The CEO of tech giant VMware gave us his best advice for becoming a CEO

James Cook
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

VMware

Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Silicon Valley tech giant VMware, has a remarkable career history.

He was born in Pennsylvania and grew up working on the family farm. "Our family raised dairy cows, pigs, soybeans, and sorghum," Gelsinger told Forbes.

But when he was a teenager, Gelsinger stumbled into the technology industry after trying out a trade-school test. He now refers to the exam as "my great accident."

Gelsinger was given some career advice by EMC cofounder Jack Egan, who told him to "dress like a CEO" and "learn corporate finance," according to Forbes.

But is that still the best way to become a CEO? We asked Gelsinger during an interview at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona what advice he'd give for someone climbing the corporate ladder.

Identify gaps in your knowledge

"Normally someone has followed a career progression to get to the point where you are considered to be the CEO," Gelsinger said, "and [in] that career progression normally you are progressing through a discipline or a small number of disciplines that gets you to that point.

"When you become the CEO you're managing all disciplines, whether it's legal, whether it's finance, whether it's operations, whether it's sales. So you almost always show up with inadequacies in your vitae of the areas that you don't have firsthand experience in."

How do you identify those gaps in your knowledge? Gelsinger said that people should look at the CEO of their company and compare their skills with their CEO's skills. How do they measure up? When you see your gaps, Gelsinger said, you should figure out how to fill them.

"The career advice I've given to people is number one, do a great job in whatever role you're in, and number two prepare yourself for the next role you want to be in."

Gelsinger explained that the career advice he was given by Egan can be summarised to identifying gaps in your knowledge and making an effort to fill them.

'Keep broadening you beyond where you are'

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington has a company called Thrive which focuses on teaching CEOs and employees how to be more mindful and focus on getting enough sleep. How does Gelsinger feel about that?

"I find that I'm a pretty wired guy," he said. "It's pretty common in the CEO ranks. I work hard, I'm up early, I run a pretty intense schedule. I don't find I need a lot of vacation.

"I find my family needs me to take vacations. In a couple of weeks we're going on a cruise. I've had a bucket list item to go and cruise the Amazon. So literally we're starting at Manaus, Brazil then we're cruising down the Amazon and up to the Caribbean.

"You have to do things to keep broadening you beyond where you are. Keep refreshing you. Because it’s a consuming job. In the CEO job, you should say I want to be in this role for a decade. And are you living at a pace where you can do it for a decade or beyond as well? Some people really need relaxation and beach time."

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