Most successful entrepreneurs will admit they need a foil: someone willing to challenge their decisions, to question their judgment and tell them when they are wrong.
Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, arguably Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs of the past two decades, are no exception to this dynamic. At Atlassian, the $70 billion software giant they created, the hard truth teller and the key conduit between them and the rest of the company is chief of staff Amy Glancey.
“Decoding how they [Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar] work, what they mean when they say something, how to be brave enough to tell Mike to stop talking,” Glancey says. “That’s the role I play in meetings.”
They may not always be the easiest of conversations but Glancey, the former communications director at Atlassian, isn’t afraid to have them. It’s a handy trait for a chief of staff to have and one that has not only made her an influential figure behind the scenes at Atlassian but also one of just three women in the company’s 11 person senior executive team.
She uses various analogies to describe how her role works at Atlassian – the co-pilot, the quarterback – but essentially, she acts as a proxy for the co-CEOs in meetings they can’t attend, or in strategic matters they do not have the bandwidth to deal with.
“There’s not many places they are where I’m not there,” she says.
‘Decoding how Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar work, what they mean when they say something, how to be brave enough to tell Mike to stop talking,” Glancey says. “That’s the role I play in meetings.’Amy Glancey, Atlassian chief of staff
Glancey also acts as a sort of founder whisperer at the company, a filter for information that flows between the co-chief executives, their direct reports, and the rest of the company.
“The further they go up and the bigger the organisation gets, the fewer people actually know how to engage with them,” says Glancey.
Having settled into her role, which she took up in 2018, Glancey is now a fierce advocate for the chief of staff position to find a home in senior executive teams across the country.
With its origins in military lexicon, the chief of staff is perhaps best known for its use in political offices. While it remains unusual at most companies, at least in Australia, the position has gained significant traction in the tech sector, where rapid growth can lead to chaotic decision making.
Nick Crocker, a partner at startup investment firm Blackbird Ventures, is another proponent of the chief of staff role. He advises all CEOs of his portfolio companies to hire one. The most constrained resource in a fast-growing company, he says, is often the CEO’s time. “A chief of staff unblocks that, becoming almost like a second brain to the CEO, doubling the rooms they can be in at a given time, and freeing up their time to focus on what matters most.”
Cannon-Brookes agrees, describing the chief of staff role as “critical” and saying it fills the gaps that form as a company expands. “They catch projects and functions that don’t have an owner, they spot friction in the system and help fix it,” he says. “Amy tells me how it is. No bullshit. Like a consigliere, she’s a close and trusted adviser”.
Since its sharemarket listing about five years ago, Atlassian’s market value has exploded from $US4 billion to $US59 billion. While the co-CEOs are no longer on the tools at Atlassian, they are still heavily involved in day-to-day decision making at the company.
The growth has made plenty of people tremendously wealthy, most notably the founders, and is turning Atlassian into an icon for the future of the Australian economy. But operationally, it brings with it its own set of challenges and mitigating them, according to Glancey, is where the chief of staff gets to shine.
“You have 5000 people looking up to them, particularly the engineers, many of them think they’re gods,” she says in reference to the founders.
“But [you need someone who] can really hold up a mirror to them and say, hey you did or didn’t show up well in that meeting? Or, ‘I think you should probably reach out to that person and have a one on one because I felt like you were talking in different languages’.”
“Are they intimidating to work with? Yeah, we are now a $70 billion cap company. They’re intense when they need to be. They’re light-hearted when they need to be. They don’t like having their time wasted. But who does?“.
Source: Thanks smh.com