Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Personal Strength of Self-Development: Rackspace's Dynamic CEO, Lanham Napier

Monday we arrived home from Nashville, and we were greeted by our three cats, a pile of mail, and a pile of newspapers. My wife went straight to the Sunday (May 2, 2010) edition of the San Antonio Express-News, to see if her new article was published in the Travel section. 

"You need to read this," she said. She was referring to a front page article by staff writer David Saleh Rauf, entitled, "Business Whiz Has Rackspace Rocking." It was about Lanham Napier, CEO of San Antonio company Rackspace, which sells websites and web-based services. It's a fast-growing company with revenues approaching $1 billion. Napier himself was recently included in Forbes' "15 most powerful CEOs under 40."

My next-door neighbor is a manager at Rackspace, so I continued reading. I wanted to know how Napier became such a successful CEO.

Before long, I got my answer. After graduating from Rice University, he got a job as an investment banker. But his real passion was to grow a company himself. Later, as an MBA student at Harvard, he called Silver Ventures, a San Antonio venture capital firm owned by Pace Foods. He wanted to be an intern. "Just hire me as your apprentice," he told them. "If I'm an idiot, you can fire me." He got the internship, and after graduation he stayed on as an employee there.

His Harvard classmates, who sought jobs at big consulting firms and investment banks, thought he was crazy. But Napier had something else in mind. He wasn't done learning. "What a priceless education," he said. "If you want to be a business nerd and go learn from the masters, that's what I got."

So there was my answer. He invested in his own development. He did what Jim Rohn once famously advised: "Work harder on yourself than you do on your job."

In 2000 he accepted a job as CFO at start-up Rackspace. Six months later, he was promoted to President. His visionary and energetic leadership helped the company grow, and in 2006 he became CEO.

What's remarkable to me is that his a passion to build a business was so intense that instead of following the traditional path to success, he risked everything and worked hard to gain the knowledge and skills he needed to pursue his dream.

Thank you, David, for your fine article. A very nice welcome-home, indeed.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Ryan said...

This is the point where I knew he was going to be successful..."His Harvard classmates, who sought jobs at big consulting firms and investment banks, thought he was crazy."

When peers think you're nuts your onto something special. The status quo is for ordinary people. Buck the trend and you could be destined for greatness.

In addition it teaches the lesson that logic can't compete with a strong passion. When you want something badly enough you'll do what virtually everyone else *reasons through* is a bad or silly idea. Follow the heart for it Knows.

Thanks for sharing this inspiration Denny :)

Meredith Bell said...

There are so many powerful lessons for business leaders in this article, Denny. Lanham Napier is a role model for dozens of the personal strengths you write about. Thanks for bringing the article about this visionary, courageous executive to our attention.