Where Einstein Meets Edison

Words from the Wise

Words from the Wise

Feb 13, 2011

In January I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Levy, Ph.D, Chairman and longtime leader of Silicon Valley’s medical juggernaut, Varian. I found him to be as gracious as he is impressive, which is saying a lot considering his role in guiding Varian from $2b to $20b. With 35 years of experience in the Valley, Dr. Levy has developed a unique perspective on SV’s growth. However, it was his management expertise that impressed me the most. My meeting with Dr. Levy was the densest interview I have ever had the pleasure of participating in. In typical MIT fashion, it was like drinking from a fire hose. Applicable to managers of large organizations and leaders of startups alike, his advice is gold!  

Levy’s Rules

1.     Nothing is ever as bad as it seems or as good as it seems. Don’t over-react.

2.     It’s easier to initiate a program than to stop one.

3.     The most important step toward solving a problem is to take the time to understand it at the beginning.

4.     Short projects are better than long projects.

5.     There is no magic formula for good leadership. The situation defines the need.

6.     Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Good execution is rare. – Arthur Rock

7.     Employees are usually self-motivated. Managers de-motivate them.

8.     There is nothing more effective than a team in which nobody cares who gets the credit.

9.     Focus on the goal is more important than excellence for its own sake.

10.  Hire people with good skills and never stop training them.

11.  Repeat a message at least 7 times and keep it simple if you want it to sink in.

12.  Change is good, status quo is bad.

13.  Speeches accomplish less than management by walking around (MBWA), setting an example, and demonstrating good practice.

14.  Set standards for everything, meet them religiously.

15.  Motivate the team with real goals for improving the world, not just business goals for profit and market share.

16.  Community and society are just as important stakeholders as investors.

17.  Peer pressure trumps management edicts.

18.  Policy and strategy decisions that evolve upward from real-life situations are more relevant than top-down decisions, especially in a rapidly changing environment’

19.  The great things in business occur at the interfaces of functions.

20.  Facilitate renegades and small-scale experiments in new ways of doing business.

21.  It’s easy to emphasize either the short term or the long term. The trick is to do both.

22.  Discuss and debate strategy endlessly. Involve diverse groups.

23.  Too few people on a project are more effective than too many people.

24.  Evolutionary, piecemeal change is usually more effective than revolutionary change.

          a.     Well-managed evolutionary change usually precludes the need for revolutionary change.

25.  The best indicator of a good successor candidate is that person’s history in developing his/her own successors.

My time at Varian was definitely the highlight of my trek to Silicon Valley. And now for the hard part… employing his advice!


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