Box's 30-year old CEO says 'tension' between older and younger workers makes stronger startups

Box CEO Aaron LevieBoxBox CEO Aaron Levie

By any measure, Box’s 30-year old CEO Aaron Levie is a young executive. But that doesn’t mean he lacks the management skills needed to run a big company.

In fact, he already has 10 years of experience running his cloud storage company Box, which went public earlier this year and is now worth around $US2 billion.

On Tuesday, during Salesforce’s huge annual conference Dreamforce, Levie shared some of his secrets to building a more creative work environment. He says mixing younger and more experienced employees — and creating a healthy “tension” — can go a long way towards building a more productive work culture.

“You always want to be able to have that kind of ‘tension,’ where you have people that have seen it before and you have some new and fresh ideas, and you’re trying to blend those two together — that’s when you get real disruptive innovation,” Levie said.

Veterans versus rookies

This is an important issue for any fast-growing enterprise company that wants to take the next step to becoming a more mature, profitable business. As the company scales, it needs to hire more experienced people who can teach some of the trade secrets required for signing up big enterprise customers — a process that often creates friction between the company’s two different cultures.

In Box’s case, Levie said he has hired some of the early employees from Google, Oracle, and Salesforce to share their experience growing a company. But he always tried to balance them with a certain type of individual that “doesn’t have any kind of ‘baggage’ around what a certain problem should look like,” he said.

Still, Levie stressed experienced employees need to remember one important thing before making the jump to a younger startup: they still have to do it differently.

“What’s really important for the experienced individuals is to understand that the reason they’re joining a startup is to do it differently,” he said. “In our case, as we were going in and disrupting the content management software industry, we have hired a handful of leaders that had experience in that market, but understood that it was being reinvented for the cloud and mobile.”

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