Why I stepped down as Percona CEO and what lies ahead
Earlier this month I stepped down as Percona’s CEO and took the “Founder” role instead. In this blog post I will share more about my journey and what is next for me. What is next for Percona was already covered by Percona’s new CEO – Ann Schlemmer on Percona Blog.
Some of you know that I was born in the Soviet Union into a family of Scientists, so I can’t say that I was attracted to Entrepreneurship from an early age. In that era, what could be called entrepreneurship was illegal and generally frowned upon. However, from a young age you could say that I was a “nonconformist,” willing to challenge the status quo and do things my own way.
It is a happy coincidence that by the time I entered my teen years the Soviet regime fell together with the Soviet Union, otherwise I probably would have been in much more trouble than I was.
At that time I didn’t yet know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew it had to be something where I could make my own way, rather than “taking orders” and doing other people’s errands.
Beyond that, what might be called a streak of independence, I have learned that my interests tend to be broad and change rapidly, and while I can be extremely productive working on what is in my area of interest now, I find it exceptionally difficult to pursue what is outside of that area.
Working at MySQL AB, I’m very thankful to Tom Basil, who adapted to my unusual style and gave me an unusual amount of freedom. If he had really required me to do everything I technically had to do (e.g., provide a weekly report every week), he probably would have had to fire me.
All my life I have been focused on self-improvement, and in the beginning I focused on modeling myself as a perfect person that could only be found in books and Hollywood movies. With life experience, I discovered that such people do not exist, and everyone is fucked up in their own way – it’s just that some hide it better than others. As a result, I started to be more accepting of myself, my gifts and limitations, and more selective about areas of growth.
Ann Schlemmer was very helpful in this regard, repeatedly asking me the question “what do you need to thrive” changing my focus from just changing myself to changing my environment to support my “thriving” in Professional and Personal life.
Another interesting question raised by Randy Nelson was about “Things” that give me energy rather than drain it, because for mental workers, energy is more important than time. I decided that to thrive I needed to structure my activities so as to maximize the things that give me energy and limit the things that drain me.
I have also found that some of the best ideas and decisions come to me when I’m not doing what we call normal focused work, but when I let my mind run free. This is one of the reasons why I love climbing mountains or going for long runs.
As I went through this part of the self-learning, I realized that the Percona CEO position was no longer a good fit for me or for Percona. Running a 16-year-old company with 350 employees is impossible without doing things which excite you when they excite you. I’m very thankful to the Percona Executive team for creating an environment in which I could work, even though I drew some of them crazy.
Eventually, I transferred more and more day-to-day operations to our President (at the time) Ann Schlemmer, and I remain CEO in name only. It was time to bring the title in alignment with the actual work.
My title “Founder” at Percona is intentionally loose, reflecting the fact that an overly structured position is not the best way for me to contribute to the continued success of Percona. As a Founder, I plan to participate in the Percona Community, Customers, and help shape the future of Percona products in a variety of ways.
However, Percona is not the only project I plan to devote time to. My interests are broader than the Percona business, and over the past few years I have been involved in one form or another in creating, mentoring, and advising many other companies, some of which you can see on my LinkedIn profile.
This is another area in which I’ve done some soul searching – what model do I want to follow? Will it be Sam Walton or Ingvar Kamprad, who have spent a lifetime building single business, Wayne Huizenga who has built several successful businesses one after the other, Elon Musk who manages to be CEO of many companies he started at the same time or Sir Richard Branson who has been involved in the birth and success of a large number of businesses, but is not involved in their day-to-day management.
I think Sir Richard Branson’s path (though of course on a much smaller scale) is the best for me, and the best way for me to benefit the Universe.
As such I’m planning to Advice/Mentor/Invest and otherwise help various organizations rather than trying to focus on one thing and one thing only.
I started the company “Renegade Underdogs” to be an umbrella organization for these other ventures.
However, this is not all work. Another thing I was reflecting upon is when I just want to maximize my professional achievements at expense of everything else. I have always cared about “work-life balance” at Percona – Vadim and I started Percona just as our second children were born, and in the early days we ended up refusing a lot of business that required us to take long trips away from the family.
With this change though I’m planning to allocate more time for “fun” – activities which keep me healthy, make me happy, and give me energy. This is also good for business (at least I like to think of it this way) as it’s when good ideas or innovative solutions to problems come to me.