An Hour of Inspiration from the Etsy CEO

The other week, I heard an inspiring presentation by a man who took his hard-earned Duke undergrad degree and leveraged his newfound alumni network to score the job of a lifetime — pizza delivery guy.

Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson.

Fortunately, he didn’t stop there; otherwise I think Fuqua would have found someone different to present to us. Instead, he worked his way up the tech and web content ladder of power to become CEO of Etsy. Yes, Chad Dickerson was on campus as the latest participant in the Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

It’s very cool to get speakers of this caliber, of course, but what do we get out of it? It’s certainly not meant to rub in the fact that Mr. Dickerson can manage $900M in annual sales, while I can’t get through an Operations assignment without checking Facebook 30 times. As it turns out, learning about the rarely linear career paths that get these CEOs to where they are today can provide some useful lessons for an MBA student.

video Watch Mr. Dickerson’s full presentation.

“Give people a sense of worth about what they do.”

Most of Mr. Dickerson’s leadership experience has occurred in companies based in internet content. I think most of us had the impression that this would offer significant challenges for those of us with less technical expertise, but he asserted that at its root, leading is about people, even in tech. As an example, he spoke convincingly about coding as “creative and passionate work,” and he considers developers as part of the creative staff.

Mr. Dickerson responds to a question from Dean Bill Boulding.

Linking social good with your business model.

Etsy is a certified B Corporation, meaning that their inherent business model is based not only on profits, but also on creating social impact. As Mr. Dickerson put it, his revenue is “based on the success of other people,” namely the independent sellers that list on Etsy. He noted proudly that their social impact evaluation by B Lab led to a score of 80.1, just a hair over the passing score of 80. According to Mr. Dickerson, the evaluation creates transparency and offers a baseline for improvements. “The point is not to get the highest grade, but to have a grade at all,” he said. Amen, sir.

Mr. Dickerson chats with students.

Get very familiar with the companies you want to work for.

Many of Etsy’s employees tweet regularly. Mr. Dickerson even mentioned that he once hired an executive assistant based on interactions through his blog and Twitter feed. This is a lesson in staying in tune with the companies that you’re interested in through their social media. I also take it as a personal admonition to use my own Twitter feed (@jenmcfann) for something other than Instagram pictures of food.

So, even for people with completely disparate career interests, Chad Dickerson’s discussion with newly-minted Dean Bill Boulding (congratulations!) had something to offer. Check out the list of past speakers to get an idea of the heavy hitters we’ve had here before. Definitely a good idea to stop by and be inspired for an hour or so, if you’re done working on that assignment for Operations.

video Watch a brief video interview of Mr. Dickerson.

Jen McFann

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Daytime MBA, Class of 2014. Find out more about me...

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