My brother, the CEO/Janitor

This is something my brother wrote a couple years ago while working on his start-up in California. I remember reading it for the first time and thinking of two things: First, “Holy shit. This is my little brother”. Ever since we were kids, he has had a type of tenacity that I must admit I’ve always admired in him. He constantly pushes himself to be the best at everything he can. Second, “Kinda sad that this isn’t common sense”. Maybe it was because we were raised by two people who pushed hard work and humility, but in an age of such entitlement and expectation, I find myself grateful to know that some ideals of our youth stay with us. Just food for thought:

You’re not the CEO — you’re the Fucking Janitor

June 27th, 2012 § 0

So this post comes to you after me reading a string of one too many “Life of a CEO” or “What its like to be a CEO” posts.

I’m about to hit you with a major dose of REALITY, and you might not like it.

If you’re dreaming about being the CEO of a company you probably aren’t fit to run one. If you think its a lavish lifestyle filled with private planes and swimming pools full of money, you might just have a rude awakening coming.

The life of a CEO is not always glamorous. TechCrunch would like you to think so and so would many of the people who write about it on Hacker News but the reality is you probably are the CEO in title alone. When your company consists of three people but you sign documents as the CEO you should probably put that in prospective, you are TECHNICALLY the CEO but what kind of real power or reach does that give you. It means you were the most capable of a three person team, or perhaps just the one with the most generalized skillset and since you had no specialty CEO was the interim role you filled.

This post first crossed my mind several months ago when I was talking to a startup CEO who I will leave unnamed. he and I were talking about interns and their role in a small organization(this particular one was less than 5) I was encouraging him to be open and let interns have full insight into all facets of the business, openly present ideas and consider them.

I’ll never forget the response he gave me. “Zach, I want you to think about this, how many interns get to go sit down and talk to the CEO of a company about its inner-workings every day? it just does not make sense”

At that point in the conversation I knew it would end soon and in fact it already had in my head. Someone who did not understand something as simple as being humble enough to realize that his small organization needed all the help it could get from any parties interested and invested in giving feedback would probably never see my point of view.

When you’re the CEO of a startup you’re the person who will do ANYTHING, and I do mean ANYTHING to make it succeed.

And here’s how it is in reality:

If you want to be a CEO in the sense that you dream of them you should remember to be the Fucking Janitor too.

What I mean by this is simple and I’ll illustrate it in a quick story when a slightly younger version of myself sat down to get a small business loan at a young age.

As we sifted through the paperwork it took to do a loan the question came up. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me, but its not one I’ll soon forget.

The loan officer looked at me and said “So Zach, what’s your title? Are you the President? The CEO?”

It didn’t take too long for me to spit out what came next. In a tone that could only be used by someone with the inexperience of a person my age (19 or 20 at the time) I looked at him and said “Ryan, last night when I was sweeping the floor I was the Fucking Janitor”.

Ryan laughed, then paused shook his head and said “We’ll go with owner on this one.”

The story is one that displays a combination of things, some arrogance, lots of inexperience and some humility. But one thing I still take away from that years later is that no matter what I do I will always be the Janitor.

My employees never looked at me as a boss but always as a colleague. They knew that if they didn’t pick up that broom to sweep the floor then I certainly would and that led to a much more productive work environment. Everyone knew of the willingness of others to do anything necessary to help make our business a success and that is the kind of attitude that makes winners.

I’d encourage you the next time you start thinking of yourself as the CEO to also remember to always be the Janitor too. It’s great to become someone who is looked up to, or to make an impact, but its even more important to remember where you started and stay true to who you wanted to be before you got to where you are.

So I hope if you’re reading this, you’ll remember to always be the Janitor.