them, good people are friendly people.

Good people stand on their own, they are defined by their achievements and level of effort. They don't stand on other people's shoulders without proper credit to those who lift them up.

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675
Good people don't covet or steel others achievements. They don't scheme and plot, they are not political, they are simply good people.

Good people are hard to find, and hard to keep if you are not of the same ilk. Good people are not attracted by mediocre managers, the only situation in which you will find good people working for mediocre managers is when mediocre managers inherit good people as a result of a poorly designed reorganization or as a result of blatant cronyism.

To better describe what good people are all about I have included an eulogy for a good person that has impacted my business career, he sadly passed away from a brain tumor, prematurely ending his life and contribution to the human experience. I hope that through my expression of respect for this good person there may be found a definition of what a good person is.

A mentor in my life, James "Jim" Petersen, founder of Best Programs Inc. Jim established Best Software in 1982 with the goal of developing business software solutions that would capitalise on the power of the emerging PC. Under his direction, the company grew from a start up to a leading provider of corporate resource management solutions. Today more than 50,000 businesses throughout the world are using Best Software's products to better manage their people, assets and planning.

A publicly traded company with annual sales approaching $100 million, Best Software was typically first to market with innovative, business application software solutions distributed through a variety of sales channels. In March 2000, Sage Software acquired Best Software for approximately $445 million in cash. I was Chief Technology Officer for Best Software.

Jim was a good person, better than most, but he new that good people were the secret to success in business, and he knew that respecting, mentoring and growing good people was "the highest calling of leadership".

My eulogy to Jim:

It’s both an honor and a great challenge to be asked to speak about Jim Petersen today. It’s an honor because Jim was such an important figure in my life. To me he was a mentor, a courageous leader, a gentleman, and a friend. It’s a challenge because its difficult to summarize Jim’s impact on my life, it happened on so many different levels.

Jim had a special kind of charisma that attracted extra-ordinary people to him, people of high character and impeccable integrity like himself. If you look around you these are the people that fill this room, the people you don’t know would probably become your fast and good friends given the opportunity to know them. I know this first hand, because I fell in love with and married one, my wife Sarah, we met at Best in its very early days, and our mutual friend was Jim.

Jim was one of those rare leaders loved by those he led, and his presence was always embraced in a great deal of respect. His genuine concern and respect for the teams of people that worked long hard hours to deliver on his vision, fostered a level of effort that went far beyond the norm. He was a good listener, an honest broker and always went the extra mile to ease the strains of working in a start up. He didn’t have to do many of the kind things he did, but it made all the difference to a young team of people working late into the night.

Jim was a tough leader. He was always dealing with the plague of start ups that expenses always rise to meet revenues. He made tough choices but he was always fair. He didn’t hesitate to let you feel the heavy responsibility that comes with great opportunity.

You would never find Jim on the sidelines he was always in the game. Jim had a contagious energy about him, he bounced on the balls of his feet when he walked around the office, you could gauge his excitement level by the height of his bounce. When there was a success he didn’t stop at a pat on the back. His face would light up, he would break out in a smile, and sometimes he would clench his fist in a victory sign, if he had a football he would spike it. We all shared in Jim’s vision for the company that he freely shared with us, and we all climbed the mountain because he was always up ahead of us challenging and cheering us on.

Jim was a master at encouragement. Many times late at night Jim would show up and sit down with the team and set the efforts at hand into an almost glorious context of a much larger goal that impacted not only the company, but sometimes he made it seem like we were changing the world.

From Jim’s soap box a simple tax preparation program became something that would change thousands of peoples lives helping parents to send their kids to school with their tax refunds, a payroll program made it possible for people to pay their bills and feed their families, and a fixed assets application enabled companies to grow and create new jobs for the unemployed. Granted at times it was a stretch, it was effective and encouraged the team to succeed so others could succeed. For young people trying to make their mark and do something important, this was very powerful stuff.

In thinking about what to say today, I came to the realization that Jim’s greatest gift to me was opportunity, the opportunity to participate, to work hard and to succeed. There isn’t a greater gift. It’s a difficult gift to repay…in fact, the only way to repay it may be best described by the words so aptly placed in today’s program, you have to pay it forward. Jim was an entrepreneur and a visionary, a dreamer, a believer in the impossible, and his place in history is firmly with that elite group of entrepreneurs that have fostered and made the American Dream possible for so many. Jim’s life was like the American Dream, it was a tide that lifted all ships, and how fortunate were we to be lifted up by the life of Jim Petersen.

For a good article on the traits of good people for startups see "The Blue-Chip Blues" by Jeff Dennis.

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