Fictional Wall Street tycoon Gordon Gekko famously uttered the words, “greed is good.” But, for real life CEOs with hundreds, sometimes, tens of thousands of employees, should there be something more than profit? In this Tough Things First podcast, CEO Ray Zinn, says greed doesn’t make profit, good employees who love their work do.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of The Tough Things First podcast with Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley history. Hello, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hello there, Rob. Good to be with you again.
Rob Artigo: Well, Ray, you have said, and you’ve written a lot, and you’re musing zen. The Zen of Zinn is also a great example of this, but jotting down thoughts and expanding on an idea that helps all of us when we’re leading our companies to profitability and success…
Rob Artigo: Just having those ideas, it’s really training, training your mind to think a certain way and to follow logical moves as a leader. One of the things you wrote recently was that a good company, well, what makes a good company, I should say, are employees that love their jobs, do their best, believe in the company and all this stuff is an example of what you were able to show is a successful model at Micrel. And then finally, working as a team and you had a track record as well as showing success for the company because you had this solid team. So give us an idea about you as a leader. How do you get through these things? Let’s start with fostering an environment where the employees love their jobs.
Ray Zinn: Well, that’s the key. The key is hiring the right people, of course, but fostering the right environment that those employees will flourish. So having an environment where it’s not intimidating, where the people feel safe, both in terms of their future employment, their wage, their earnings, and the integrity and honesty of the company itself. Employees who… It’s not, as I said earlier, it’s not about all profitability. It’s also about building people. And so when I ran Micrel, my goal was to help people become better people. Of course, they’re going to earn money in the meantime, but it wasn’t my goal, as a CEO, to make them wealthy or rich. That’s their responsibility, to invest in themselves, to help their family financially. My goal as their leader, as the CEO, was to help them become a better person. Better people make better employees.
So I did what I could to help them improve, finding ways to get them better at their job. And so of course, you have to start with something good to build on, so we hired good people, people who had the culture that our company needed, honesty, integrity, dignity of every individual. I didn’t want to hire somebody who was not good and kind to other people. So we spent a lot of time making sure that they had that demeanor where they would treat everyone, irrespective of the level of the individual, with respect. And then that fosters a more safe environment. People don’t like to get yelled at. They don’t like to be hit with condescending language. We didn’t allow any vulgarity at all at Micrel. You could lose your job if you used vulgarity. And so condescending language, vulgarity was just not allowed at the company.
Rob Artigo: Fostered a healthy environment. And one of the things you mentioned in your writing was to do their best. It was a combination of all those things that made it a friendly, advantageous place to work. And therefore, just by nature, people did their best, right?
Ray Zinn: Oh, that’s right, man. People want to do their best when they feel you have their best interest. So I’m going to repeat that again. People will do their best when they know that you have their best interest. And so the concrete mortar and everything that goes about making a facility, everybody has that. Everybody has the same. But what makes a company different and unique is its people, the culture of that company. That was what will allow them and encourage them to be the best, to do their best. If you have the right coach in sports or any sports activity, the coach is really key because the coach, he develops the culture. He’s the one that fosters the training and has the right attitude that helps you become a better player. And so the best coaches are the ones who are loved, loved by their people, by their players.
So that’s the key of being a good coach or a good manager, a good supervisor, is being loved, loved by your people. It means they want to come to work, they want to help you to succeed. So the best teams are the ones where they have a good atmosphere, a good organization behind them, and a good leader. That will foster people doing their best and they don’t want to leave. Micrel had the lowest turnover rate of any, that turnover being people who had resigned and quit, in the industry. So we had extremely low turnover. People just loved to be at the company. I have people… In fact, just the other day, let’s say three or four days ago, I had one of my ex-employees contact me and said how much he really missed working at Micrel because he said, “That environment we had there was unique, and it’s hard to find that in other companies.” So again, the key here is you got to be a good coach. You got to be a good leader, good supervisor, good manager and that means you are loved by your people.
Rob Artigo: And they know when you’re authentic versus if you’re just being a phony baloney.
Ray Zinn: Mm-hmm.
Rob Artigo: But it goes right into the next element here is believe in the company. You create an environment where they love their jobs and do their best. You’ve got a commitment. And like you said, you had a low turnover rate because people believed in you as a leader and as Micrel as a company.
Ray Zinn: Yes. Well, that’s why I said they want to make sure you have their best interest, you have their best interest. They have to feel that, that you are there for them. That’s the key. And so you defend them, you help them, you encourage, you just foster their development. That’s the key. That’s what will help them believe in the company because they’re loved. That’s the key. You were kind, you were understanding, you were empathetic, you were sympathetic, and you were loved. That’s the key.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. And finally, the last element here is work as a team. One thing flows into the next here, but working as a team, you want people to feel like they’re a contributing partner in the group and that they’re working for a common goal.
Ray Zinn: And you can tell this when they don’t complain. There’s no I in team, as you would. So a member of the team who complains, who badmouths other people, they’re not thinking of the team. They’re thinking of themselves. That’s the key to building a good team is to have players who are not thinking of themselves, who are thinking of their other members of their team. I’ve been married 62 years and I attribute to the fact that my wife loves me more than I love her and vice versa. I love my wife more than she loves me. In fact, I kept telling her, “I love you more than you love me.” It’s a joke. This is a joke. But anyway, she goes 200% to help me and I go 200% to help her. I’m not thinking of myself. I’m thinking of her and she’s thinking of me. And same thing with a good team. A good team, the members of the team are thinking of the other players, not themselves.
Rob Artigo: Well Ray, thank you again for the conversation here. This is a fast-growing podcast. It has been since its start. Rated the top Silicon Valley podcast. It’s out there. We know it’s true. We’d like to keep that up, so if you want to make sure that you’re helping this podcast out, you’ve got to go to your favorite podcasting platform, make sure you rate this podcast and continue to bump us up towards the ever increasing five stars we can get on this podcast. Please also check out Ray’s books, the Zen of Zinn 1, 2 and 3, and Tough Things First. The Zen of Zinn is a great series and then Tough Things First is used in academic circles because it’s just a force for knowledge in the business world. So I look forward to the next time, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thank you, Rob.