Vik Verma: ‘People should have no fear about calling the CEO an idiot’

Vik Verma chief executive of 8x8

Vik Verma, the CEO of Silicon Valley telecommunications firm 8×8 – a specialist in voice-over internet protocol services – talks Gene Hackman movies, waterslides and his wife’s attempts to cure his nomophobia

Every Wednesday lunchtime at 8×8, I don an apron and dish up food for staff. It’s called Eat Together Wednesday, where management serves food to employees. It becomes a unifying force, where the entire team, such as the 500 people in our San Jose office, sits down and gets to know each other.

My best ideas come to me in the shower. There’s just one problem. In California, we’re having a drought, so my showers are getting shorter!

I’m a big fan of the Beatles song With a Little Help from My Friends. For me, ideas are about collaboration. There are very few people who are just pure visionary leaders like Steve Jobs.

My sales team recently challenged me to go down a waterslide in my street clothes. If I did it, they reckoned they would have a record quarter. So I did it. To guarantee they’d have a record six months, I did it twice.

A Gene Hackman film made a helluva impression on me. Hoosiers is about an Indiana basketball side, where Hackman plays a coach melding a team of players with different capabilities. They work together and win the state championship, against schools 10 times their size… I’m not a big fan of messiah CEOs, chest-thumpers or prima donnas, but I am a big advocate of everybody doing the job well together and driving it forward with the same shared values.

My holidays tend to be African safaris or cruises in Alaska. I suspect my wife plans these vacations because she knows these are places with no cell phone coverage, and she knows it is hard for me to completely shut down. In Alaska, I was hanging out of the ship, trying to get the last vestiges of a mobile signal.

The most powerful brainstorming exercise is focusing on what you don’t do well. Telling us what you like is the least important thing – I want to know what we’re not doing well. I often ask customers to tell us 10 things they dislike about the company, then bring my engineers to see it. It’s never easy to hear you didn’t do something well, but you’ll never get better until you do.

People should have no fear about calling the CEO an idiot. If somebody can pick up the phone or send me an email and say, ‘Vik, this is the dumbest thing I’ve heard’, it means I’ve done my job. That transparency creates a winning culture.

My number one inspiration is chatting to staff. David Packard [Hewlett-Packard co-founder] pioneered this concept of managing by walking around. Now, I walk around the company at least two or three times a day. It’s energising – you learn more about what’s going on and what staff need [than by sitting in an office].

I do two workouts a day. From 7.30-8.30am, a trainer comes into my gym at home for a cardio/cross-trainer workout. At 7pm-ish, I play tennis with my wife. Then, I’m emailing until 10.30pm. We can blame Steve Jobs for that – it’s the connected world.



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About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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