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sales Legend

Mike Gamson, CEO of Relativity, on Living Your Values

Growing LinkedIn revenue from tens of millions to multiple billions is only one of the many career successes Mike Gamson has chalked up. Surprisingly, before leading LinkedIn to such heights as SVP, Global Solutions, the majority of Mike’s selling experience was during childhood. “As a kid, I had a lemonade stand, a lawn mowing business, and shoveled driveways. And I sold t-shirts in college. I was born to hustle.”

Mike even started his own business straight out of college – after turning down a job at a Manhattan investment bank. Convinced by his college buddy that he wasn’t living his values if he went to work on Wall Street, Mike went on a road trip through South and Central America instead. When he and his friend ran out of money in Costa Rica, they opened a restaurant/surf shop/youth hostel. “That’s the first job you’ll see listed on my LinkedIn profile – founder of Viva Burritos.”

I discovered that being a CEO is like being any other leader – you need to provide clarity on the what and why, and context so people who aren’t in the room where decisions happen can autonomously pursue those goals.

Though he had never managed a sales team before heading LinkedIn’s, Mike had a clear vision for the culture. “I wanted to build what was almost an anti-culture of the traditional sales environment where ex-athletes wear headsets as they walk the floor carrying a baseball bat or golf club.” Instead, Mike created a unique sales culture where he – and many others – felt they belonged.

That said, Mike is the first to tell you he was not born enlightened when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. When initially bringing on talent at LinkedIn, he hired unconsciously and ended up with many people like him. When a woman on his team pointed out that all Mike’s departments were headed by white men, Mike had a lightning-bolt moment. “That opened my eyes to getting educated about how to be a more effective modern leader.”

Mike has put as much effort and thought into what it means to be an effective parent to his kids and partner to his wife. After 11 ½ years at LinkedIn, he took time off to focus on family. “I have a serious career as a technology professional but I wash the dishes and cook at home every day. I want my kids to see we do the work together.”

These days, Mike is CEO of Relativity, a company whose software helps users organize data, discover the truth and act on it. “I discovered that being a CEO is like being any other leader – you need to provide clarity on the what and why, and context so people who aren’t in the room where decisions happen can autonomously pursue those goals.”

Some of Mike’s other keys to success:

  • Focusing on inputs. Having seen companies miss critical causal drivers of success by focusing exclusively on the output, Mike focuses on the inputs – talent – knowing the results will follow.
  • Establishing trusting relationships. Mike believes in being straightforward and upfront with people on his teams from the get-go.
  • Being flexible. Mike is open to implementing others’ ideas while iterating and being honest about both successes and failures along the way.