The Right Hand Man in a $20 B Corporation

I just had a fun lunch with the Chief of Staff of the president of a $20 billion technology company. His job is help carry out the President’s priorities across the massive organization. (We entrepreneurs have a hard time wrapping our heads around the sheer scale of such a business.)

I’m fascinated by the “shadow government” that exists in some of the world’s most complex organizations. What kind of support staff does a CEO whose time is worth $2,000 / hour have? Does he answer all his emails himself? Does her support staff help manage her personal life, too?

More interesting than the logistical support is the member of the executive’s inner circle who plays a strategic right hand man role — helps set and carry out priorities, organize cross-functional projects, and so forth. The right hand man stays behind the scenes — we don’t know their names — but they are almost surely some of the most influential people in business. Karl Rove seems to play this role in the current U.S. federal government.

One thing I learned today is that a Chief of Staff (or equivalent) needs to be careful about invoking his/her boss when trying to get stuff done. When you work for the #1 person in huge company, it’s easy to say, “John said so,” and people will do it. But this isn’t a sustainable approach. In fact, the very reason a Chief of Staff can be effective is that whereas people will simply do what the CEO says without thinking and internalizing the reasons behind such action, the right hand man can make sure people really see with their own eyes that something needs to be done a certain way.

It’s easy to bash big corporations as less challenging and less fun when compared to a start-up. Certainly this is the case at an entry level or mid-management level. But my lunch today reinforced that at the highest levels of some of the largest organizations the caliber of people is extremely high, the impact of their actions enormous, and communication / logistical challenges astounding but solvable (which are the best kinds of challenges).

Anyone else know of behind-the-scenes men or women who are true strategic right-hand-men?


Related Article: New York Times ($) piece on Henry Paulson’s right-hand man, who wields enormous influence, sits in on important meetings, and has perfected the art of not only making the trains run on time, but truly extending the reach of his boss throughout an organization.

5 Responses to The Right Hand Man in a $20 B Corporation

  1. Susan Lyne is pretty strong right hand woman to Martha Stewart, saw her speak last week-whoa. Michael Nash of the Warner Music group to Edgar Bronfman, a friend and Peter Chernin to Rupert whom is one of the kindest and smartest I’ve met, I used to tutor his son in Latin back in my early 20’s. Seth Cummings to Peter Adderton CEO of Amp’d Mobile. Those guys made Boost and are now working on Amp’d, and building one let alone two carriers is phenomenol. That’s off the top of my head.

  2. Susan Lyne is pretty strong right hand woman (to Martha Stewart), saw her speak last week-whoa. Michael Nash of the Warner Music group (to Edgar Bronfman), a friend and Peter Chernin (to Rupert Murdoch) whom is one of the kindest and smartest I’ve met, I used to tutor his son in Latin back in my early 20’s. Seth Cummings (to Peter Adderton CEO of Amp’d Mobile). Those guys made Boost and are now working on Amp’d, and building one let alone two carriers is phenomenal. That’s off the top of my head.

  3. Shefaly says:

    “It’s easy to bash big corporations as less challenging and less fun when compared to a start-up.”

    This bashing probably comes from those who:
    1. feel the need to justify moving to a start-up from a BigCorp its pay packet and comforts
    2. have never worked in or observed closely someone who works in a BigCorp
    3. generalise from 1 or 2 examples, not realising that induction has its flaws as a method in sociological contexts.

    Early in my ‘working’ life, I combined both by working in a sort of corporate venturing role in a mid-sized but expanding MNC in IT services. I could combine the best and the worst of both: the freedom, the flexibility, the tight budgets and the urgency of a start-up with the consensus-building, managing up, managing down and managing sideways of relationships, team work when the members of the teams have many unstated agendas too as seen in a BigCorp.

    All work can be fun, impactful and interesting if you like what you are doing.

  4. Scott Evans says:

    Great Post!

    There is also a not so subtle takeaway from this for all start up companies.

    The CEO of any start up should incorporate the same consensus building approach that a Chief Of Staff takes. It is too easy when there are all of 9 employees to over leverage your authority.

  5. W. Hutson says:

    Thomas More.

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