What are the cardinal sins a chief executive can commit? Former Kenexa chief executive Noorudin "Rudy" Karsan, now head of Karlani Capital, a Philadelphia-based investment firm, has a list of them. "There are three traits. If I see any one of those three things, they are done."
Before we head to the sins, a quick refresher. Karsan ran Kenexa Inc, the Wayne-based human resources software company. In 2012, IBM bought Kenexa for $1.3 billion. Karsan, after working for IBM for awhile, set up Karlani Capital, an investment firm. During our Executive Q&A interview published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Karsan explained that interviewing executives is part of the vetting process.
Question: OK, number one?
Answer: Number one, refusing to learn, or they can't listen. I'll test them out very, very quickly. I'll send an email or I may deliberately take an opposite position to a statement that they may have made. If I don't sense they're listening and they are not incorporating my data or viewpoints, I'm done. Because in today's world it's not a question of how smart you are. It's a question of how you assimilate information and respond. It's the speed.
Q: Well, what if they disagree with your great wisdom?
A: Then we have a difference of opinion. Now, if you can articulate why you're doing this, now you're changing my mind. It clearly shows you've heard me and incorporated my thinking. I understand. I acknowledge, I embrace it, but let me tell you what I'm doing differently and why I'm doing it differently. I'm adding the human element of culture into the story. That's where you and I now have a debate.
Q: Now we have a debate.
A: That is a great example of where we would work extremely well together, because you're willing to be flexible with new information. There are others who really do believe that they are really smart, kind of a Steve Jobs type smart. There are those kinds of people, but they're so rare. Chances are they're not going to cross my Rolodex because I don't play in that league. I didn't have $100 billion to invest. I have millions, not multi billions.
Q: Okay, number two?
A: Number two is the person that is absolutely focused on one thing and one thing only, and that's money.
Q: Is that good or bad?
A: That's bad. There are certain CEO's that all they care about is, 'Here's my financial model.' They don't give any respect to the quality of the product or the market. All they do is talk to me about money, money money. That's a really, really massive turn off.
Q: And number three?
A: The third one is the ones that do not recognize competition. There is a group of people that you could talk to that will say there isn't competition [for their product or service]. The ones that say they don't have competition are either blind or absolutely incompetent.
Q: What would be the advantage to saying that? Doesn't everybody have competition?
A: In my life I have bought at least 35 companies.
Q: Does that include the Karlani Investments?
A: I'm talking about prior to Karlani.
A: Kenexa and other businesses, maybe just 40 companies. Karlani invested in over 20 companies. So I have 60 businesses. You can tell me about any field. I have a business, or an investment or I'm talking to somebody trying to grow something.
Q: So you were going to tell me I'd be surprised at how few people what?
A: [How many] tell me they don't have competition. I'm shocked. I know the space well enough [to see] they haven't got to number one or number two on the list [of competitors].
Q: So it's a credibility issue for you.