Spark: Gary Swart Shares the 3 Books that Shaped oDesk into the World’s Largest Online Workplace
From IBM to oDesk, Gary Swart has done a lot of leading—and in each of his leadership positions, reading has played an important role.
“Reading is good at all levels,” Gary says. “And good books can help augment your on-the-job training and advice from investors and board.”
In this special edition of The Spark, we asked Gary Swart, oDesk’s (now Upwork’s) former CEO and a venture partner at Polaris Partners, about the book that shaped his thinking and how he leads. He couldn’t choose just one, so we didn’t make him. Following are the books that have helped him run a successful sales team and turn online work platform, oDesk, into a household name.
Rethinking the Sales Force – John DeVicentis & Neil Rackham
Before he took the helm at oDesk, Gary worked in sales with a division of IBM and, later, as head of Worldwide Sales at Intellibank. In assembling and training his teams, he found the clarity of this little book to be invaluable.
Rethinking the Sales Force quickly became Gary’s go-to for market and sales perspective thanks to its simple, clear pyramid model detailing the four different ways customers want to buy.
Four different ways customers want to buy:
DeVicentis and Rackham’s basic premise is that in the past few decades, customer choices have increased, so understanding the customer is a critical element of successful selling. A sales person’s job has thus become helping customers understand their problems and opportunities in a new and different way and to show them better solutions.
Just before Gary joined oDesk as its new CEO, his wife gave him a little celebratory gift of two books that would come to define his leadership style:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- 15 min reading time duration 15 min
- 31k reads
- audio version available
Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
What he learned from Lencioni’s bestsellers seems to have done the job: under his leadership, oDesk grew to millions of registered freelancers around the world, with the company experiencing 60% year-over-year growth in 2012.
Gary also credits the books with teaching him an important lesson: being good will always trump being popular. “As a leader, you need to focus on being good, not being popular. If not, you’ll just end up doing things to please people instead of doing what’s best for the organization.”
Previously in Spark: Joel Gascoigne on the book that inspired how he run Buffer.
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