Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Board member applauds executive for explaining a big mistake

From Adam Bryant's interview with Intuit CEO Brad Smith, in the New York Times Corner Office column. Bryant's latest book is, "Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation."

I spent six years in a job prior to Intuit, doing a range of jobs in marketing. I started the Internet division during the dot-com boom. I convinced the board to give us $40 million to sign two e-commerce deals, telling them that we could sell more things online than our sales force could sell. I told them we wouldn’t even need a sales force. After $40 million, we sold just 15 units.

So when I went to meet with the board, I figured that I was going to get fired. I called my parents, and my dad said: “Just go in and say: ‘Here’s what I thought. Here’s what happened. Here’s where I was wrong, and here’s what I would do differently.’ ”

I did that, and when I was finished, one board member started clapping and said: “You know what? You are more valuable to us now for three reasons. The first reason is that you won’t make that mistake again, so we want you to go and make a bunch of new mistakes. The second is that your engineers built a killer product, and now our salespeople have something they can put in their sales bag. And the third is the competition is all trying to convince the street that we’re old school and they’re going to do everything online. You just proved that that’s not likely, so we’re smarter as a result.”

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