by Darius Kazemi on December 7, 2006

in management

Okay, I’m going to make a slight clarification on yesterday’s rant. I wrote that management skill is not as transferable as we think it is, and that I would hesitate to hire an executive from outside the game industry.

I think that execs that come in from outside industries have the capacity to be good at their jobs, but they don’t have the capacity to be truly stellar at their jobs. And I happen to agree with Joel’s philosophy on the whole hiring thing: if you’re not certain that someone is going to be absolutely amazing at their job, don’t hire ‘em. Don’t settle for merely good.

That said, lots of companies out there will settle for hiring people who are merely good. While I have no patience for them, they’re more than welcome to bring in generic managers.


Nabeel December 9, 2006 at 6:34 pm

As the previous commentors point out, you can always find exceptions to this rule (Bioware). And in fact, I would say the exception is not finding non-gamers who make good managers — it’s finding amazing managers in the first place.

There are a remarkably small, infinitesimal even, percentage of people who actually make good managers. For those few people, I would completely disagree and say their skills are largely transferrable.

But instead what you get is a mediocre MBA guy from a web company coming and being a somewhat less than mediocre MBA guy in a game company.

Chances are you may have only seen one or two phenomenal managers in your career — I would say that is true for me. One in particular I have tremendous respect for I have seen kick ass in three different industries now. “Amazing” is hard to find – but just as you say – it is the only thing we should be shooting for.

Publius January 24, 2007 at 3:14 am


I definitely agree with the sentiment that argues to seek out and only hire the best. Most don’t realize the difficult choice between hiring Mr.I-Hope-He’s-Good-Enough and losing a position altogether to budget reallocation, shifting biz priorities, or a deadline with a finite window to hire.

When hiring, you’re looking for the combination of talent, skill, and desire. Sometimes one of those three only scores a 75%. If it’s talent or desire, you’ve got what you’ve got. If it’s skill, you can train or mentor the gap and close it.

There are very few executives willing to seek a mentor. Even fewer who are willing to admit that some of the skills that got them to the position they now have may be working against them. You can’t expect that knowing Powerpoint and a couple of Excel budget tricks are going to help you do something innovative in game pricing, positioning or distribution. At an executive level every new job is highly visible and such an admission would feel like changing your game strategy on the morning of the Superbowl.

I, too, have met my fair share of executives that were clueless, as well as managers, supervisors and individual developers. For the executives, I’d say there’s just as big a danger in the skill gap in moving from middle management (a tactical role) to executive (a strategic role) within an industry, as there is to move from bank executive to game executive. The difference is whether the person has the talent, desire, and at least 75% of the skill. You just need to have a culture willing to provide support and an individual who can accept mentoring to close the gap.

Besides, it seems like every game company I ever worked for was willing to try to reinvent business from the ground up, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Some fundamentals can be extremely valuable.

Here’s my guideline for evaluating an executive, and I think it’s fair for any level of employee, really: Do they value personal growth and learning, and are they willing to change to accommodate what they learn?

Best executive I ever knew was a Sr. Director at a technology company who transferred to a game development company in his mid-40s. When faced with challenges like budget cuts, staff changes, business redirection or other bad news, he would take the problem to his staff and ask us “What am I missing here?” Curiosity first. Then work on solutions together so when we made decisions we all knew why and could individually adapt.

The landscape is always shifting so it isn’t relevant to find the perfect person who has the skills for the moment. You want the person who is willing and able to adapt, and at the executive level, provide a solid foundation for others to do the same.

That’s how your company will survive.

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