Featured case: Founder CEO Transition at Code2040 (A)

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The case

whoWho – the protagonist

Laura Weidman Powers, Cofounder and CEO of Code 2040.

What?

Code2040 was set-up to challenge persistent Silicon Valley tech industry claims that low rates of employment of black and Latinex engineers was a ‘pipeline’ issue.

Code 2040 had a clear mission: ensure that by 2040 – the beginning of the decade when demographers estimated the US population would be majority people of colour – there would be full representation and leadership of black and Latinex people in the innovation economy.

Why?

whyLaura was the face and backbone of Code2040, leading the organisation both internally and externally.

But less than a month before she was to go on maternity leave, Laura decided the time was right to hand the CEO reigns to her right-hand person, Karla Monterroso.

Code 2040 was embarking on a strategic shift, and committing to another four or five years as CEO didn’t fit Laura’s personal and professional goals.

When?

It was just before Christmas 2017 when Laura was preparing to tell Karla of her plans.

Where?

Code2040 is headquartered in San Francisco, US.

Key quote

“I think that part of what makes a good CEO is the ability to be really clear-eyed about what a company needs at any given point in time in order to have the best chance of success. I took a step back and thought about what my strengths and skill sets were, and I just realised it wasn’t a perfect match any longer.” – Laura Weidman Powers.

what nextWhat next?

Laura knew Karla was ready for the challenge of leading Code2040, and that the organisation was equipped to accept a new permanent CEO.

But how would Karla respond? What would the board’s reaction be? And what could Laura do to ensure a smooth CEO transition?

 
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Founder CEO Transition at Code 2040 (A)
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The authors

author

Fern Mandelbaum and Dione Chen

Fern and Dione discuss the importance of a protagonist opening up and being relatable, and why students benefit from learning from a diverse range of people.

Opening up

Fern and Dione shared: “Laura is an open and direct person, willing to share how she felt. She is willing to be vulnerable – and this makes her relatable. She allows us to ‘pull back the curtain’ and get a view of what went on behind-the-scenes, providing an up-close-and-personal look at her challenges and choices."

overcoming Overcoming challenges

They added: “We interviewed Laura, board members, and employees to get a 360 perspective of Laura and the challenges facing Code2040. Our challenges when writing the case included considering the diversity of courses the case was going to be used for. The case had to be broad, yet provide enough details to go deep on multiple topics.

“As the case was written soon after Laura's transition, no one could be certain how Code2040's organisation, mission and team would continue to evolve and what the result of the transition would be. While writing this case, we did not have the luxury of looking back to extract the learnings, as the learnings were still happening in real-time.

“Also, the transition was still very fresh, so we had to be sensitive to that when interviewing people. The team at Code2040 is passionate about their mission and their work – it's more than ‘just a job’. It was critical to reflect people's struggles. One of the things about writing a case, is that you rely on the current and ongoing cooperation of those involved. We wanted to be truthful and not gloss over the very recent conflicts. At the same time, we did not want to jeopardise people's willingness to be interviewed and included in the case. The key was to include complete information and different perspectives, while retaining the trust of those interviewed."

Benefit of case diversity

Fern and Dione concluded: “There are many strong candidates for case studies featuring protagonists from historically underestimated groups (HUGs). It's easy to overlook these examples and a lot more can be done to feature a greater range of people in cases. We must elevate their voices and stories.

“Everyone, regardless of their background, can benefit when we learn from a diverse range of people. And importantly, recognise that people who are in the minority in some way in an organisation (race, gender, religion, physical ability, nationality, age, neurodiversity, etc.) are underrepresented and often underestimated.

“Understanding how someone from a HUG navigates personal and professional challenges is educational and inspiring to students from all backgrounds. If you identify with the protagonist, the range of possibilities for your future expands. If you are in the majority, learning more about the challenges of a minority leader builds your awareness and abilities for truly inclusive leadership. And seeing their courage and grit is inspirational.” 

About the authors

Fern Mandelbaum is a Lecturer in Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
e fernmandelbaum@gmail.com

Dione Chen is an educational consultant and Principal of DC Consulting.
e DCEduConsulting@gmail.com

Pictures courtesy of Code2040

 

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