I consciously notice the floors of the buildings that I visit and try to identify the people who occupy these floors.
That’s where I see interesting patterns between management styles and the floors of buildings:
The Ground Floor
The people on the ground floor are ‘hands on’.
Mop in the hand, doing the dirty work. Sitting in an office that has no cabins. Talking to the people around them while trying to manage the crowds that come in. Quickly getting hot and tired. Blowing their fuse while trying to be civil. Just wanting to do everything themselves.
The challenge being on the ground floor is that it’s easy to lose perspective. You can’t elevate yourself and peep outside - to get a chance to view what’s new and happening in the big wide world outside or spot encroachments that appear dangerously near you. Your life begins and ends on the ground floor.
All the firms I work with and respect in my personal capacity – my PR & Travel agencies, Tax and Investment Consultants, etc. neatly fall in this category. The more the business leans towards ‘service’, the more it seems rooted on the ground floor. The owners of these ground floor shops are busy running their businesses while personally attending to demanding customers like myself. They rarely get a break to do ‘bigger’ things.
They are martyrs who are happy the way they are.
The 5th Floor
It’s that in-between, hanging, middle floor. Stuck between the ground floor and the top floors. If you operate from the 5th floor, you are involved in day-to-day ops and once in a while manage to get out and lean forward. You can leave your job or work unattended for say a week, before things go crazy.
It takes hard working people a while to reach the 5th floor. So it’s not even easy to abandon.
This also seems to be the ‘inflection’ floor for lots of entrepreneurs. You can get a view of the world outside and can really see where you stand in your current position and where you can reach.
In early 2008, I met an entrepreneur in San Francisco who ran a Photo Sharing website (piczo.com) for teen and tween girls. The business was fully funded by Sierra Venture Partners. Clearly, this Company and the entrepreneur were on the 5th Floor. The CEO could see the Facebook Tsunami hurtling towards him and yet could do very little to escape. He was so patient during our girls’ games discussion while silently acknowledging the death by drowning that awaited him.
My humble advise to those on the 5th floor is to stand on your window ledge and try to climb upwards. Do whatever you can to ascend that building even if it means using your bare hands and feet like Spiderman – with lots of hard work, prayers and hope thrown in. In the end, if you stumble and fall, it will be worth it because it’s better to launch again and aim for the to once again rather than getting stuck on the 5th floor.
The Club Floor (One below the top)
It’s the floor that belongs to those who have arrived. The kind of floor that’s always granted a special status. It’s the floor everyone wants to visit and check out. The occupants have the world at their feet, silently comfortable with the fact that they are living with one more floor above them.
Unfortunately, heights make some people nauseous. You have to have a strong demeanor to enjoy the height - while not falling sick.
I place Jerry Yang and Yahoo! at the Club Level. Both are cult brands and have attained a very lofty status. However the height of success made Yahoo dizzy. It fumbled. The mist surrounding that floor made Jerry Yang miss the big revolution of Search and Social and he along with his Company now remain humbled forever.
Say what you may, Yahoo will always remain an iconic media brand worth billions of dollars. They have their name etched in Gold on the ‘floor plan’ in the building lobby forever.
The Penthouse (with high speed elevators)
Google occupies the Penthouse. So does Facebook. Twitter and Linkedin will join them soon. These Penthouses come with special elevators, which are only meant for the owners of that floor.
The promoters of all these Companies have one amazing similarity – they ride their Penthouse’s high-speed elevators with a vengeance! One moment they are on the ground floor starting up new features and businesses from scratch - the next they are on the 5th floor reviewing what’s happened within the business and then, kaboom – they are back in their Penthouse doing mega deals.
Just look at the way Google monopolized search, bought YouTube, Admob and routinely buys businesses almost every week.
Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Marc Zuckerberg actually own not just the Penthouse but also THE Building. Each and every floor belongs to them and they are comfortable being on whichever floor the situation demands.
The Terrace (with the Helipad)
Rupert Murdoch and Steve Ballmer come to my mind when I think of Terraces with Helipads.
They have the Capital to ‘land’ anywhere, arrive on top of any building as they please and then buy it if they want. "Hey – the MySpace building looks interesting; let’s just buy the damn thing. I like this tower called 'Search'. Let’s just call it Bing.com and party like never before."
The guys on terraces with helipads fly out when they feel like. One building more or less doesn’t mean anything for them. Observe how MySpace is crumbling and Bing.com is going nowhere. Now look carefully and see that the party is getting wound up as the helicopter’s pilot is whipping up his blades to fly the owners to the terrace of another building.
The Murdochs and Ballmers of the world can never repeat the glory of starting at the Ground Floor and climbing to the Penthouse. They are too spoilt and old.
The Terrace (without a Helipad)
ADAG and the Sahara Group are on terraces, which, unfortunately, don't have a Helipad.
Their buildings are on fire (ADAG earned the distinction of being the ultimate wealth destroyer last year).
All the floors (see the businesses of these groups) have major problems on them. There are leaks, foul smells and a general rot in their buildings. Sure, from the outside they still look attractive, but those are pretty looking scaffoldings that will soon unravel.
ADAG ‘inherited’ the building with all the floors which is surrounded by crooks and sycophants whose interest is only in looting the furniture and valuables of the building and then take off (Career plan for the unambitious – join ADAG for few years, make a salary of a lifetime and then quit happily ever after).
Such buildings are not only self-destructive but also dangerous – they will ruin the buildings around them when they fall.
Finally, given that we have traveled from the Ground Floor to the Terrace, the point to ponder is not to get stuck on the floor that you are on but to make sure you carefully move UP from whichever floor you are on.
so... which floor are you on now alok?!