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Leadership Development > Small Business

Choosing the Right People: 5 Lessons from Gilt Groupe’s CEO“At the end of the day, it isn’t just about a having a visionary idea or business plan. It’s about employees who bring passion and flawless execution.”

Such is how Kevin Ryan began – and set the tone for – his keynote address, Hirer’s Remorse? Why 80 Percent of Business is Choosing the Right People, at the recent Inc500/5000 Conference & Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Ryan should know a thing or two about what it takes to grow and run a business. He has launched several New York-based businesses, including Gilt Groupe (for which he is the current CEO), Business Insider, ShopWiki, 10gen/MongoDB, and, not least of all, DoubleClick, which he helped grow from a 20-person startup to a worldwide company with over 1,500 employees.

Drawing from his own experience, Ryan discussed the beliefs and practices that have fueled his success as a business leader, the foundation of which, are based on people.

Rules to Live – and Lead – By
Lessons from Gilt Groupe Founder and CEO Kevin Ryan

  • Don’t just say people are your greatest asset. Believe it. “Your idea isn’t what’s separating you. It’s the execution. And that goes back to people,” Ryan says. While companies tend to claim that people are the most important thing to their business, they don’t really believe it. Instead, they operate under the illusion that products or ideas – not the people – determine success. If you want your company to be successful, recognize that people truly are your greatest asset – and you should treat them as such.
  • Make recruitment your primary job. “Do you spend more time recruiting and managing people than anything else by far?” Ryan asked the crowd of entrepreneurs and small business leaders. Ryan says he spends as much time with head of HR as he does with CFO, because the two are equally important. “It’s just as strategic,” he says. “I want someone who not only has the skills to be head of HR, but who also has business skills as well.”
  • Create success for your employees – even if it mean they won’t be your employees anymore. If you were the coach of a professional sports team, Ryan says, you would constantly be evaluating your players to ensure the team is operating at its best at all times, wouldn’t you?  The same goes for your organization. Don’t be afraid to say to an employee whose no longer a fit for your company or performing to your company’s highest standards, “Maybe this isn’t the right company for you. I want you to be successful, and I don’t think it’s here.”  If someone’s not working out, it’s your job as CEO to address it; otherwise, the more you let it go, the more you let the problem fester, the greater chance you have of ruining the morale and the performance of the whole team down the line.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of the reference check. Of the three main steps in the hiring process – resume, interview and reference check – Ryan says, people tend to over-evaluate the first two and under-value the third. “When I think of why people don’t succeed, it’s not because they don’t have technical skills. It’s because of those intangibles that don’t come up in interview that are hard to judge.” Reference, therefore, are the key to finding out if those candidates have the intangibles you need. “People who worked with that person know,” Ryan says.
  • Be the person you want to work for. “There’s a saying that A-level people hire A-level people, and B-level people hire C-level people…but I think it’s actually that A-level people want to work with A-level people, and the B-level people who are hiring can only get C-level people,” Ryan told the crowd.  “People will put up with a tremendous amount of unrest [at a company] if they wake up every day and think, ‘I like my managers. He/she supports me, and I’m learning from that person,’” Ryan says. He attributes Gilt’s low rate of turnover to the company’s “obsessive focus” on making sure employees are constantly having fun, learning, being challenged and being recognized.

In closing, Ryan made sure to reiterate that his number one focus as CEO isn’t on business results, but on people. “People, people, people. That’s what I do all day.”

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.


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