Fireside Chat with Technology Legend Greg Peet

I just got back from spending an evening of (pitching and) listening to technology legend Greg Peet, courtesy of the VEF Fireside Chat series. 

There was a great turn-out, you could sense the feeling of not only how much respect Greg had from his colleagues, but that he inspired others with his thoughts.  Greg candidly discussed his history as a CEO and gave the audience an honourable and smart layout to approach when building a business. Mike Satterfield from Yaletown Venture Partners was the moderator. 

The Set Up: 

Greg is an accomplished business leader, entrepreneur, angel investor and corporate director. Until 2004, he was VP and General Manager of the McKesson Medical Imaging Group, a role he assumed following McKesson’s (NYSE:MKE) acquisition of A.L.I. Technologies in 2002 for over $500 million. As CEO, Greg spent a decade directing the growth of A.L.I., from an R&D organization into a market leader in the digital medical imaging segment with over 400 employees.

The Summary:

Peet says that his former banking past helped him learn about risk management and accounting, selling and prudency.  He talked about his approach to running a tech-company and admits that he was unprepared at 32 to be running an 8 million dollar company, but essentially that he learned how to do it, while already in the role.  On the question of the CEO identity and how to grow into it?  Peet admits that he did have a “burning aspiration” to be a CEO. It’s challenging, difficult and rewarding.  Peet believes that you have to flip-flop between the identity of a CEO as operations guy and as a service guy.

On achieving work/life balance: Peet says there is NO balance at all, anyways for him there wasn’t…he is a workaholic.  He says that startups have to realize a few things: you may be early and VCs won’t want to invest and focus on service culture.  A big company can’t change their service culture, but a small one can.  If you can pick anything it should be about service.

Advantages to being small? Willingness of staff and people. You learn about the product. Is being small is favourable to customers? It’s important to look bigger than you are, but no matter how small, map out a theory about how the industry will unfold. How did he make that service culture happen at his companies? He lived the rules and set them.  They cared about execution. To summarize his main message, he says he wouldn’t simplify it down to a CEO just knowing his people and being a good communicator, but says CEO’s must have these qualities:

  • Be authentic, it’s okay to be different, but your employees have to trust you
  • Earn respect from your employees
  • It’s a lonely job (choose to be respected over being popular, a great CEO does what is required not what is popular)
  • You can only be a leader if people want to follow you

Thoughts on the future of the BC tech-economy?  Peet says the technology development skill set, social cultural, West Coast attitude, commitment to service and customers are a positive for Vancouver.  Problems? We’re not in centre of our markets for our products (not in Bay and Boston).  Our personal relationships are not close.

Pet peeve of the month: Battles around titles, especially in little companies. It’s way more important to be the 6th man on a great team, then be Kobe on a bad team. What’s more important is the role you have rather than your title.