Like London buses, you wait for ages for an inspirational leader and then two show up…

By | March 7, 2014

You would count yourself pretty lucky if you met one inspirational person in a year – someone who truly inspired you to think differently, act differently or changed your perspective in a significant way. How would you feel if you met 2 in a five day period? Pretty honored, right? Well that’s how I felt when I met two of the most inspirational leaders you are every likely to meet this week whilst in Israel to support our sales team with some of their activities.  One, a businessman with vision and credibility to the core, the other a globally renown leader of a country and someone with the clarity of thought and perspicuity that is rarely seen across not just a generation but any generation.

I met with CIOs, talked to many customers and partners, did some press work and also supported a large customer event on Monday. A lot of that is standard fare on an exec-type trip, but what set it apart was the quality of the conversations and in meeting some truly inspiring people.

mendozaInspiring Leader #1: Tom Mendoza, the NetApp Vice Chairman.

Although I have known Tom for a while, until this week I hadn’t spent any “up n’ close” personal time with him. Tom is an inspiring tech executive who talks extensively on leadership and culture. He has become one of our foremost social media advocates and his willingness and desire to share his experience is one of his hallmarks. There are many videos on the web which will give you a sense of his wisdom.  Just click here.  He is even more impressive in one-to-one customer settings than he is on video or on a big stage.

In many of our meetings he talked about what makes NetApp the company it is and the values that he , the two founders (Dave Hitz and James Lau) and Dan Warmenhoven the present Chairman, defined early on to be the building blocks necessary to create a model company. He outlined 5 core attributes which he believes sets NetApp apart and which define our culture. These are attitude, candor, appreciation, embracing change and leadership. After a week in the State of Israel, I truly believe there are very many parallels between the culture of NetApp and the culture of the Israeli people. Many of those very same attributes that we see in NetApp people on a daily basis are also in evidence in this country. For a perspective on this, see my post here.

How inspirational is Mendoza? I accept that a NetApp staffer like me could be reasonably accused of being unquestioning in my assessment. After all he is my vice-chairman. But when an extremely high ranking Israeli government minister told Tom that his story was inspiring and that he had learned a lot in our meeting, then I would take it as proof positive! (Israelis are generally sparing with excessive praise!).

peres Inspiring Leader #2: Shimon Peres, President of Israel

A couple of paragraphs cannot do justice to this iconic statesman and world leader. I truly understand that not everyone would agree with his policies when prime minister or whether he really delivered quite what they wanted during his tenures. However it is undeniable that his legacy is indelibly inked on Israel and on Middle Eastern politics. Confidentiality prevents me from discussing our meeting but I can confidently tell you that Mr. Peres is an intellectual colossus and at the age of 91 his faculties are as sharp as ever and his interest in the human condition as acute as a man half his age. His understanding of current technology is breathtaking; his vision for its application to education and health is grand. Mr. Peres’ past is inexorably entwined with that of modern Israel. He was there at the start back in 1948 with David Ben Gurion, the founding father of modern Israel. His history is Israel’s history. He has been present at every major happening in the country ever since the first stone was laid.

It is of course a matter of opinion and if you are on the right in Israeli politics you probably have mixed feelings about Peres, but quite probably are now proud of his contribution regardless. And of course if you are not Jewish you may have an altogether different viewpoint. This isn’t a political post and I am only interested in Peres as a humane and forward looking thinker, not his politics, good or bad.

The really cool thing about him though is that he appears not to be particularly interested in the past. Yes he has lived many lives, achieved so many seminal things and been part of the world scene for so many years, However he is interested in it only as it pertains to giving him wisdom and context to understand the future. In fact it might not be an overstatement to say that he is interested in the future only. He is impatient with the pace of progress for peace, for the availability of universal healthcare, for the raising of living standards globally and for much more besides. He has many ideas and indeed, he has many initiatives that he is driving to accelerate this pace.

There is a very well-known book penned by two American/Israeli journalists and writers entitled “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” which catalogues the making of Israel and the pivotal role that innovation has played in the burgeoning of the state. The story is predominated by the technology prowess, the innovation culture and the fanatical encouragement of entrepreneurship since the earliest days, but it can also be read as a history of the state. It is eminently readable and I thoroughly recommend it. Peres is a constant character throughout the book whether as an agitator, provocateur, entrepreneur, visionary, politician, state leader, prime minister and latterly as the president.  There are many quotable utterances attributed to him that are reported in the book, but the one that stood out for me when I read it was that, in his opinion “dissatisfaction is an Israeli condition”. What he meant by that is that Israelis do not rest on their laurels, they do not accept when they have reached a zenith but that they are constantly looking to improve. It struck a chord with me. It is the dissatisfaction that drives the entrepreneurship and innovation that is ever present in Israel.

It is this “dissatisfaction” that he feels and his burning desire to improve the lot of not just Israelis but all citizens of the Middle East that gives hope to us all. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that he now “apolitical”, but I did sense that If every major world leader shared his vision, attitude and at least some of his value set, then the world would be an infinitely happier and better place.

NetApp leaders plus a famous Israeli….

us with peres

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