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SkillsTalk

4 business leaders to get inspired from

By Katie Quirk | 01 March 2021


According to American author, John Maxwell, “leaders become great not because of their power but, because of their ability to empower others.”

Here are four business leaders who have challenged the status quo and created enterprises that not only illustrate historical notions of success and inspiration but also redefine what they look like in a contemporary context.

Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube

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“Things are always changing. Part of being successful here is being comfortable with not knowing what’s going to happen.”

A Harvard University and University of California (Santa Cruz) alum, Susan Wojcicki studied history and literature before stumbling upon an introductory computer science course during the senior year of her college degree.

Upon completing an MBA in 1998, Wojcicki took up a job in marketing at Intel before renting her garage to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two young Stanford doctoral students who were working on their new brainchild, a search-engine platform called Google.

After gathering how influential and important Google would be in the information superhighway race, Wojcicki joined the platform in 1999 as its 16th employee and the company’s first marketing manager.

Four years later, she advocated for Google’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube; the site, which she has run since 2014, is now worth an approximated $90 billion (not a bad return on investment!).

Also the mother to five children, Wojcicki has been a vocal proponent of maternity leave benefits in the United States saying, “support for motherhood shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course.”

In addition to this, she has been outspoken about closing the gender gap in the tech industry, a sector where only 20 to 30 percent is represented by women globally.

Wojcicki currently sits 13th on Forbes’ “Most Powerful Women” list with a net worth estimated to be nearly $US500 million.

Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon

“The keys to success are patience, persistence, and obsessive attention to detail.”

Born into the working class, Jeff Bezos is a self-made billionaire who turned a seemingly simple idea into one of the world’s largest companies.

Believe it or not, behemoth e-commerce platform Amazon grew from humble beginnings in Bezos’ Seattle garage and when he launched it in 1994, it was merely an online bookshop before evolving into the all-encompassing product marketplace we know today.

There are a few pieces of advice Bezos routinely shares on how to be successful: have a vision and organise your time two to three years in advance, get used to naysayers and take time to be inefficient.

Just last week, Bezos reclaimed his title from Elon Musk as the world’s richest person with the index currently reporting that his worth is around US$191 billion ($246 billion).

And he’s happy to share the wealth around - in 2020, Bezos made the single-largest charitable donation; a $10 billion gift helped launch Bezos Earth Fund, which supports non-profits involved in the climate crisis.

The Bezos Earth Fund has paid out $790 million to 16 groups thus far.

After 27 years of wearing the CEO cap at Amazon, Bezos will transition into the role of executive chairman in the third quarter of 2021 to his successor Andy Jassy who has been with the company since 1997.

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder, Bumble

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“When you accept that failure is a good thing, it can actually be a huge propeller to success.”

This month, after Bumble, the dating app she founded, was publicly listed on the Nasdaq stock market Whitney Wolfe Heard became a billionaire at just 31 years of age.

Not only is she now the youngest woman in the US to take a company public, but she did it all while bouncing her one year old son on her hip.

However, Whitney’s story as a female in tech is like many others; her professional journey has been littered with experiences of sexism, discrimination and harrassment.

When she was 22 years old, Wolfe Herd became involved with a company called Hatch Labs where she met Sean Rad and Chris Gulczynski - the trio would later become the development team for Tinder.

Credited for driving Tinder’s popularity, especially amongst college-aged users, Wolfe Herd sensationally left the company in 2014 shortly after filling a sexual harassment lawsuit.

She certainly wasn’t down and out though, launching Bumble a mere two months later.

The female-focussed dating app dedicated to women making the first move now has over 100 million subscribers worldwide and, after giving birth to her first child in 2019, Wolfe Herd elevated Bumble’s parental rights to new levels - with four months of paid leave and $1,000 bonuses to offset childcare costs while at work, flexible start times and reimbursement for using breast-milk delivery services.

Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

“Don’t be a know-it-all; instead be a learn-it-all.”

When Microsoft purchased LinkedIn for $26.2 billion five years ago, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner was instrumental in securing the deal which was one of the largest acquisitions to be completed in the history of the tech industry.

Not only is Weiner a monumental success in terms of business, he also appears to be an upstanding person with popular employee review website Glassdoor ranking him as one of the best CEOs to work for with a 97% approval rating.

He also believes compassion is a huge factor when it comes to success - at a commencement speech he delivered at the University of Pennsylvania (his alma mater), he remarked that compassion “meant walking a mile in the other person’s shoes; and understanding their hopes, their fears, their strengths and their weaknesses.”

And Weiner has certainly put his money where his mouth is, helping to create The Compassion Project, a digital learning system that helps primary school students develop empathy.

A little helpful hint - should you ever find yourself in an interview with him, Weiner has a favourite question to ask candidates because he believes the answer helps to evaluate fit and gives him a sense of who someone is by virtue of the simplicity of their answer:

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