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SYS-CON Survey: What Drives Successful Technology CEOs?

Is it SOA, Virtualization, RIAs, User eXperience...or the sheer challenge of successfully pioneering software development?

What drives a technology CEO or CTO to success in today's constantly changing Internet-driven technology ecosystem? We look at the question through the lens of the many interviews and articles we have published at which deal, sometimes only in passing, with exactly this issue.

Executives quoted include Appcelerator CEO Jeff Haynie, Nexaweb Co-Founder & Chairman Coach Wei, the founder of Alan Meckler, and the Chairman & CEO of Parasoft Dr Adam Kolawa.

When Jeff Haynie (pictured) and Nolan Wright co-founded Appcelerator in 2006, for example, their impetus derived from a classic sense of frustration with the status quo and a desire to Make Things Better. In a recent interview, Haynie expressed it thus:

"We were frustrated by the state of Web development platforms, surprised by how little change had occurred since the Web 1.0 meltdown. ...  you have to build your platform before you can build your app – we wanted to change that."

Coach Wei, who co-founded Nexaweb way back in 2000 and served as its CEO until summer 2003, leveraged his own profound technical competence so well that it helped him take his company (despite starting it at the bottom of the 'dot-bomb' burst) on a trajectory that eventually brought $18M in financing. That technological savvy, above all, is what he believes helped drive him and Nexaweb. Here's how he explained when I interviewed him last year


"I learned so much coping with the 'nuclear winter,' raising $18M in financing, working through all the challenges associated with the market, dealing with investors and everything else. ... In this industry, I cannot stress enough the importance of decision-makers having a strong technology background. The reason is very simple: in this industry, technology is business.  Technology and business are so intertwined in this industry that no sound business decision can be made without a strong technology foundation."

Alan M. Meckler, the co-founder of, managed - within just a few years after selling Mecklermedia - to cram in what most business leaders would happily have accepted as their entire lifetime's achievement. When I asked him in a 2006 interview whether that was a function primarily of the Internet, or primarily of Alan M. Meckler, here was his reply:

"Hard work pays off. The harder you work the luckier you get (they say!). But it is better to be luckier than good."

Prescience pays off too, it should be said. Because Meckler predicted back in the September 2000 issue of Business 2.0 — in a piece entitled "I Want My N/TV!" — that it was only a matter of time before trade print magazine would go the way of the dinosaur and that the future of B2B publishing was 100% online. His own experience at Mecklermedia with converting print titles to Web sites in’96 and ’97 got him to thinking about the death of print (for Tech) — which was a sure shot by 2000. And his education background served him well:

"I am a trained historian (Ph.D. in American history) and have had the advantage of observing and working and then making strategic decision based on what I have witnessed and trends that are appearing."

Another academically brilliant CEO, Dr Adam Kolawa of Parasoft, also noted in a recent Exclusive Q&A that his theoretical physics background has been useful over the course of his career, co-founding and building out Parasoft into a globe-spanning corporation:

"The main thing that I take away from theoretical physics is the process of building a theoretical model, and never believing in its validity until you confirm that it really works. All my life I was guided by these principles. You take a roadmap and build a theoretical model, then you test it to see if it really works. As you get feedback from the experiments and applying the model in real life, you modify the model and drive it forward. That’s how I’ve always operated."

So...impatience with the status quo, sheer through-and-through technical competence, hard work, luck, and a good education - just some of the drivers that have helped propel these particular executives.

What other qualities are helpful? Let me know and we'll re-examine the issue later in the light of reader responses!

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Success of Failure 02/20/08 06:27:27 AM EST

How come no one interviewed mentions *failure* as an essential driver? Good CEOs are often good because they've come to wisdom through failure. Very little wisdom, by comparison, accrues from success.

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