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In the ever-evolving business landscape, it’s important to embrace change in order to grow and thrive. In the newest episode of our Leadership Lessons series, I had the chance to speak to a leader who has changed the businesses he touched for the better: Momentive (NASDAQ: MNTV) CEO Zander Lurie. A leader in agile experience management, Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey) empowers over 20 million active users from more than 345,000 organizations to analyze and act on feedback to deliver better customer experiences, increase employee retention and unlock growth and innovation.
Lurie started his career in 1999 in the technology investment banking group at JPMorgan, leading equity transactions and M&A in the Internet sector.
“First of all, ‘right place, right time’ is huge,” Lurie says. “I started at a time when Yahoo, Netscape and Amazon had just gone public, and the guts of the internet infrastructure were being laid for other companies to build on. I got very interested in the industry as it was being created and found myself really attracted to the people and leaders who had big minds and a lot of curiosity.”
After spending six years at JPMorgan, Lurie was eager to join a team and expand his range by trying on different hats in the tech industry. In fact, he’s a big fan of David Epstein’s book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. He was SVP of strategy and development at CNET, then took on executive roles at CBS when the media giant acquired CNET. After working in a variety of roles at CBS, Lurie spent more than six years as SVP of entertainment at GoPro. He joined SurveyMoney five-and-a-half years ago as CEO.
Here are 11 takeaways from my engaging talk with Zander Lurie on how he is leading such a powerful company into the 21st century’s “new normal.”
1. A CEO can’t be everywhere at once. Lurie says he concentrates his efforts in four key areas:
- Corporate strategy: This is something that is fluid, because the world is very dynamic and a company’s competitive set is dynamic.
- Recruiting and talent development: Lurie says if he can excel in people management, he has done his job well.
- Driving accountability: You cannot get paid enough for, or get promoted out of, holding folks accountable for delivering excellence.
- Communications: Be as consistent as you can in terms of what you’re saying to whom, and how frequently.
2. Don’t get fixated on a goal that’s decades out, because the industry might change by the time you get there
“You don’t have to write it down in pen when you’re very young,” Lurie says. His own path to a CEO role was a winding road, and he ended up filling in for, and eventually accepting, the top role a SurveyMonkey after the former CEO — his friend and mentor Dave Goldberg — passed away at the age of just 47. If your main career ambition is to end up a CEO, Lurie says the best bet is to start your own company.
3. There are no more important decisions you will make in your first days as a CEO than people decisions
“You’ve got to surround yourself with world class, high integrity people who prioritize company culture and are going to manage with the same vigilance and care that you put into it,” Lurie shared. That includes making tough decisions — like Lurie did when he had to stand in front of a room full of 120 SurveyMonkey employees and let them go, while many of them were still grieving the beloved Goldberg’s death. But without that clarity of purpose and absolute faith in the people around him, Lurie felt he couldn’t succeed in his new role.
4. The CEO rarely gets to be the hero of the day
“My team is almost always smarter than me about any particular area,” admits Lurie. “So it’s very rare that I’m going to see something so clearly that they don’t see, and make some kind of hero call.” Instead, he says, a CEO has to simply be good every day, and bring their A game.
5. Time is the most precious resource you have
How you spend it is essential, and Lurie says he spent his time over the years making connections. Whether that’s work time, social time or weekends, he was always drawn to meeting people who shared his entrepreneurial spirit and excitement.
6. Don’t underestimate the continued potential of digital transformation
The world is still moving into digital, and SaaS has come through an incredible decade over the last 10 years. When you see something that’s working and you have the right cocktail to help customers with the right product and delivery, Lurie says you should train your mind to look past the scar tissue from failed exercises.
7. Healthy competition can be good for the industry
The patent is no longer what it once was. Gone are the days when a smart team could patent a product and count on 17 years of premium prices. “Look at the space market, look at the Covid vaccine market, look at the autonomous vehicle and EV markets,” Lurie says matter-of-factly. “Everything should be competitive. That’s good for customers, and it is good for the industry.”
8. Compound growth is, as Warren Buffet said, the Eighth Wonder of the World
You might not appreciate that until you get a bit older, but if you can get some sense of that in your 20s it will pay off in your 40s and 50s. Lurie says it’s not just for wealth: “It’s for your most important relationships, your growth mindset, what skills you’re learning, your travel experiences and your philanthropic endeavors.”
9. Trust your employees, and give them the autonomy to work where they work well
The working world has a voracious appetite to transition back to the office in the right way. Lurie advises that companies be very thoughtful about when they call employees into the office: “Be strategic and creative about how you bring folks together in person to get the best of that yesteryear in this new world order.”
10. Build cross-functional networks internally
You need to bring the right people with you as you scale. “Nobody does anything really, really hard on their own,” Lurie says. “Everybody has to be working on cross-functional teams.” An internal cross-functional network in your career is as necessary as the ones you keep for parenting or spiritual matters in your personal life.
11. You have to manage your own career
Don’t assume anything, because nobody, not even your manager, can read your mind. Be your own best advocate, and let your manager know what your goals are and what you can do to get there, what you think you’ve done well, and when you have internal obstacles to your success.
To hear more from my hour-long conversation with the fascinating Zander Lurie, watch the webinar here. All of these invaluable chats get our listeners into the minds of successful leaders, from the CEOs of Zoom and Nextdoor, to GoDaddy and DocuSign, as they share one-of-a-kind advice for current and future entrepreneurs.