Snowflake CEO calls his role ‘incredibly divisive’ and hits out at executives who ‘sit back and expect greatness’

Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman has advice for young business leaders: Turn up the intensity and get used to confrontation.

Slootman is now in his third CEO role, and in each time he has led a company to a successful IPO. This includes data hardware maker Data Domain in 2007, cloud software giant ServiceNow in 2012, and most recently data warehousing company Snowflake in 2020.

A problem he saw with young CEOs: “They just think, ‘I hire a bunch of people, and then I sit and wait for greatness.’ They have no idea that they have to relentlessly drive every second of the day, every interaction, and seek confrontation,” Slootman told the No history podcast in an episode released on Thursday.

Look no further than a DMV office to see a lack of urgency among workers, he suggested. “That’s what happens naturally to human beings,” he said. “It’s innate. We slow down to an icy pace unless there are people who are going to drive the pace and the pace and the intensity and the urgency. This is what leaders must do.

CEOs have to constantly “push the urgency,” he said, even though it’s “really hard to have the mental energy to bring that to every instance today.”

Another CEO known for ramping up the intensity is Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who, after taking over Twitter last October and laying off half of the workforce, demanded that the remaining employees commit to a corporate culture.” extremely hard” involving “long hours at high intensity”. .”

“Frank Slootman is the Elon Musk of enterprise software,” tweeted Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, in August 2020.

Like Musk, Slootman has courted controversy. In June 2021, the politically conservative CEO caused a backlash after telling Bloomberg that when hiring or promoting employees, Snowflake should focus more on merit than diversity goals, a view which he said other leaders shared but were reluctant to express publicly. He later apologized to “anyone who may have been hurt or offended by my comments”, which “may have led some to infer that I believe diversity and merit are mutually exclusive”.

A year earlier, he admitted he had little patience for employee activism and “social justice issues,” viewing them as distractions. He likened his leadership style to a “unique focus” similar to that exhibited by his idol, General George Patton (whom President Dwight Eisenhower removed from command following inflammatory comments).

This year, Montana-based Snowflake bucked the trend of tech layoffs, saying in March — when it reported 54% year-over-year revenue growth — that it planned to hire more than 1,000 employees, after adding 2,000 last year. Shares of Snowflake are up about 30% year-to-date at $176, but are well below their November 2021 all-time high, when they briefly topped $400.

On the podcast, Slootman described a founder-CEO, whom he did not identify, who stayed home when someone needed to be fired, asking his CFO to do it instead, “because it’s so hard, and it’s, like, ‘I don’t have the disposition for it.’ We understand that, but there are people in the business who have to do this stuff,” he said.

He added: “CEO jobs are incredibly divisive, which is not human nature. We don’t like that. We are not naturally conflicted. We avoid it.

When asked if he was worried about losing talent if his demanding culture caused people to leave the company, he replied, “Well, if they leave, they should leave. That’s the big thing… You attract the good guys and you start losing the bad guys, so it’s actually pretty perfect.

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