By all accounts, especially her own, Diane Greene has had a fabulous career. Today she’s running Google’s cloud business, but she’s best known as the cofounder and first CEO of giant IT company VMware.
EMC bought VMware in 2003 for $635 million and Greene moved on from the CEO role shortly after that.
After she left VMware, Greene was happy to stay out of the limelight, investing and advising startups, many of them which also did spectacularly well.
But before becoming an iconic Valley entrepreneur, she did a whole bunch of other things. She was a world class sailor (the national dingy champion one year). She designed ships and oil rigs. She even had a job running engineering for a windsurfing company.
It’s always about the doing, not about the money
Her advice for others is based in her outlook on life.
“I just do what I want to do,” she tells Business Insider. “I look at what’s interesting to me.”
The secret, she says, is to keep your sense of curiosity.
“Kids are curious and if you don’t lose that, than everything is an adventure.”
She acknowledges that she’s been fortunate enough to have financial security. (She’s done so well that when Google bought her last startup, Bebop Technologies, for $380 million in 2015 as a precursor to her taking a job at Google, she dedicated her entire take, $149 million, to charity.)
But she says to her, life has never been about money.
“One of the happiest times of my life, I lived in a tent on a porch on Hawaii,” she tells us.
Instead, a great career (and a great life) is about having a “vision” of what’s possible, then “getting excited about building it” and most importantly, surrounding yourself with people you like to work with.
Carefully planned small steps
But Greene says, there’s another key secret to making it all work: execution.
“If you know where you are going, you have this sixth sense about if everything you do along the way is lined up with that,” she says.
And then it’s matter of planning: create shorter term goals, each of which create value and are worth doing, on their own. These milestones must be lined up with your long-term vision and goal. Then, step-by-step you will get there, achieving your planned milestones along the way.
The two good reasons to quit
Greene acknowledges that even with all the planning in the world, things will go wrong. Everyone will face setbacks and have to decide whether to keep at it or quit.
In her philosophy, there’s two good reasons to quit. First, is if you’ve lost interest in the work, the plan, the goal, or the vision.
“If your mind doesn’t want to think about it, it’s not a good use of your time,” she says. It’s a signal to go find something else that excites you.
The other time is if someone in a position of power is blocking you from “doing what is possible,” she says.
If a boss or executive or other significant person is insisting on a tactic that you think is wrong, and you can’t get the person to change course, or go around them, then you can change your own course and part ways.
That may mean giving up the project or company that you once loved. But it also frees you up to pursue your next interesting adventure.
And that’s her secret to success.