Nothing Lasts Forever

The recent news of Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini decision to retire early came as a surprise to most people. Without going in great detail I will simply say that his decision is the right one, especially if one takes a look at the global trend of Intel as a world computer super power and how that has recently been changing (rapidly) in light of mobile technology.

But, even more on a personal note from himself, he stated very clearly that he thought it was time for a new leader to take control – an incredibly honest and humble move if taken at face value (which is the only option for most of us). It takes incredible courage to step down and to allow a new and much more fresh leader to take the reins.

Unfortunately, most leaders appear to lack this very basic truth that nothing lasts forever and that no man’s leadership is timeless nor applicable forever. Some of the biggest reasons for the demise of corporations, big and small, is simply because the leadership at the top was not able to come down from their pedestal and pass the baton to the next generation – they are too proud, too arrogant to admit that their time has come to an end.

Paul’s decision is one that puts him in a category that is far too small – those that have exited gracefully and haven’t taken their companies down in flames. Well done, well done.

The above image isn’t contextually relevant to Paul’s exit from Intel but it’s one that I saw recently that shows the historical powers of computing and their ownership of the global marketplace – it’s incredible how some of the movements and organizations have played out over the years.

What we see is some organizations becoming extinct while others, perhaps on the brink of extinction, seem to bounce back and destroy the market. We see the titanic growth of others and well as their loss of leadership over time as well.

I talked this over with my father last night to see if he had any perspective on this plot. For one, he had lived a lot longer than myself so he had first-hand experience with some of these technologies (and had stock positions in most of them at some point in time) and he had also lead a Fortune 50 company which was impacted by these technologies.

He just smiled and said:

John, nothing lasts forever.

In another time and another place I would have rolled my eyes and said something along the lines of “Duh.” but that’s not how I responded, especially as he followed us with this:

Never forget this truth, especially as a leader in your own company.

It’s the kind of thing that makes you sit back in your chair a bit and choose your next words very, very carefully. I thought about my partners, my advisors, my investors, the products that I’ve built, and the people that have worked so hard along the way. I thought of all the customers that had purchased those products and how their lives have been changed by them, in small ways and perhaps in large ways.

I thought that with all that good and with all that value and with all that wealth generated (for my teams and for our customers) it all ends up as nothing in the end – it simply does not last forever.

It made me want to change a number of things dramatically, throw something out entirely while radically shift the focus on some of the things that I am currently doing. Knowing myself well enough it’s better that I give these things a bit more thought before pulling any trigger, but the reminder was poignant.

As you review your company, your role, your responsibilities, and the things that you do with your time, are they making the impact that you had hoped? Knowing that they will not last forever, does this change anything in your own mind and perhaps your heart?

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