Listener Questions

Listener Questions
In Podcasts

How do you go about hiring people? Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, talks about the qualities to look for aside from skills and general competency and answers other questions he has received from the Tough Things First audience.


Guy Smith: Good morning Silicon Valley and the rest of the world. Another episode of the Tough Things First podcast with the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, Mr. Ray Zinn. Good morning Ray.

Ray Zinn: Hey Guy, so good to see you again.

Guy Smith: Good to see you as always and boy, you’re sounding chipper today.

Ray Zinn: Well, I’m just feeling the spirit.

Guy Smith: Well, you must have anticipated today’s episode because this is my favorite. I’ve said it before, when people give us questions, when your listeners say, “Hey Ray, I want to bend your ear.” That’s when I see things getting very interesting. We got three questions from the field today and each one of them tickles me for an entirely different reason.

And the first one simply says, “How do you, Ray Zinn, go about hiring people? What qualities do you look for aside from skills and general competency?”

Ray Zinn: Well, I look at their track record if they’re just coming right out of school, of course I look at their … What kind of student they were, what kind of grades they got. How they did in certain courses. You know, we don’t always do excellent in all courses but I look at the courses that I think that are important, that they did well in. I also check their references, If they’ve had some work experience. I want to see how they did. I want to be able to talk to the people they worked with. I also want to just see what kind of person they are. What kind of spirit they have inside of them, as you would.

You know there’s a scout motto that I like, not scout motto, scout oath, which is, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty.” And that’s what I’m looking for, it’s people who were on their honor, they will do their best to do the work that they’re being paid to do in the job. And so, I have a little checklist that I use that list different things, salary, company, travel. I list these different characteristics and I ask them to put those in order of importance to them. And so, if compensation is at number one, then that’s a red flag. If they put travel as a very important thing to them and the job is really one they’re staying in the office then that’s a red flag. If they’re saying that the company is important then that’s a clue. If they say the person they work for, their supervisor’s important, that’s good. There are different things that I think are important to be a successful employee and having hired more that 10,000 people myself, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of just what to ask them.

Guy Smith: Are there any personality traits? Anything that you see in the comportment or the things that a person talks about that suddenly makes you go, “Oh yeah, this is going to be the right person, you know, to hire today?”

Ray Zinn: I like to ask them about how do they like their last job. If they said they like the job but didn’t like the supervisor, that would be a very short interview. If they said that they like the company but didn’t like their job that they were in, that’s another red flag. So, there’s different ways you can ask the question, as you would if you were looking for a job yourself. So, there are things that you can look for that are kinda triggers it that say, “Gee, should I proceed further or back off?”

Guy Smith: Okay. Well, another one of your listeners focused on leadership and I’ll just quote him directly, “I’m really enjoying your leadership tips. Which leaders and thinkers do you admire and why?”

Ray Zinn: So, what I admire in a good leader is their consistency. If they are people person. And so, I admire those leaders who are thinking more about their people, who love their people as opposed to loving themselves or loving the position that they’re in. So, again, I’m looking for people that are … Who I have the … All honest to goodness, people centric values. The next thing I’m looking for is how their critical thinking is, when critical thinking is on issues that are really important. How do they analyze it? I mean did they go by the seat of their pants? Did they just say, “Hey.” They just take a shot and move. As Tom Peters said in his book, “Ready aim aim aim aim and there are fire.” So, depends upon … I try to get hub of just how they do what we call critical thinking.

Guy Smith: Okay, any names that pop in mind? Anyone in recent memory who you think was just a good solid leader that fit all those criteria?

Ray Zinn: Well, I think that David Packard of Hewlett Packard had those kind of leadership skills. I admired Bob Noyce at Intel. I thought he was a good leader. And certain other of the … Jack Welch of GE, I thought had some good leadership qualities. So, I just like to find people who are really people centric people.

Guy Smith: You know I’m going to agree with you on Packard, I spent a good part of my career in the Hewlett Packard industry. Not working for HP but in and around it. And you could see the quality of thought, the quality of leadership, the quality of culture with inside of HP. And how well it lasted right up I think through the Lewis Platt years. And I still know a lot of people work for HP and it’s a crying shame really that that culture vanished with Bill and Dave. It is-

Ray Zinn: I agree.

Guy Smith: It is something to weep about. Hopefully, they’ll get it back but I’m not crossing my fingers anymore. Well, last question that we have from your listeners is I think one that most of your listeners would like to ask but maybe weren’t brave enough and so fellow he said, “If you were starting a new technology company today, what markets would you find most interesting and most likely to be profitable?” And this is what I thought was interesting, “For the long term.” It sounds like he wants to build an enduring company.

Ray Zinn: That’s a good question. You know we’re living in the age of change and so, and again, it’s a difficult time because there’s so much going around about what’s gonna happen to make America great again. It’s a, should my company be a US company? Should it be a foreign company? What kind of tax structure do I need to be concerned about? And so, there’s a lot of pieces of that puzzle that have to be fitted together before you could actually determine what markets and areas you want to go into.

If you’re in Silicon Valley of course, that would mean more of a software oriented company. Most of the semiconducting companies have moved out and no longer are in Silicon Valley. So if you want to start a semiconductor company, you could still do it here but it’s not as attractive as it once was. If you’re gonna go into oil and gas business, Texas is the place. So, you have to kinda decide what is your critical expertise that you have that is gonna allow you to be successful in whatever venture you would want to undertake.

If you’re going to fast food business then obviously, you don’t want to go into doing SaaS software. So, it’s not an easy question to answer. I mean there are different markets and different risks. Bio medics has certain risks, it’s a long process, with FDA approval and pharmaceuticals. It depends upon really where you want to apply and what your skills at is.

Guy Smith: Yeah and you started to say something during that. It sounded like you were saying it was less important what the industry was but that you have to be in love with that industry. And I think I see a lot of people in Silicon Valley make that mistake. They say that this particular industry is going to be high growth but maybe they don’t have that vast passion for it. So, they never really make a great success when they jump into it.

Ray Zinn: If you’re passionate, you’ll succeed. If you’re not passionate, you probably won’t. So, pick something that you think you gotta real love and a passion for as oppose to just picking something.

Guy Smith: Okay, I think IoT right now is pretty much what the internet was back in 1995. We’re all just sitting around the camp fire and gnawing on chicken bones, trying to figure out what we’re going to do with it.

Ray Zinn: IoT is Internet of Things, that’s IoT. So, the internet has been around for the last 20 something years. So, that’s not new. And people throw the word around IoT like it’s some kind of new market and new product, it’s not. Now, we normally think of IoT now as being more wearable kind of things or very very portable. So, that’s … If you’re thinking of IoT portable, that’s possible. You ubiquitous cars, that’s kind of an IoT thing but that’s not a portable thing and this is where you can’t wear it, not wearable. So, we have to be careful about who we talk about as being truly IoT.

Guy Smith: Yeah, well, I grew up with a foot in the agricultural business. And so, I tend to think of IoT in things like hydration monitors on 12,000 acres where you’re gonna be planting next year and things like that. And I think there’s probably still a vast expanse of things that people haven’t started really thinking about in terms of what we can do with semi intelligent devices out in far flung places. But you know time is going to help that industry.

Ray Zinn: Well, RF stuff is a different animal all together. So radio frequency and so, wireless type technology is what we think of in terms of the knots and bolts of the IoT.

Guy Smith: Yeah, well anyway, that was all the questions that we have from the readers today. And thank you so much for answering those questions for them. And for our listeners, by all means tune in next week. We’re going to have another exciting episode. And in the meantime, go to toughthingfirst.com, make sure you connect up with Ray Zinn on social media, on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And We will see you next week.

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