Skip to main content

As eCommerce continues to grow, so too does the importance of CEOs in their success or failure. Failure to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by eCommerce can lead to a company’s demise, and CEOs must shoulder much of the responsibility for ensuring this doesn’t happen. Those who get it right, however, deliver outsize results.

The big question is what separates the best CEOs from the rest. The answer lies in six differentiating qualities.

1. They Have a Bold Mindset

In the book CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest, Mckinsey senior partners identified 200 top CEOs and found they all have bold visions for the company. Mckinsey senior partner and author Scott Keller explains:

“It’s easy to take on the wheel of a ship worth billions, with thousands of passengers, and think to yourself, ‘Steady as she goes. That’s not the mentality of the best CEOs. They are looking to upgrade the engines, refurbish the interior, and find a better destination.”

When excellent CEOs come in, they reframe the company’s ambition. He or she will motivate the team to think bigger, beat the odds, and become the best in the industry.

This mindset translates into bold moves that raise the bar for the peer group, which encourages the organization to rise to that new vision.

Ecommerce Case Study: Jeff Bezos, Founder and former CEO of Amazon

According to leadership theory, Jeff Bezos is a classic example of a Vision-driven leader. Bezos embraced a visionary but learnable mindset called “future back.”

Leadership expert Mark W. Johnson explains, “Future-back is both a way of thinking that allows leaders to envision the best possible future for their enterprise and a disciplined process that allows them to bring it into being, embracing both its core business units and the collection of emerging, beyond-the-core opportunities that may evolve to replace it.”

This mindset was critical to Amazon’s success. 

2. They Learn from Past Mistakes

The best CEOs learn from previous mistakes and apply what he or she has learned to the future. 

CEOs are just like the rest of us—they make mistakes too. Mistakes are inevitable, but they must learn from them, so they don’t happen again. 

Suppose a CEO, for example, did not have an effective crisis management system in place when a situation arose. He or she should learn what they need for future reference and be able to create a strategy based on what went wrong the first time.

Ecommerce Case Study: Robert Nava, Founder and CEO at National Parks Depot

Success came after years of personal failures for Robert Nava, who spent 16 years going in and out of correctional facilities. He pursued multiple business ventures after being released from California State Prison in 2007. 

After a string of failures, he ultimately found success with National Parks Depot, which is now a major online retailer of recreational products.

3. They Treat the Soft Stuff as the Hard Stuff

People-related topics are frequently seen as ‘squishy,’ making them challenging to manage.

This is something that top CEOs refuse to accept. They expect culture, organization design, and talent management to be treated with the same rigor and discipline. 

They also play a personal role in ensuring that these things are done correctly.

Ecommerce Case Study: Ryan Babenzien, Founder and former CEO at GREATS

When Ryan Babenzien founded Brooklyn-based sneaker company GREATS, he knew he needed to work with a team that was as heavily entrenched in sneaker culture as him.

“I think the sneaker collector market is really closed,” he says. “You can’t just make sneakers and be accepted – that’s not enough. You need authenticity.”

By relentlessly focusing on creating a sneakerhead culture in the company, GREATS became the go-to brand for premium sneaker enthusiasts. The company has since raised $14 million in venture funding.

4. They Understand and Resolve the Team’s Psychology

While many CEOs focus on finding individuals who excel in their roles, the best CEOs pay closer attention to the interaction between them, the team’s psychology, and how they work together.

There’s the classic story of the US men’s Olympic basketball team losing their first scrimmage game to a college team while preparing for the games. Although all players were exceptional athletes individually, basketball was a sport that required cooperation and teamwork.

The coach saw they weren’t gelling as a team, and he let them fail the game so they would learn how to work differently.

It’s not only the players or the process that makes the team successful; it’s how they deal with each other.

Similarly, CEOs must invest in their team’s operational models. The best CEOs ask questions like, “How do we make decisions?” or “How do we show up for one another?”

Ecommerce Case Study: Tobi Lütke, CEO at Shopify

Tobi Lütke was spending his weekends working on projects. Every Monday, he wanted to tell people about them. 

During these casual conversations, he discovered that often his colleagues were working on similar projects, and they weren’t sharing their successes with others.

To address this problem, Lütke and his team created an internal social media platform named UNICORN. 

Employees started using the platform to break down internal silos. They would praise one another when they found something done well. Employee engagement and collaboration have increased since its launch.

5. They Know the “Why?”

More than half of CEOs consider managing external stakeholder relationships a top priority. Yet, only 12% believe they are successful at it. 

The difference is that those who do start with “why?” questions. 

This keeps CEOs focused on their company’s mission as they participate. It also encourages them to understand and connect with the purpose of others in surprisingly empathetic ways.

Ecommerce Case Study: Eric Bandholz, Founder and CEO of Beardbrand

Eric Bandholz left the corporate world in favor of starting a beard grooming company after disapproving his financial job’s “no facial hair policy.” 

He had one mission in mind: To make men feel awesome.

Since then, he’s built a community of like-minded beardsmen, created a lucrative grooming product company, and opened a barbershop.

Bandholz believes the key to his success lies in staying true to his core values. Beardbrand was a company founded on its values, with a clear understanding of who they are as beard enthusiasts and what they aim to achieve as a brand.

6. They Help the Board Help the Business

Many CEOs we know strive to spend as little time and energy with their boards as possible. One distinguishing feature of the top CEOs is that they regard the board of directors as a valuable resource.

This mindset leads to shaping the board’s composition, investing in board relationships and education, and building trust through what many would consider radical transparency.

Ecommerce Case Study: Chun Li, CEO at Lazada

Some companies are heavily controlled by shareholders. A prime example is Lazada, an international ecommerce giant with over 100 million monthly active users in Asia. 

Since its acquisition, Alibaba Group now owns more than 90 percent of Lazada.

Cultural frictions and mismatches between Alibaba’s Chinese shareholders, Southeast Asian managers, and European executives caused internal chaos in 2018.

On the other hand, the former regional CEO of Lazada Indonesia and Chinese native Chun Li understood exactly what the Chinese shareholders wanted and communicated with them frequently.

The result was Lazada Indonesia’s orders processed under his supervision increased by more than 170 percent in the next 12 months, outperforming other regions. 

A year later, satisfied shareholders made him the new CEO in 2020.

Final Thoughts

The best ecommerce CEOs have six qualities that separate them from their peers. These characteristics are essential for any successful businessperson, but they are particularly important when it comes to eCommerce.

Not only do these businesses require a high level of customer service, but they also need to be constantly evolving in order to keep up with the competition.

If a CEO can focus on these key areas, they will be well on their way to becoming one of the most successful eCommerce executives out there. For more information please connect with us.