Big Red Car here in the ATX feeling a little cloudy — ooops, that’s the weather. Me, I feel marvelous. Let’s talk about the first time CEO, shall we?
So, I catch The Boss talking to a pal the other day. They were Second Lieutenants in a combat engineer unit in the Republic of Korea back in the early 1970s.
It was a dicey time and they were both platoon leaders. Both of them would end up as Captains within 18-24 months, which was pretty damn fast even for those days.
“So, when did you first think you knew what you were doing?” asked The Boss’s compadre.
“I’ll get back to you when that happens.”
The first time CEO
When you are a CEO for the first time, you will be amazed at what you do not know and how the world has gotten along just fine with your not knowing it, but now it would come in quite useful if you knew some of that which you admittedly don’t know.
Back in the day, The Boss was a platoon leader in Charlie Company, 2nd Engineer Battalion (Combat), 2nd Infantry Division, II Corps, ROK. The draft was on and when a new lieutenant reported in with his shiny jump wings and Ranger tab — huge shortage of lieutenants in those days — he got a platoon with 48 combat engineers.
With the draft running strong at the time, it was quite likely one would have a few college grads amongst the troopers holding the 12B MOS (combat engineer military occupational specialty). The Boss had a young trooper who had a Yale degree, so what does The Boss do? Makes him his Jeep driver.
[Note: One of the absolute coolest things about the combat engineers was they gave you a Jeep and a driver the second you reported in. That Jeep could take you to the DMZ or the Naija Hotel in Seoul (strictly forbidden, mind you) where you could find companionship amongst the English-speaking Sheilas of the Australian and New Zealand embassies who professed to “adore” Yanks. Bit of alright.]
In a startup, the first time CEO may find himself in a similar predicament, having to supervise folks who are more experienced in their specialty or with more years of experience under their belt. [You will not get a free Jeep. Sorry.]
That first year
When The Boss was a platoon leader, he was blessed with a saint named Sergeant First Class (E-7) Carter. He was a big, black man from the Mississippi Delta and he was a force of nature. When he sweated, he turned an iridescent blue and, no, the troopers did not call him “Sergeant Blue” because they feared Sergeant Carter, as did The Boss.
Carter had played football at Mississippi State before deciding, on the heels of an ACL injury, that soldiering might be something he could use to channel his natural aggression. Carter was The Boss’s platoon sergeant, that position of sacred trust which is based on the notion that a good sergeant can whip a mediocre bit of human flesh, escaped from VMI (Virginia Military Institute) or West Point (the VMI of the North), into a credible platoon leader. [Good luck with that.]
The high point of their relationship was when Sergeant Carter — holding a bottle of Jack Daniels in his fist in a dug-in Quonset hut on the side of a mountain — said to another platoon sergeant, “My lieutenant is starting to get his shit together. Of course, he has me as his platoon sergeant.”
You may not realize the most important thing in those two sentences is when Sergeant Carter used the words “…my lieutenant…” indicating The Boss was now worthy of being owned and recognized by him.
It takes about six months for a salty platoon sergeant to work the bugs out of a new lieutenant. Sadly, not everyone makes it. There are some lieutenants who never become competent platoon leaders. The Boss had an advantage as his father was a career soldier.
There are folks who never become competent CEOs, though the frequency is quite rare.
In much the same way, the new CEO is going to struggle with that first year. Do not allow it to spook you. Find Sergeant Carter — haha, that’s a joke cause he’s probably long gone by now and he never really knew anything about high tech startups, though he knew how to build a raft or a bridge to cross the Imjin River.
No, find a mentor, a CEO coach, a professional organization (YPO, TAB, Vista, local group) or ask your Dad. Get help cause it’s hard out there for an inexperienced CEO.
The Boss didn’t remain a shavetail second lieutenant for the rest of his time in the Army. Soon, he became a clueless Captain and got to command almost two hundred men in four platoons. Once his unit was so overstrength — war in Vietnam had wound down and nobody knew what to do with all the draftees — he had six hundred men. That’s another interesting story. Nice command for a twenty-six year old, no?
When you look back with a full year under your belt, you will say, “Who was THAT guy?” “That guy” being the green CEO who founded the company a year ago. That would be you.
YOU CAN DO THIS and, then, you can go buy your own Jeep.
Help me out here, Big Red Car
Sorry, old boy. There are no shortcuts. You stick your stake in the ground. Get the business cards which say, “Chief Executive Office, Founder” and you suck it up.
The secret? There is no secret. Sorry.
Worse, no Jeep. No FREE Jeep. You can go buy your own Jeep, but it’s hard as Hell to find a good driver these days.
And, there you have it, dear reader.