Peacetime CEO or Wartime CEO… Who Would You Rather Have Running A Company?

May 5, 2011

I was doing my weekly reading when I came across an interesting blog in the Harvard Business Review by Bill Taylor titled “Are You a Peacetime CEO or a Wartime CEO” that you can read about here. He wrote the blog after checking out a blog that Ben Horowitz from Andreesen Horowitz wrote regarding the CEO change at Google. You can read about it here.

At OpenView we invest in expansion stage companies looking for growth capital to expand their management teams and scale their businesses. In early and expansion stage companies we look for wartime CEOs, not peacetime CEOs.

After I read both blogs I ended up asking myself why anyone would want a peacetime CEO running a company. In the software world I grew up in, it was a market share war and always will be a market share war… you’re either taking share from the competition or they are taking it from you.

  • After you capture a market space you always have incremental market share you will have to fight to win…
  • Once you own the market you always have new competitors trying to take it away from you that you have to fend off…
  • There are always new markets with competition that you will want to expand into or your business will not continue to grow…

In Ben’s blog he states Steve Jobs “removed himself as CEO of Apple in the 1980s during their longest period of peace before coming back to Apple for a spectacular run more than a decade later during their most intense war period.”

As I look back at that period I ask myself, “Was Apple at peace or had they lost their momentum and were languishing in their space?”

In fact I believe that the “Peacetime CEO” comes in to take advantage of what the “Wartime CEO” creates and then the company eventually loses its ability to focus and execute. Does anyone actually think that Microsoft is better with Steve Ballmer as CEO versus Bill Gates?

As a software executive with 30 years of battle experience who never witnessed a period of peace in the market – give me the Wartime CEO every time. As a Venture Partner at OpenView I would also take the Wartime CEO every time. I am happy to work with them to build the their management teams to make sure the troops are motivated and get their beans and bullets so we can win the market share war and move on to the next one!

By the way, check out the latest on Larry Ellison, the Wartime CEO I worked for. He is a member of the Forbes 20-20 club which is comprised of CEOs who have held their jobs for at least 20 years who have delivered at least a 20% annual return to shareholders during their tenure. Not bad!

What would you choose… Wartime CEO or Peacetime CEO?

All the best!


Venture Partner

<strong>George Roberts</strong> is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.