I’ve always thought about writing a blog to “the younger me.”  Saying some of things I’ve learned in a lifetime in the software world that upon retrospection, I wish I had known when I entered it.  As a CEO, I have learned many life lessons that I sure would have benefited from, but probably not appreciated, years ago as my career began.

In the well-known business book Built to Last, by Jim Collins, he uses the phrase BHAG (pronounced bee hag) which is an acronym for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  Part of being a CEO is to paint the BHAG’s in a way that employees aspire to them, live them and see alignment with them as a litmus test for innovation.  

I wish I understood as a young CEO years ago just how important it was to incorporate culture in my BHAG’s… I wish I even knew then what a BHAG was and why they matter.  I do now, so in that conversation with a younger me, I would emphasize that the most important BHAG’s are the ones that govern how people act and interact.  It is those actions that can arouse or stifle innovation.  It is great culture that attracts and retains talent.

I suppose like many CEO’s, the younger me would have BHAG’s that were aspirational and dealt with world changing ideas.  New products to solve unsolvable problems.  Reinventing processes to make the business enduring and profitable.  Challenging the status quo in meaningful ways.

Now decades later, I see those as goals, not BHAG’s. I wonder if Les Moonvest had a BHAG for personal conduct rather than innovative programming, if he would still be head of CBS.  I’m curious if Raj Nair had a BHAG that was to be the example of appropriate conduct and not just to build great cars, if he would still be President of Ford and their stock price would not have dropped 37%.

Great leaders set great goals, but they must enable a great culture to achieve them.  So I think the message I would have given to the younger me would be to center on ethics and a positive culture, and the lesser goals will be easier to obtain and will be enduring.

Aside from a message to a younger me, I have a thought, really a challenge, to share with other CEO’s.  As you go into the 2019 strategic planning cycle and set your goals and share them with your management team, where does ethics and culture rest on that list?


J Rollins is the co-founder and CEO of ETHIX360.  At ETHIX360, our goal is simple, to provide an affordable, flexible and comprehensive answer to employee communication and case management on issues related to corporate ethics, code of conduct, fraud, bribery, EH&S and workplace violence.  To learn more about ETHIX360, please visit www.ethix360.com, or follow us on twitter @ethix360.