What a CEO should be thinking about

I had the opportunity recently to meet with the inimitable Donna Payne, CEO of PayneGroup.  I have been a groupie of Donna’s since she changed my world by talking about PowerPoint metadata back in 2000 when I was doing applications at a law firm.  Since then, we’ve been social media buddies and even co-presented on using social media to the vendors at ILTA ’09.  I was pretty thrilled when she made time in her busy day to chat with me.

What became very clear during our conversation was how focused Donna is on what I can only describe as “CEO stuff”.  Even though she has successfully created a premier company in the legal space that writes top-shelf metadata, formatting, and numbering software, does high-level consulting, and provides some of the best training around, she’s not just sitting around and trying to make sales.  Here’s why I think her brain is in the right place:

  • She cares for her team.  A LOT.  She has a yoga instructor come in once a week to help with stress (and it’s just fun!).  She specifically cited my On Burnout post as something she diligently attempts to avoid having anyone on her team experience.  And I think her caring has paid off–most of her senior team has been with her more than a decade.  That’s something like 30,000 years in the software space, I think.
  • She sees her company’s potential weaknesses and attacks them before they become REAL weaknesses.  This goes along with watching her team for burnout; she’s also watching for any potential internal or external weaknesses so that she can address them quickly.  I like to call this “preventive maintenance”, and I’ll bet that it saves her company a ton of cash in the long run.
  • She is constantly thinking about her company’s next steps. Donna is thinking 10+ years into the future of her company, and is taking action right now in order to bring that future about.  She’s not content to just have one of the best companies out there–she’s looking for what’s next, and she’s not afraid to take risks in order to get there.
  • She’s actively thinking about the industry’s next steps.  Even though a lot of law firms are scared of the cloud and might not want to touch non-Microsoft applications for a long time, Donna is actively thinking about them and planning for when the industry becomes less hesitant.
In a nutshell, this is what I think a CEO should be thinking about: her people, preventing potential weaknesses, the company’s next steps, and the industry’s next steps.  I believe that this is why PayneGroup has lasted since 1994, weathering the dot-com bust and the most recent recession.  I look forward to seeing what Donna will do with PayneGroup to take it through the next few decades!