When I was honored as a Distinguished Alum at my Alma Mater Humboldt State University, I joked that the A students become researchers, the B students become managers, and the C students become entrepreneurs. While not actually the case most of the time, there is some truth to the adage.
While a high GPA from an elite university is one way of evaluating a potential hire, it’s hardly foolproof. How does the GPA actually reflect the real person in the job? When you’re in crisis, the academic pedigree of the fixer means nothing if they can’t get the job done. Great leaders look for the right person to fill a job, not just the most credentialed.
He may be a former C student, but that didn’t stop Austin McChord from founding one of tech’s hottest companies. Datto provides data security and business continuity solutions for more than 100,000 companies around the world. Now recently acquired, McChord is being kept on as the CEO. McChord doesn’t have a stellar academic record, but his success building Datto proves that your academic past doesn’t define your future.
Sometimes the School of Life teaches invaluable lessons that no classroom can replicate. McChord never made the Dean’s List, but his experience as a C student demonstrates the value academic diversity can bring to your company. Here’s why McChord says you shouldn’t judge a candidate by his poor transcript alone:
1. They Are More Comfortable with the Unknown
For most high achievers, meticulous preparation is key. For many C students, walking into the unknown is the norm, and according to McChord, it’s better preparation for the real world. He explains, “In business, you can plan ahead all you want, but you will never be truly prepared. Unexpected things happen all the time. C students are comfortable calling shots as they go, as new challenges pop up and new opportunities emerge.” Where others may crack under the pressure of plans falling apart, C students can thrive.
2. They Know the Right Way to Fake It Till They Make It
Every businessperson has been in front of a client and not known the answer to a question. To McChord, “there are probably few more solid pieces of advice than ‘fake it until you make it.’ Which, of course, is precisely the sort of thing that C students have turned into an art.” The straight-A student used to perfection may fumble under strain, making a bad situation worse. But C students have learned to improvise, using what they know and reading the room to project confidence and calm.
3. They Get the Value of a Break
Businesspeople have a high rate of burnout, and McChord has seen it first-hand. “In college and business alike, I’ve seen a lot of really excellent people drive themselves mad by obsessing over every detail and exhausting themselves with constant worry and anxiety.” By contrast, C students are naturally more relaxed. “They know when to back off, when to calm down, and when to take some time to recharge. Running a business is a long-distance race, and unless you set a pace that works for you, you’re going to break down.” If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your business, either.
4. They Can Work Without Structure
No matter your business, speed matters. “Unlike their more studious friends, who are used to preparing slowly and well in advance, C students can do much on the fly,” McChord says. “They’re used to cramming for tests or putting together a presentation at the eleventh hour. They’ve instinctively mastered one of the most important lessons in business: sometimes done is better than perfect.” Proving to your clients that you can deliver on the deadline and pivot when necessary will validate their faith in you.
5. They Understand the Value of Failure
McChord says understanding how to embrace failure is the most valuable lesson he’s learned. “Running a business, even a very successful one, is often about failing. Things go south. Deals go bad. Snafus happen. If you’re not ok with the disappointments, if you don’t know how to take bad news and move on, if you lack the ability to turn adversity into opportunity, you’re never going to thrive.” C students understand that failure does not have to be the finale. Instead, it can be an opportunity to reexamine what you thought you knew or a chance to do it better than before.