Bill Gates Vs. Satya Nadella – 6 Contrasts Between Founder-CEOs And Corporate-CEOs

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Bill Gates and Satya Nadella. Photographer: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

© 2016 Bloomberg Finance LP

An interesting article comparing Satya Nadella and Bill Gates points out why Nadella “gets it” and Gates seemingly did not.

However, it is important to acknowledge the inherent dissimilarities between billion-dollar entrepreneurs (Founder-CEOs like Gates) and chief executive officers in established corporations (Corporate CEOs like Nadella). This article explores the contrasting dynamics of those who build from scratch versus those who manage existing entities.

#1. Founder-CEOs use startup and growth skills. Corporate-CEOs use growth skills.

Billion-dollar entrepreneurs possess a unique blend of visionary and building skills essential to develop a corporation from the ground up. These Founder-CEOs navigate through the uncertainties of emerging industries and devise strategies in order to dominate, Corporate-CEOs manage to expand on an existing foundation, benefiting from the resources already in place. Satya Nadella’s accomplishments are noteworthy, but they are built upon the foundation laid by Gates.

#2. Founder-CEOs do it their way. Corporate CEOs do it the corporate way.

Billion-dollar entrepreneurs start with nothing and rely solely on their abilities. This experience can shape their personalities and attitudes toward business. Conversely, Corporate CEOs, on the other hand, often climb the ladder within an organization, necessitating a careful balance of ambition and corporate loyalty. They learn to navigate organizational dynamics and prioritize diplomacy over naked aggression.

#3. Founder-CEOs adapt from startup. Corporate-CEOs don’t start.

Billion-dollar entrepreneurs must adapt and grow as their venture evolves from idea to giant. They become leaders – and learn to steer the corporation in new directions. Or they fail. Gates adjusted to the Internet when it threatened Microsoft. Corporate CEOs also have to adjust but, in most cases, they adjust the corporation to evolving evolutionary trends, as Nadella did by adding cloud services for the next stage of Microsoft’s growth, not to revolutionary trends.

#4. Founder-CEOs don’t have to “kiss up.” Corporate-CEOs do.

Billion-dollar entrepreneurs don’t have anyone above them to kiss up to. While some may secure venture capital, most billion-dollar entrepreneurs avoid, or delay, getting venture capital and thereby keep control of their venture. As their corporations grow, they do, however, learn to soften their image and project a more approachable demeanor. Corporate CEOs, on the other hand, acquire and refine the skill of navigating the corporate hierarchy, adeptly adapting their communication to please their superiors.

#5. Founder-CEOs make history. Corporate CEOs build on history.

Billion-dollar entrepreneurs start ventures without the benefit of historical policies or data. They must forge their own paths, relying solely on their abilities and entrepreneurial vision. Conversely, Corporate CEOs are professional managers who draw upon past experiences and on existing corporate structures to move forward incrementally, striving to improve upon what already exists. They rarely break revolutionary ground.

#6. Founder-CEOs win in revolutionary industries. Corporate CEOs mainly fail in revolutionary industries.

The success of billion-dollar entrepreneurs, from Andrew Carnegie to Mark Zuckerberg, can be attributed to their ability to capitalize on emerging trends to dominate industries. By identifying and seizing opportunities within these nascent sectors, they leverage their vision to outperform entrenched corporate entities. In contrast, CEOs often feel threatened by emerging industries, unsure of how to respond beyond resorting to acquisitions. Unfortunately, statistics show that about 70% – 90% of acquisitions fail.

MY TAKE: By understanding the distinct differences between the needs of Founder-CEOs and Corporate CEOs, business schools can better meet the needs of growth-seeking entrepreneurs and provide targeted support that cater to the unique challenges faced by Founder-CEOs, rather than mirroring the curriculum designed for Corporate CEOs.

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