Art of Leading
Logitech CEO: “It’s Your Obligation to Seek Out People to Challenge You.”
July 29, 2019
Bracken Darrell has done remarkable work to turn Logitech into an innovation powerhouse. He’s also a provocative thinker, with unusual insights and original points of view. In our interview, you’ll read about why he once “fired” himself, why teams are really about pairs of individuals, and why he has 25 direct reports.
Logitech CEO: “It’s Your Obligation to Seek Out People to Challenge You.”
Q. You’ve been CEO at Logitech for about seven years now, and the company’s stock has been on a tear. What’s been your playbook?
A. We were in trouble when I came in, and I decided it was much easier to let go over time than it was to change and start gripping more tightly. So when I came in, I reviewed everything, I went to product meetings all day long, and I went deeply into the details. I don’t think anybody thought anything of it because they just thought, okay, this is just the way he is.
And as time went on, I started to ease up. It was a lot easier to ease up than to grip down, because then it looks like a change in your personality. I’m much more comfortable where I am now. It’s also easier to go into a problem company. You point left, everybody goes left. You point right, everybody goes right. You get completely undeserved ability to drive things.
As you go forward, the more successful you are, the more you have to break things or create this sense of urgency, because people tend to not want to change things when they’re working.
So I am much more focused on changing things on a regular basis now, much more ambiguous than probably the people who work for me like, and much more intuitive about what I really dig into.
Q. So how do you set the tone for constant change given that people crave a certain amount of sameness?
A. I’m very explicit about it. I’ve shared a story from last year, after I’d been on the job for five years. One Sunday night, I asked myself, “Am I the right person for the next five years?” I had made tons of change, and the stock was up about 500 percent.
I knew that, on paper, I probably was the right person for the next five years, and that it’s risky to change if you don’t have to. On the other hand, I had been involved in every single personnel and strategic decision. My disadvantage was that I knew too much, and that I was too embedded in everything we were doing.
“I decided that I was going to fire myself, and that I would sleep on the decision.”
So I decided that I was going to fire myself, and that I would sleep on the decision. I didn’t share it with anybody, including my wife or kids. I just thought to myself that I might be done. I woke up the next morning, and felt that I knew exactly what I needed to do: I have to rehire myself but have no sacred cows. It was super exciting and fun, and I started changing things that I had put in place. Fortunately, I didn’t have to change things radically, but I felt new again.
Then I realized that the real opportunity is to compress that timeframe from five years to a year and then to a month and then into every day. And if you can get yourself to the point where you can really come in unbiased every day, then you’re there. That’s my ultimate goal, which I think is impossible, but that’s the goal.
Q. A steady stream of new products has been key to your company’s growth. How do you create a culture of innovation?
A. Innovation happens at the smallest scale. I’m amazed at how innovative and how powerful four or five people can be. So the culture we’re creating is designed to shatter the idea of one big business group.
Today, we have 25 different business teams that are run by 25 different individuals. The goal is to systematically break it down even further to the point where you really have four to seven people running a business, so that we have these small, hungry teams who feel complete ownership.
Q. How else were you explicit about changing the culture?
A. When I joined the company, I told people that what’s missing here is a culture of speaking up. So I started asking everybody, “What’s wrong here?” People were nice, and I like being around people who are nice. I don’t like being around people who are jerks, but I do want everybody to challenge everybody else. We say that whatever you’re working on, it’s your obligation to seek out people to challenge you.
I also meet with all new employees, and I always say to them, “When you’ve been here 30, 60, 90 days, I want you to send me a note. And it can be one thing, it can be twelve, but I want a recommendation for what we should do differently, and what doesn’t work. I promise you I’ll read your note because you’ve got something I don’t: I’ve lost my newcomer’s advantage, and you have it.” We get lots of ideas, big and small, out of that, and we often make changes on the spot.
Q. Going back to your point about how you structure the company around small teams, how do you oversee all of them?
A. I have 25 direct reports now.
Q. That’s a lot.
A. It is a lot. And the reason I have 25 direct reports is because I believe in them, but it’s also because with, say, ten direct reports, I can do a lot of the thinking for five of them because I’ve done most of the jobs here. But at 25, I don’t have time to do their jobs.
“By having 25 direct reports, I simply have to have great people or we’re in trouble.”
They have to do their jobs, so I can deal with the 1 percent cream at the top of the decisions that are not data-based, and they’re more judgment- or intuition-based, and maybe challenge another 3 or 4 percent of the decisions. Beyond that, I can’t do it. So by having 25 direct reports, I simply have to have great people or we’re in trouble.
Q. What’s your thinking around how to develop leadership teams?
A. I grew up playing sports, so I’ve always been really obsessed with teams. I love the idea of getting things done through teams, I love leading teams and being on teams with somebody else leading. I’m 56 years old, and I think I’ve spent 45 years thinking about teams.
About a year ago, I was thinking about this notion that small is better, and I had this incredible grasp of the obvious. Two people is the smallest team you can have. And as you add more people, the number of relationships between different people on the team goes up quickly.
So then it hit me: This is all about pairs. The key question is, how effective are the relationships between all the different pairs of people on the team? Are those good, trusting, challenging relationships that you can cultivate? I’m so excited about this topic. It makes me think differently about everything in terms of teams. When I watched Steph Curry and Kevin Durant play, I see a pair. I don’t see the team.
So the question about whether you have the right leadership team is the wrong question. The right question is, do you have individuals who have the right pairs? Because it doesn’t matter what your team is.
Most teams aren’t actually teams. They’re collections of pairs, and so the key isn’t how do you make those people work as a team. I don’t need them to work as a team. I just need them to be very effective pairs, with each of them thinking, “Your success matters as much as my success. Your job is as important as mine.”
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