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THE WAY I WORK

The Way I Work: Bruce Moeller

The CEO of DriveCam explains how he reads clients and why his family comes second.
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As told to Stephanie Clifford

Bruce Moeller is the CEO of DriveCam, a $23 million company, based in San Diego, that sells and installs video recorders that monitor the behavior of commercial drivers. Here--in the first of an occasional series of essays by company leaders about how they spend their work hours--Moeller talks about his obsession with e-mail, his technique for reading clients and employees, and why he's chosen to put his family second.

The first thing I do when I get up--before I even go to the restroom or anything--I'll grab my BlackBerry and see what the issues are. Then I'll take it with me to the bathroom and go through all my e-mails. I get 80 or 100 a day, and I have to know what's okay or what isn't okay. Then I'll brush my teeth and take a shower. Some mornings it's a struggle to get dressed before you're writing back different e-mails on the BlackBerry.

I get to work about 7:30. I've had to really force myself not to read the BlackBerry while I'm driving, though I don't always even succeed at that. And I'm the guy that's supposed to be about driver safety.

When I get in, I put my PC, which I've brought from home, into the docking station. I'm compulsive about my e-mail. That's my primary communication with the rest of the enterprise. It's a one-to-many communication so it's more efficient.

Then I'll start walking around and going to visit each of my direct reports: marketing, sales, engineering, operations, finance. The COO and I also have a meeting that lasts half an hour or an hour every morning--it might be, there's a compliment about this level of service, or somebody dropped the ball on this. I might also meet with the CFO. We just raised a round--$28 million--so there's plenty of cash, but there might be a receivables issue. Usually he's just making me aware of issues so I see the little warning flags if someone's not paying. Sometimes he's escalating it to me, saying could you call their CEO and request the payment, or ask their COO under what conditions they could pay. It's really just what's going on in everyone's world; all of us debrief on anything that's new. This is a pretty fast-paced place. We joke here if you miss half a day you've got to get caught back up.

I'm a kind of hub-and-spoke guy, so it's me with this person or me with that one. But because of that hub and spoke, various guys were having difficulty communicating with each other. I'm feeling totally in the loop, of course, getting updates on everything and everybody, but it became apparent that the different functions might not be aware of what the others were doing. So I just agreed to do a meeting with my direct reports every week. We go off-site from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. We call it Tuesdays with Moeller.

I like to keep my schedule fairly open so that I can be in the moment with whatever the hot issue is--a customer problem or some opportunity. During the day I'll typically have only two or three scheduled meetings. I just like to be very fluid and to force the organization to stay externally focused. If you spend a lot of scheduled time, you get fooled into thinking you're working when you're just playing with each other on internal stuff. When you could've been externally focused on the marketplace.

I like one-on-one meetings anyway. I like to be able to read people, read their eyes, and probe if I'm sensing they're pulling back on something or afraid of something. I'm reading signals all the time. Group meetings are problematic because people perform for audiences. Especially with the CEO in the room, it hampers full-flowing conversation because people don't want to look stupid and you tend to get managed information. To combat that, I tell them you never shoot the messenger. Whatever you're feeling, you don't show it. By reacting emotionally you're putting a brand on that news, and you're subliminally shaping behavior. Even when I'm happy, I try to control my emotions. Otherwise I would be telling people not to come to me unless it's with good news.

I encourage free-flowing conversation with other little things, too. A lot of times I'll dress really casually and speak very casually with the employees, trying to be just one of the guys--of course, realizing that I'm not and they don't see me that way. I also have an open-door policy, and my office tends to be a gathering place. I put candy and nuts in here to encourage people to come in, grab a handful of M&M's, and communicate. Everyone here knows that even if there are three people in here talking about something, you can come in and join the meeting, too. If we're talking about marketing and you're an engineer, you might have a good idea. If someone walks in, especially if I think he would be interested or could enhance the conversation, I'll take a quick 60 seconds to update him on what we're talking about. And if he's not interested or doesn't have time to talk, that's okay.

I've always resisted having a secretary. I like to do all the stuff myself and not have somebody keep me insulated from anyone else. Unless I'm really busy, I do my own travel. Expense reports--that's the one liberty I do take. I don't do expense reports. I take all my receipts and walk them down to accounting and say, here, this is from a speech I gave in New Orleans. And that's as far as I go.

I'm almost fully digital, so there's no paper at all on my desk. I do have a little desk calendar with a different French word every day--last year, it was George Bush malapropisms--where I can jot down a name and number. But I'm not a big note-taker. I think it distracts from really listening to and absorbing what somebody said. If notes are required, I make sure our COO or somebody else is there to take them. I just listen, engage, and remember what the salient points are. I find I'd miss certain nuances of the inflection in the voice, or body language, if I were taking notes.

I'm a loner and I'm an introvert. So when I'm dealing with all these people, they're taking every ounce of my being and my energy; when I'm engaged, I'm engaged, I'm passionately involved. So at lunch I typically go out by myself and grab some fast food or something, and sit and listen to political radio. I force myself to use that to recharge my batteries, to get out of here and think of something different. Though while I'm doing that, if that BlackBerry buzzes I'm right on it.

It's not that I'm shy. My definition of an introvert is someone who seeks solitude to get his batteries recharged, whereas extroverts seek the company of others. People think I'm kidding when I say I'm an introvert; I'm always the dominant one in a meeting, taking on difficult problems or people, setting a hard course, or being flippant and making a joke.

Client meetings are pretty easy and I enjoy those the most. I come in with a very open and honest approach--I'm not trying to sell you anything. In reality, obviously, I am, but only if it fits. First, I establish a connection if we don't already have one: a sports team, a city we both used to live in, a school. Now, bingo, we're connected. Then I ask myself why the person's here in the first place: If I were him, I'd be coming in because of this problem or that. So I have a theory. And often I'll say, if I were you, the only reason I'd come here is because I have a crash-cost problem, or I just don't trust my employees. You watch them when you throw out your theory, and they'll light up and say, "Yes, but our main fear was that the union wouldn't accept this." I've disarmed them now. If I'm wrong, I can watch that body language--"No, no, no, no, not at all. I wouldn't be here if I thought that. But it's between you and that other company, and I'm here to do due diligence," or whatever they're gonna say. In any conversation, I'm asking 80 percent of the questions, even though they're out to find out about me.

I leave around 6. There are times it will go to 7 or 8. When I get home, I'll maybe have a little dinner with my wife and kids. But we typically eat out because I don't like to have my wife, Cari, worry about me being home at a certain time. This just happened, actually. I had the light off and was walking out the door and Cari had made dinner. Somebody walked in and said, we have a new competitor and they just won at this place. I stopped, turned, went back in, did a debrief on how they won the account, and dinner just sat there. I got home an hour and a half later. (We got the account back.) My real preference is that she and the kids eat because I don't want the pressure of letting someone else down. This, DriveCam, always takes precedence over that. Shitty thing to say, I know, but that's me. I'm doing this so that they can have a lifestyle that they want. I have an obligation to all the shareholders who put, in this case, $46 million into this place. That obligation comes before anything else. They know that that's the priority. If that sounds really bad, because I'm here telling you I put work first and not family first, I've tried it the other way around. You cannot serve two masters. You can only serve one master well.

I try to compensate for that by being pretty protective of my weekends. First thing and last, I'm checking my BlackBerry, but I'll go to the park and play basketball with the kids or go bodysurfing. I try to keep the weekends for the family so they know that during the week I'm pretty much a nonentity.

At night, if it's summer we might go to the park, or if it's cold we might stay in the house and watch Scrubs, my favorite show. But I'm probably just sitting there thinking about this place. I do enjoy my life better when I'm in the middle of a book--always something political, anything by Gore Vidal or Noam Chomsky. But if I'm reading a book, it's an escape. That'll take me even farther away from the wife and kids. If I'm in a book, I'm so involved in it that for what little I'm there for them, I'm there even less.

I'll usually go to bed from exhaustion about 9:30. Then, typically, I've been lying awake thinking through things and trying to get through my night, fitfully. At 2 a.m., I pop up, my mind gets active, and I start scheming about the day, strategizing. I might fall asleep again at 5 a.m. and sleep until 6, just out of exhaustion. If I know I'm going to have to let somebody go, then it's definitely a sleepless night the night before. I hate to do that; that really bothers me. I also have anxiety when I'll have a meeting with a strong-willed person. You know you're in for a fight: I know you think I'm wrong, but I'm the CEO, it's my bet and my conscience, and I'm doing it.

This is a really intense and fast-moving company. Of all the things I've done in my career, this is the one. This could be the big one. This one really matters. This is one of those where you hope and think that if you do it right, it's the last job you'll ever have to have. You couldn't do this forever, but you could run at a breakneck pace for three or four years, as long as you have a pot of gold at the finish line.




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