CEO Factory or Just Lucky

Posted by Patty Youngclaus

January 18, 2013

The backbone of every high-growth company is its people. In the knowledge economy, a strong team is the foundation for success and top talent is the driving force. As Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't, “Get the right people on the bus.”

At TheLadders, we will be celebrating our 10-year anniversary this summer. For the past decade, we have hired more than 500 people, constantly focusing on getting the “right person on the bus,” and constantly ensuring that they are sitting in the right seat on that bus. We always strive to hire the best and get the most from our staff. Coaching, just like in sports, is the key to empowering employees to reach above-and-beyond. Just as with Sir Roger Bannister, we want TheLadders to break the four-minute mile; achieve what they might perceive to be unachievable.

Not surprisingly, TheLadders alumni network in New York City is strong and vibrant. When we ask them what they miss most about working at TheLadders (besides Bagel Friday!), they say it is the people. Over and over, we hear from our current and former employees that what makes the difference are the incredible colleagues they have worked with or are working with.

At TheLadders, we do not expect our staff to work here forever. Eventually, we know that people will leave. Furthermore, we know that as much as we enjoy promoting from within, we cannot possibly promote every great hire to a Vice President or C-level position. That said, one measure of our success is to assess where our alumni end up, post-employment with us. It is always a great sign when one of them lands a top job. That is the way that Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, looked at his company. In the 90s, when a company needed a loan, it went to a bank. When a company needed a CEO, it went to General Electric, which minted business leaders the way that West Point mints generals.

Last week, I was thrilled to read in All Things Digital that Ware Sykes, TheLadders’ former VP of Sales & Services, became the CEO for NoWait, the OpenTable for restaurants that don’t take reservations. Ware joined TheLadders in 2006 as an MBA intern from Columbia Business School and worked his way up the executive rank.

Last month, when I heard that Jake Levine, General Manager at Digg, made Forbes’ iconic “30 under 30” list, I tweeted and posted the following link: Prior to joining Betaworks/Digg, Jake did strategy work at TheLadders, directly reporting to TheLadders’ Founder Marc Cenedella and me.

Here are several other alumni who became CEOs and entrepreneurs after working with us:

    • Derek Pilcher, Managing Director and owner,

    • David Carvajal, Founder and CEO, Dave Partners, LLC

    • Michael McCurdy, Co-founder and CEO,

    • Thilo Semmelbauer, President and COO, Shutterstock

    • Sheila Lirio Marcelo, Founder and CEO,

However, not everyone wants to be a CEO. We also have alumni who are function leaders at other successful New York City tech firms:

    • Alain Benzaken was Vice President of Technology at TheLadders for five years. He is now the Senior Director of Software Engineering at Buddy Media Salesforce.

    • Ofir Shalom was Vice President of Engineering at TheLadders for five years. He is now the CTO at Group Commerce.

    • Angela Romano Kuo started as a recruiter with TheLadders, working seven years before becoming Vice President of Human Resources. She now is the Vice President of Human Resources at SecondMarket, Inc.

    • Leslie Semegran started as a marketing manager at TheLadders in 2005 before working her way up to Vice President of Marketing and Engagement, reporting directly to me. She is now Vice President of Marketing at

As previously mentioned, TheLadders also proudly promotes from within. For instance, I promoted two leaders to the executive rank, just last month:

    • Kyri Sarantakos was promoted to Vice President of Engineering at TheLadders. He joined the company in 2005 as a software engineer. During the past seven years, he has moved up the ranks to become a manager of core architecture and development, an application architect, and, most recently, a principal software architect.

    • Selena Hadzibabic was promoted to Director of Product and UX at TheLadders. After graduating from Dartmouth College, she joined the company in 2006 as a junior community associate, an entry-level position. Subsequently, she was promoted to product manager in our U.S. operation, and then became the sole product lead for two years in our former UK operation, where she was based in London before returning to New York in 2011.

If you are a tech professional in New York City and are looking for your next challenge to enhance your skills and your career, join TheLadders! Why?

You may say: “My friend is starting a company and I can be the VP of Technology and get a lot of options.”

Yes, that may be true, but is your friend giving you the leadership training necessary to succeed in that job? Will you be out of a job in six to 12 months because the company did not raise sufficient capital or you do not possess the skills required to lead and drive performance from a team? You will learn that skills on the job at TheLadders.

You also may say: “I have a generous cash offer from Amazon, Google, or Facebook.”

What is going to make you successful are the people you work with, the challenges you will face, the opportunity you have to influence the strategy, and your access to leadership. As a software engineer in New York working for Amazon, Google, or Facebook, you may never be exposed to Jeff, Larry, or Marc. At TheLadders, you will get frequent exposure to the CEO. At TheLadders, we won’t give you the answer to a problem. We will give you a problem statement and will ask you to determine the answers that fulfill our shared vision.

At TheLadders, your last interview will be with me, the CEO. You will hear directly from me that during the next four years of your life, you will experience tremendous professional growth. That is a guarantee that TheLadders offers. Your experience with us will take your career to the next level.

So, is TheLadders a CEO factory or are we just lucky? You be the judge.

Alex Douzet is CEO and Co-Founder of TheLadders. In this role, Alex is responsible for the company strategy, global business operations, and product development

Topics: #TheLaddersLife