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Knowing When to Step Away, Even When You’re the CEO

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I’ve been heads down trying to get this new startup I’ve got going that for one of the first times in a while, my mind was drawing a blank as to what I should post about. I’m not quite where I want to be for the startup to post anything about it, yet, so I’ll curb that. Instead, I did read an article recently about the CEO of MongoDB, Max Schireson stepping down.

MongoDB is one of the hot techs out there right now. When you think up-and-coming and leading edge tech, it’s right there at the top with a recent valuation of $1B according to the article on Business Insider – Why This CEO Happily Just Quit The Best Job He’s Ever Had.

Schireson cites his crazy travel schedule considering he and his family lives in Palo Alto while the company is headquartered in New York. He’s on course to break 300,000 miles this year! (As a former frequent flyer (Delta Diamond, for the win) and now sparse traveler, ah, I want that.) Anyways, he’s leaving the post and stepping into a Vice Chairman role.

His blog post describes more of the situation, and based on some questions and lifestyle choices of those around me are playing out, I wanted to share some take-aways…
  • For Max Schireson and many, family comes first. As a young consultant but always a “family man”, I used to ask the more senior consultants how they felt about traveling during the rapid growth years of their young kids.
  • Not always about money, especially “now”. When you’re good at what you do and you know people, you’ll likely always have opportunities that will pay you. Money’s not really the problem. For me right now, my focus is less on money and more on entrepreneurship and building a startup that will have lasting impressions. If things really do slip for me, I know I can pull the ripcord and parachute to “security”.
  • Some/ most people won’t understand why, but you only need a select few to know why. That is, MongoDB is growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve raised some serious capital and have a hotly rising valuation. Schireson’s step down from CEO will impact him not just on the bottom line, but also from professional development, etc. perspectives. Most people will see it that way. But to those who matter, they’ll understand and support him on his decision and transition (and beyond).
  • If you’re running a company, you need “all-in” leaders to make the most of the opportunities. Maybe you need to mitigate some risks at the beginning, but once that’s rolling, you need to plunge headfirst to make the decisions and adjustments (pivots?) necessary to the business to be successful. It’s like raising a baby!
  • Plenty of bias and judging between men and women executives. The start of the Business Insider article talks about Schireson’s experience of questions asked of him vs. his female executive counterparts regarding “personal interests” vs “family-work balance”.
  • Behind every great business leader, is a great partner. I remember watching a video of the trials and tribulations Elon Musk endured during the formative years of both Tesla and Space X (see his 60 Minutes interview). However, he also had a great partner at home in his wife to take care of the “Personal Business”. Looking at those around me like at Body Boss, Don (our Head of Development/ Lead Developer/ Make Sh!t Happen Officer) worked some crazy hours after his full-time gig, and was supporting a newborn. His wife was a huge, HUGE partner of not just him, but for Body Boss because of her support.

So in the end, Schireson’s making the decision that he and his family feel is best. It’s been a great run at the helm of MongoDB, but it also doesn’t mean his role in shaping the company future stops and that he just stops moving forward professionally. Instead, now, he can move forward in the capacities he views as most critical to his greater LIFE – his family.

What are your thoughts about stepping down or away from seemingly highly lucrative positions? Schireson obviously holds his family as the main pillar of his life. What would you say is yours right now?

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