Michael Marks spoke yesterday at the Haas School of Business. He is presently the chairman of Flextronics, but he served for 13 years as its CEO, growing the company from $70 million to what he said today was $65 billion. He is a director on several really big companies like Sun Microcomputers, Sandisk and KKR.
This was a truly enjoyable lecture because here is a man talking about stuff he really likes talking about, and which the audience of business students really liked listening to. He has lived the dream in real life that most people have only dreamed of living in fantasy life. And, he obviously enjoyed it! He owns part of Tesla Motors, makers of perhaps the coolest car ever, and is slated to be one of the vehicle’s first owners. This photo conveys the infectious enthusiasm he has for what he is doing. His lecture consisted of personal stories about various people, many of them famous, whom he interacted with during his career, and the strange kinds of interactions he had with them. He emphasized that treating people well, and with a friendly respect was always a good idea, implying that he had seen plenty of that other behavior we occasionally encounter. He also said that finding good people to do the work that needed to be done was critical. Especially at the top levels of a company. This advice is from a person who has been, and still is directing a company with 300,000 people.
There were several good questions from the audience, but mine was, “How do you learn how to identify good people?” I think he liked the question because he talked a long time on the subject. Saying that it was difficult, but that it is a skill that is learned by experience. But, after a bit he started talking about letting people go after they were not working out as being crucial to the success of a company. He spoke of placing several people in positions, who seemed perfect for a job for a time, but then he kept them in that position too long. He said that in his experience, when it became apparent that a person might not be able to rise to the demands of a job, that they certainly wouldn’t do it later on, even if you gave them plenty of time. Therefore, it is best to let them go early, but to do so in a way that is best for all parties. To help them in every way find the niche that is right for them.
While he was talking about this I was thinking about a lecture I attended back at Washington State College, about 1958, given by Major General William F. Dean. In that lecture Dean talked about the three most important qualities in an officer, and in a man’s character. Honesty – Integrity – Enthusiasm. I was wondering if Marks was going to say something like that, but then I realized that he was the personification of those qualities.