You hear a lot about the importance of humility, but how valuable could this trait really be in the context of growing a company, building a stellar team, and launching into hyperspace? Shouldn’t you prioritize strategic thinking, raw intellect, or a professional track record when testing for core values in your prospective employees? Well, I can tell you from experience that humility can multiply the effects of all of those qualities many times over, and hiring company leaders who model this trait and help ingrain it into your company culture can be the key to achieving escape velocity in record time.
At Ariba, our original Vice President of sales, Rob DeSantis, exemplified the value of a selfless, humble approach to the job. Rob closed all of our original deals with FedEx, VISA, and Bristol-Meyers. When the field sales force team had grown to around 20 people, Rob came to me and said, “Keith, I’ve done a good job up to this point. But, you know, I’m more of a start-up kind of a guy. To take this to the next level, I think we should get someone who has done this before at a much higher level. I’d like to start us up in Europe. Why not give me a quota of $2 million, a secretary and an application engineer, and I’ll get us going in Europe.”
When I asked Rob who I should get to replace him, he replied that we needed someone like the VP of Sales at SAP. I told him okay, but he needed to hire that guy before he left for Europe. And he did! Rob didn’t cling on to a position that he knew was wrong for him; he had the humility to know when his strengths would be better suited to a different position, and this opened a new path for someone else to take over his previous position so that the company could get to the next level. Rob’s instincts paid off; he came back six months later with a million-dollar European deal, and the new VP of Sales brought Ariba to the public offering stage!
This story illustrates the kind of values we were putting in place at Ariba, values that were role modeled by the executive leadership team, that inspired employees at all levels to follow suit, and that became part of Ariba’s culture. Rob DeSantis is just one of many individuals who embodied such a humble attitude, remarkable grace, and team spirit. It became a mantra: hire the best people, especially if they are better than us. If that gets ingrained in the culture, you have your secret sauce to building a successful company.