Vice CEO Shane Smith: Running A Company Is 'Like Going To War' Every Day

Shane Smith of Vice and Pella KagermanYouTube/ViceA 2007 video documents Smith, right, hunting for mutant wolves in Chernobyl with reporter Pella Kagerman.

Last month, I had a chance to have lunch with Vice Media CEO and co-founder Shane Smith as part of the reporting I was doing for a longer story about the company’s business model.

If you are the sort of person that cares about this kind of thing, he ordered the rabbit.

One thing I found interesting was what Smith had to say about the experience of managing his company as it grew from a small, regional magazine in Montreal to a multi-media powerhouse with more than 1,000 employees working in 36 countries.

Here’s that part of our conversation (Smith’s answers have been lightly edited).

Business Insider: What’s one thing you guys are still working on at Vice?

Shane Smith: I always say making sure that I’m not the only one picking up the Coke cans. Meaning if I come in to work, and I see a Coke can on the floor, I pick it up. Because I give a s—.

You want everyone to pick up the Coke can because you want everyone to give a s—. That’s probably in a nutshell the hardest thing in any company, having all of your partners and your staff give a s—. And not just talking about it.

Business Insider: How do you instill that level of giving-a-s—? What’s it like for you managing this whole bureaucracy?

Shane Smith: Quite, frankly it’s impossible. Any CEO that says they do that is full of bulls—.

It’s these guys that do it, the guys in the trenches every day. You have to have a culture from the bottom up of people who give a s—. You can’t instill anything. I can tell people to do whatever, but then I leave and then they f—ing do whatever they want.

They have to want to do it themselves, it’s like going to war. You don’t fight for the United States of America and freedom, you fight for the buddy next to you.

So every day we’re going to war and you’re with your buddy, and unless these guys are saying ‘Hey, pick up the f—ing Coke can,’ then nobody’s going to do it.

I think we have a great, unique culture where our people sort of glom onto the new people, who come in and say ‘Look, pick up your f—ing Coke can.’

And we’re lucky. For now, we’re lucky.

Business Insider: Was it always the plan to be this big, global media brand?

Shane Smith: In retrospect, I’ll say yes, but the truth is no.

We never had a plan, we never knew what we were doing, we just wanted to have a job. We were ambitious but, ambitious was just sort of the general ‘Hey, if we can do this as a job, it’s awesome.’

When we first started, my goal was to be as big as Rearguard, which was like a socialist skinhead music magazine in Canada. They probably printed 6,000 copies. That was my main ambition. Once we were bigger than Rearguard, everything else was great.

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