A real business leader

I’ve met and interviewed hundreds of CEOs and, while you get a sense with many of them that they have leadership skills — after all, why are they CEO if they don’t — it’s rare that you hear a story that so clearly defines a real business leader.

Yesterday I met such a guy: Chairman of Rackspace, Graham Weston.

Why do I know he’s a business leader? Well, let’s back up and start from the top.

Yesterday he drove me around the neighborhood in Windcrest, Texas.

This is not a place you’d probably like to live. It’s economically depressed. How depressed? Well, even the local Walmart closed down.

We drove around and I saw store after store that was shuttered. Evidence of the economic troubles this neighborhood is going through is all around.

So, when Jack Leonhart, mayor of Windcrest, came to Graham and asked him to move Rackspace’s headquarters there, it’d be understandable if Weston would have answered “thanks, but no thanks.”

He probably should have, because when he brought that idea back to Rackspace’s employees and executives they thought he had been doing some illegal drugs somewhere.

It was an idea that everyone hated so much, several Rackspace executives and employees told me, that when Rackspace hired a firm to do focus groups with employees that firm quit after almost getting assaulted at employee meetings. They thought it was a hopeless idea.

After all, there was even a well-publicized shooting at the bus stop in front of the mall.

But today Rackspace is moving into the mall (video of Graham showing me the mall from the outside), right on schedule, and everyone we talked with yesterday thought it was the most exciting thing that Rackspace had ever done.

Wait a freaking second. How did one guy who had an absolutely crazy idea that 1,400 people hated, including his partners, turn this all around in about a year?

Leadership.

Don’t take my word for it, listen in as I talk to Graham and Rackspace co-founder Dirk Elmendorf about this. Elmendorf, in the video, told how Weston convinced 1,400 people one-by-one and turned a crazy idea into reality.

Business leadership. There it is. Thank you to Rob La Gesse who introduced me to not just Graham and Dirk, but a whole range of interesting geeks in San Antonio, TX. That video shows us at a beer fest last night where I met one of the guys who built the first Wifi modem along with a famous developer who built much of the stuff behind the Amiga.

We shot most of the interview on our HD camcorders, so we’ll have that up on FastCompany.tv in a couple of weeks.

In that interview you’ll hear his latest crazy ideas: he’s opening up Rackspace to the community and won’t build a security fence around the Rackspace plant to keep them out. In fact, he’s putting a park right in front of the building. More of that and more about Rackspace’s business in the interview we did with our professional equipment.

28 thoughts on “A real business leader

  1. @Court Typically the residents of Windcrest are pretty well off financially. Alot of them are retired military or families who have always lived there. Unfortunately this affluence hasn’t transferred to the local economy, especially retail outlets along Walzem Rd. where the mall is located. This was one reason the city offered lots of incentives to Rackspace to relocate there, in order to try and jumpstart the economy.

  2. @Court Typically the residents of Windcrest are pretty well off financially. Alot of them are retired military or families who have always lived there. Unfortunately this affluence hasn’t transferred to the local economy, especially retail outlets along Walzem Rd. where the mall is located. This was one reason the city offered lots of incentives to Rackspace to relocate there, in order to try and jumpstart the economy.

  3. @Court

    The Windsor Park area just recently became part of Windcrest. Windcrest is a ritzy suburb. The Windsor Park area is section eight housing and a run down mall.

    I doubt your girlfriends rich parents hang out in Windsor Park – unless they hang out at flea marts and pawn shops.

  4. @Court

    The Windsor Park area just recently became part of Windcrest. Windcrest is a ritzy suburb. The Windsor Park area is section eight housing and a run down mall.

    I doubt your girlfriends rich parents hang out in Windsor Park – unless they hang out at flea marts and pawn shops.

  5. My girlfriend’s very rich parents live in Windcrest, which is a suburb of San Antonio anyway. Must be two sides to the story I guess.

  6. My girlfriend’s very rich parents live in Windcrest, which is a suburb of San Antonio anyway. Must be two sides to the story I guess.

  7. I’m not asking for live video subtitling, which is not feasible and cost-prohibitive to do.

    All I’m asking for is a good faith effort on the part of FastCompany to make available the subtitles within a day or two for any videos generated for the site.

  8. I’m not asking for live video subtitling, which is not feasible and cost-prohibitive to do.

    All I’m asking for is a good faith effort on the part of FastCompany to make available the subtitles within a day or two for any videos generated for the site.

  9. @3. Scoble it seems lately your objective is more focused on the method of getting your stories out…using Qik. Rather than getting a great story out to as many people as you can reach using the right tools. Qik seems more useful when doing videos of limited imterest to a limited audience. This story could be a Dateline type story as it is more human interest than tech. So it behooves you to be prepared to make it available to as many as possible. Qik is a cool tool but I don’t think its sufficient for your overall business goals

  10. not going to have much fiber round there for the wan links are they – they of course have diverse routing from more than one carier and in separate trenches to diferent Exchanges (Central Offices) dont they ? oh and teh backup microwave links :-)

  11. not going to have much fiber round there for the wan links are they – they of course have diverse routing from more than one carier and in separate trenches to diferent Exchanges (Central Offices) dont they ? oh and teh backup microwave links :-)

  12. @3. Scoble it seems lately your objective is more focused on the method of getting your stories out…using Qik. Rather than getting a great story out to as many people as you can reach using the right tools. Qik seems more useful when doing videos of limited imterest to a limited audience. This story could be a Dateline type story as it is more human interest than tech. So it behooves you to be prepared to make it available to as many as possible. Qik is a cool tool but I don’t think its sufficient for your overall business goals

  13. Great post and great story.
    I think Graham will be more happy if you fix a typo on his surname (Weston not Westin).
    Looks like you are spending too much time in hotels ;-)
    stv

  14. Great post and great story.
    I think Graham will be more happy if you fix a typo on his surname (Weston not Westin).
    Looks like you are spending too much time in hotels ;-)
    stv

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  16. Jared: I understand your request, but when doing videos from cell phones it’s hard to even add text titles, not to mention full-blown video subtitles. I’m trying to get a budget to do those for our professional, videos, though.

    I’m not opposed to getting you the source files, though, if you want to do them for us.

  17. Jared: I understand your request, but when doing videos from cell phones it’s hard to even add text titles, not to mention full-blown video subtitles. I’m trying to get a budget to do those for our professional, videos, though.

    I’m not opposed to getting you the source files, though, if you want to do them for us.

  18. I would like to “listen” in to this interview. Here’s a news flash for you: not everyone can hear. You have never included subtitles with your video clips, despite many requests to do so. You are not attracting Deaf visitors but many others who are able to read/prefer English subtitles.

    It’s very easy to add subtitles to your video if you have direct control over the original content:
    http://jarednevans.typepad.com/blog/2008/01/high-quality-vi.html

    You can also use http://overstream.net to add subtitles if you don’t have direct control over your video clips.

  19. I would like to “listen” in to this interview. Here’s a news flash for you: not everyone can hear. You have never included subtitles with your video clips, despite many requests to do so. You are not attracting Deaf visitors but many others who are able to read/prefer English subtitles.

    It’s very easy to add subtitles to your video if you have direct control over the original content:
    http://jarednevans.typepad.com/blog/2008/01/high-quality-vi.html

    You can also use http://overstream.net to add subtitles if you don’t have direct control over your video clips.

  20. I remember going to that mall as a kid and it was a pretty happening place. It’s a bit saddening at the lack of economic development in that area. It was nice to hear about Rackspace moving in, and the incentives the city offered them to do so. I did find it interesting that the CEO said San Antonio doesn’t flood , considering they have experienced two 1000 year floods in the last 10 years.

  21. I remember going to that mall as a kid and it was a pretty happening place. It’s a bit saddening at the lack of economic development in that area. It was nice to hear about Rackspace moving in, and the incentives the city offered them to do so. I did find it interesting that the CEO said San Antonio doesn’t flood , considering they have experienced two 1000 year floods in the last 10 years.

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