To boldly go Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

If you were a jet pilot who just learned that there was a nuclear device on board and the jet would blow up if you landed it, how would you react?

That is one of the hypothetical questions that Kevin Hell’s interview team at DivX Inc. asks potential management employees, and Hell says the boldness of the candidate’s answer speaks volumes about that person’s character.

“We need to be able to think creatively and boldly about where the market can go because we are pioneers as a company in this space,” says the CEO of the 341-employee company. “From a leadership perspective, we’ve got to be able to look at things completely fresh and not accept certain things. That’s an important aspect in the leadership team.”

Hell, whose digital media company posted 2007 revenue of $84.9 million, has assembled a leadership team whose experience levels and skills represent every area of the company.

Smart Business spoke with Hell about how to organize your managers to move your company forward.

Combine experience and fresh thinking. We have a mixture of a couple of guys who’ve been here from nearly the beginning and some new leadership that has joined more recently over the last year or so. It’s a good combination of deep knowledge of the space and continuity, plus some new folks who really have some tremendous world-class backgrounds.

It gives our company the best of both worlds. Having people here who’ve been with the business from the very beginning — and who know all the ins and outs of the business — is very helpful, but also bringing in some new talented management, as the business scales, allows us to continue to improve our processes and the overall focus for the company.

Do your homework. Over time, we’ve added more members to the team and did some specific searches around bringing in people who had the right background. It meant finding people who had the right cultural fit. Culture is a very important part of what makes a company successful.

We have a cultural part of the interview process. We bring some folks in — and they can be fairly junior people in the organization — that are trained to do cultural interviews to assess the fit aspect. We’re looking for certain dimensions and certain attributes that the interviewees will have that are similar to what we do here.

Being able to work as part of a team and being bold and willing to take risks, these are the things that we look for in individuals that make this a successful place over time. We ask a variety of questions about how people approach life in general to try to get to how they think about culture, and it’s worked pretty effectively.

Make teamwork your priority. One of the most important things is being able to work as part of the team to achieve a higher goal. That’s one thing that I hold very high just because it makes us successful. If people are thinking about how we as a team can succeed, versus how the individual can succeed, it makes a big difference in terms of the outcomes.

Teamwork is incredibly important. When I see people working together to solve problems, we can do a lot of stuff. When people are working against each other, it prevents us from moving forward. You can spend a lot of energy internally not moving forward.

We’re in a business where we’ve got some big competitors — Microsoft and Apple — so we’ve got to be able to react quickly. It requires a concerted effort, and we all need to be going in the same direction with a clear vision and clear teamwork.

Look for brain power. The other thing that we look for in the cultural interview is just a certain amount of pure smarts and competence. We have to be able to manage a fairly complex ecosystem and to make a market, much like Microsoft did in the early days.

Being able to do that requires some pretty smart people, and so all of the management team needs to get our business and understand the complexities of our business. Above and beyond just generic management skills, it requires people who are very smart.

Balance boldness with accountability. As a pioneer and as a leader, we’re solving a problem that nobody else has solved yet, and we’re trying to create this interoperable ecosystem of devices that allow you to consume digital media.

To do that, we’ve got to be able to think creatively. We’ve got to be able to think dynamically about the market, and that requires a certain breed of individual to be successful.

The company’s leaders need to understand the complexities of the market we operate in and how the market will respond to various things that we’re doing. It requires judgment and a deep understanding of the market. If a job candidate has those things, then that person is better able to take smart risks ultimately so that they pay off.

One thing we can do is take a risk, but then, do we actually execute properly to give the risk the best chance of being successful? That’s been a big emphasis for us as we’ve continued to mature and get larger as a company.

HOW TO REACH: DivX Inc., (858) 882-0600 or www.divx.com