Patrick Byrne: What do you do?
Patrick M. Byrne is the CEO of the Internet retailer Overstock.com. Byrne received his B.A. from Dartmouth, studied at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford University. He co-founded Overstock.com in 1997 and became CEO in 1999. In 2005, Byrne initiated a controversial campaign against "naked short selling" in which he accused a "Sith Lord" and various financial firms of sabotaging Overstock's share price. Byrne also serves as head of First Class Education, an education lobbying group that seeks to require that 65% of all educational spending be spent "in the classroom." A strong proponent of school vouchers, Byrne spent almost four million dollars in advertising for a bill that would have given Utah residents who enroll their children in private schools taxpayer-supported subsidies. The bill lost, 62-38%.
Patrick Byrne: Well I think of my role very much as being like a teacher, like a professor. I used to be an academic, and I’m not. It could be that I just interpret my current role that way, but you really can’t get very far just being the boss like from the Jetsons cartoon and, you know . . . Spacely Sprockets, shouting at people and giving them orders and stuff. It’s really a question of how quickly can you teach them and how quickly can they learn. And stepping back and giving people a lot of room to grow . . . In fact that’s, say, the difference between, in my view, middle management and upper management, is a middle manager is suffocating to his people. He may get a lot done, but he’s suffocating. And sometimes you have to accept a tradeoff that you’re going to be less suffocating and things might not be done as well or as quickly; but more people will learn. And the idea is to build a learning organization. I think of it almost as being like a college president, and we’re trying to build a learning organization. And there are times when I step in and . . . times when I step in to screw things up, and times when I step in and make things marginally better. I hope a few more of the latter than the former. But it’s really not about giving orders so much as creating the environment and the people who are gonna be able to carry on. Recorded on: 10/29/07
Byrne explains how he sees his role as entrepreneur.
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