Does the “C” in CEO stand for commando? It might in this case. Guy Haddleton, CEO of Adaytum, a Minneapolis-based software company he founded 11 years ago, served in the New Zealand Army for eight years in the 1970s and early 1980s?the last four years heading up counterterrorism efforts for the Special Air Service. Although he’s always felt like a “born entrepreneur” (he left the military to pursue an MBA), he says his years in the special forces provided valuable lessons for business?and for life.
What lessons from your special forces days have you brought to bear as a software company CEO?
I’m a great believer in the power of small teams and the flexibility they provide. My special forces days taught me about working in small teams, understanding and working through your plan. Another thing about special forces is that they have special people. The same is true in business. You have to recruit outstanding people. They’ve got to be talented, well trained, committed and self-disciplined. When we’re hiring, we look at the strength of character and the talent they have. The power of a team is in the strength of the people.
I also learned to focus on intelligence. You have to understand what your enemies would do so you can walk around them. If you do have to engage, there are three tenets in the special forces: speed, surprise and shock. Say you’re taking out a terrorist in a 747. First, you have to move fast. Second, you need to surprise him. If you’ve caught him unaware, that gives you three or four seconds grace. Then you stun him. When we were preparing to launch our product, our corporate intelligence told us the competition was thinking about launching a similar product. We decided we needed to move our launch date up three months. Some of the employees still have scars from those four weeks of 18-hour days, but we achieved that surprise and stunned everyone.
How do you think the current state of terrorism anxiety has affected the corporate landscape?
It’s more important than ever that you have your backup plan sorted out so that in the event you’re struck by something, you go straight into recovery mode. You must be prepared for the unexpected.
Also, visible leadership is critical. In uncertain times, a leader has to be in front and talk about what the company is doing. That leader has to have the trust of the employees. They need to know there is a plan in progress, and although this ghastly thing may be happening, you’re going to get through it together.