While there’s one school of thought that says managers should maintain a degree of separation from their reports, Pham sees it the other way. He believes leaders need to stay connected to their people as much as possible instead of siloing themselves off in the C-suite. “I don’t care what rank anyone has. We have to treat each other as human beings. When that happened to me, those were the moments I felt like I was going to do everything humanly possible to make that manager succeed.”
This is why, next to technical skills, the key element Pham looks for in hiring is cultural fit. “My non-negotiable rule is we put the company first, your team second, yourself last. If you hire people who subscribe to that philosophy, the team works really well because then they never have to check their six. Whenever someone stumbles, they all congregate and help each other up. The more trust you build among each other, the stronger the team gets.” The need to put the company first can sometimes come into conflict with the desire to focus on people. For Pham, all of the most difficult business decisions he’s had to make have been about people, with the toughest being a situation where good people were no longer the right fit for where the company was going.
“When a company is growing 10x in a year, it’s almost impossible for someone to also grow 10x in terms of their experience, knowledge and sophistication. For one position, we had to switch people four times within four and a half years to keep up with the needs of the business. But if you don’t have the right people, the business will falter.”