The article contextualizes Mark Zuckerberg's letter to investors, submitted with the IPO filing - a tradition initiated by Jeff Bezos at Amazon and carried on by the founders of Google and subsequent technology icons.
It also highlights another, more important, precedent: sticking around. All three CEOs joined the ranks of leaders not just surviving, but eventually thriving in the rare transition from visionary founder to manager and CEO. The exciting difference in this story is that Zuckerberg has explicitly applied himself to bridge the leadership gap - acquiring a set of skills and methods often attributed to innate talent or years of grueling and sometimes haphazard experience.
Conventional wisdom rules that the skills needed to launch a start-up are so different than those required to manage a mature company that both characteristics are rarely found in the same person. So once the job has outgrown their strengths, founders are often replaced by concerned investors with an experienced 'professional' CEO.
Zuckerberg is a tidy case study. After being faced in 2005 with crumbling employee morale and an explicit directive that he needed “CEO Lessons”, Zuckerberg reportedly “knuckled down and learned how to lead.” The article outlines his steps to aggressively adapt everything from personal and company-wide communication style and decision process, to team composition. The article’s title: “The Maturation of the Billionare Boy-Man”, risks interpretation that maturity was something that passively ‘happened’ to Zuckerberg. The text clears this up- showing that this was not merely a function of years passing, but rather, a la Geoffrey Colvin, a studied, disciplined and consistent approach towards mastery- resulting in an account that Facebook now represents “one of the two strongest management teams in the industry” (the other: Apple).
There is much to be studied here - the most valuable is perhaps the shift, reminiscent of Carol Dweck's categories, from a relatively binary and fixed mindset around leadership to one of intentional growth. The article posits that the founder’s advantage is most pronounced in environments like tech where products are changing rapidly and innovation is critical to survival…. But wait a minute, that sounds like nearly every industry these days! Andreessen also hints at the breadth of this idea beyond tech and the data agree. Regardless of any criticisms of the magazine’s favorable bias (and there are many!), the larger idea that many founders can and should learn enough to stay in the game, and that they may not have to fight investors in order to do so, represents a compelling prospect in both technology and a host of other sectors.
It opens up the range of possibilities for investors, and an awful lot of homework for founders.