Leaders & Laggards | December 2016

Leadership Leader

Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox CEO

picture1You know, sometimes we look for specific events or publicized actions to identify a really special leader. We’ve even been guilty of that here in our Leaders & Laggards section. And that’s shortsighted.

How about, instead of the single, flashy, attention-getting PR piece, we showcase someone who has simply exemplified successful leadership over time. What a concept…!

Enter Katia Beauchamp, CEO at Birchbox.

Katia is a rock star. Not much in the way of prior experience, she co-founded Birchbox in 2010, completely disrupting the women’s cosmetics space; today, after celebrating their 6-year anniversary, the venture boasts revenue of around $200 million. It’s hard to say that’s anything but a rip-roaring success, even given some recent challenges. And when you read about her, you can’t help but like her. This 33-year old  just seems to do the right thing, because it’s the right thing.

She has a leadership style we can appreciate. For example, on receiving painful feedback:

“Criticism is a learning moment and in many cases it is what you need to push you toward exponential growth in the moments when you need that. I would be lying if I didn’t say it’s hard to hear sometimes. It can be painful when you are working so hard and giving everything to your work, to ever let people down. But I have had to toughen up a lot over the years. I know, intellectually, that criticism is a form of caring for someone because it does give you that push.”

A few tidbits on her team approach:

  • “I try to avoid providing answers, and encourage my team to do that instead.”
  • “I’m here to provide a reminder for why we’re here and what we’re doing, but I’m not here to always provide the answer.”
  • “You need to give your team the room they need to breathe.”

So, nothing singularly flashy this month; just an entrepreneurial leader who’s getting it done, and doing so with style and aplomb. Her 250 employees (including a brick-and-mortar store in SoHo) and well over a million subscribers would likely agree. Her proud moments are things that make us smile…

“My proudest moments are not the big wins, but the smaller things – like sitting in a meeting and seeing how smart and thoughtful my team is. We’ve evolved into something bigger than just me.”

Plus, she’s a native Texan and likes 1970 Ford Broncos. What’s not to like?

Thanks, Katia Beauchamp, for being this month’s Leadership Leader.

Leadership Milquetoast

Daimler AG (Ever wonder what the AG means? Aktiengesellschaft.)

Daimler AG almost got it right when they removed a senior executive from their Daimler Greater China late last month.

damier-agOne could argue that they took fairly swift action against Rainer Gärtner, ex-President and CEO of Daimler Trucks and Busses (China) Ltd (DTBC), a mere 48-hours after he allegedly slandered not just a Chinese driver, but the whole country – and pepper-sprayed the crowd – in a parking spot version of road rage.

Daimler apologized for Gärtner’s behavior the day after it happened but couldn’t withstand the onslaught of negative Chinese social media attacks, and removed him from his position the day after.

Their initial apology sounded good:

“We deeply regret the outcome of the personal dispute. The words and actions involved in this dispute as reported in the media do not represent at all the views of the company.”

And after a very short “investigation,” Daimler released this statement the next day:

“The nature of the dispute and in particular the manner in which it was conducted, irrespective of any comments alleged to have been made, is adjudged to be not only of concern to the public but viewed by us as detrimental to the standing of our company, unbecoming of a manager of our brand and prejudicial to our good name.”

daimlerNice apology written by the PC public affairs bunch, but I don’t buy it. That’s called damage control, not leadership.

Okay, so they recognized that one of their senior executives was about to be persona non grata and hastily repatriated him, but they did it under withering fire.

And if a CEO of one of your major operating units thinks he’s entitled to act like an ass, maybe you need to change your vetting process. You see, you don’t choose to lead by example; you can only choose whether it will be a good example or a bad one. Gärtner chose poorly.

Regardless of what they say, a CEO’s behavior does reflect an organization’s culture, and that’s a leadership issue. Gärtner’s behavior, while boorish, had nothing to do with running DTBC. But leadership is less about what you’re doing than how you’re being. Gärter was being a jerk – don’t pretend he didn’t know what he was doing – and that reflects a senior leadership entitlement mentality in Daimler’s culture.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the media maelstrom ended with the announcement that Gartner had been “removed.” In fact, it’s as if Rainer Gärtner ceased to exist after Nov 22nd.

daimler3If Daimler was serious about demonstrating that Gärtner’s behavior was unacceptable, the company would have taken a different tack than out of sight out of mind for a CEO that pissed off a country that buys 22% of Daimler’s vehicles.

Bottom line for me: Gärtner acted like a jackass; he probably wouldn’t have gotten away with it in Texas. Daimler had an opportunity to show what their company really stood for and how they expected their senior leadership to reflect that culture. They blew it.Gärtner’s behavior probably deserved a Leadership Laggard award, but I thought it was better to reward Daimler’s namby-pamby response with this month’s award for a classic missed opportunity. Congratulations, Daimler, you’re December’s Leadership Milquetoast. 

Leadership Laggard

Steve Huffman, Reddit CEO

Every now and then, some clown discovers himself atop an organization, and everyone wonders “why?” Hilarity (or calamity) ensues, usually ending with someone scratching their heads and asking, “what was he thinking??”

The poster child for that this month Is Reddit’s Steve Huffman.

(Caution: in one of the following paragraphs, I say “Donald Trump.” You’ve been warned.)

redditFor troglodytes, Luddites and those over 50 (I’m certain I fit at least two of those), Reddit is essentially the offspring when an online newspaper mates with a bulletin board; content is both curated and sometimes created. People upvote or downvote your content, making it more or less visible to others. Sort of like a Facebook without the duck-lip selfies and cat videos.

Huffman was an original founder and creator, and the name “Reddit” is a play on words from “read it.” Anyway, it’s a fairly big deal with over 500 million visitors each month, and in the top 25 of website traffic in the world. Users fiercely advocate for the open nature and diverse community. Sort of a free speech test bed. The former CEO, Ellen Pao, was literally voted off the island for banning a few communities for fostering off-site harassment. Censorship is pretty much unheard of on Reddit.

Until now.

Huffman, apparently not a fan of Donald Trump, found himself the target of personal attacks from one of the more extreme Reddit communities, so instead of blocking or even deleting the community, he quickly made a stand… by taking the low road. He modified the contents of many public user comments on Reddit that he disliked. He literally went into the program and changed insulting comments made towards him and made it appear as if the insult were directed at the moderators of the “The Donald” Reddit community.

steve-huffmanNeedless to say, that didn’t end well. And to make things worse, Stevie wandered through several excuses: first, he said it was frustration with communities that try his patience. Next, he was “just joking” with those people, unsure why they “took it wrong.” Yeah, I call bullshit on that one. Finally, he said “well, that sort of thing shouldn’t be allowed on Reddit anyway.” Could be true (I don’t know, didn’t read them), but that only makes the case for deleting, not falsifying the content to favor yourself.

He restored the comments to their original form, but made it clear he didn’t feel he really did anything wrong, merely that he should’ve found another way to do it, with his “I abused my power to give the bullies a hard time.” Classic #sorrynotsorry.

I’ve got a better idea—why not figure out how to be a CEO, and take it from there.

But then, we’d have to find another Leadership Laggard for December.

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