“It starts when one shameless fan asks to take a selfie, so the subject obliges, and then another squeezes in, and another, until tens, maybe hundreds of eager people engulf him, arms outstretched, smartphone cameras aloft.”
Excitement follows Nikesh Arora everywhere he goes. Private jets and movie stars are not really part of the job description for Chief Business Officers, but few have built the kind of diverse and successful international career that the India-born Arora enjoys. As this recent profile in Fortune illustrates, he has the kind of larger-than-life persona of pop stars. He hangs out with American actors like Angelina Jolie and Ashton Kutcher. Meanwhile his job is to help companies like Google and SoftBank grow astronomically through smarter hiring practices, frugal advertising, and strategic international relationships. That all sounds pretty dry on paper, but part of Arora’s success comes from infusing the sober business world with rock star excitement. Here’s some of the moves he’s borrowing from that world:
1. He likes to party
“He staged a Las Vegas retreat for 15,000 salespeople—uncharacteristically flashy for Google—where he donned an Elvis costume for his speech. He warned employees that he would personally bail out anyone who got arrested.”
Perhaps, only Arora could get the Silicon Valley software giant to indulge in Bollywood excess. Never shy about his extravagances, Arora has earned the label “the Elvis of business.” And like the famous singer, he shares the wealth, investing in Indian entrepreneurs, several of whom may have swarmed him for a selfie just minutes prior. He spent big on a fancy Italian wedding to Ayesha Thapar. It’s certainly not a boring life and Arora consciously infuses it with a kind of glamour that’s more typical for those in entertainment industries than tech and finance. But hey…why not make your own rules?
2. He gets bored easily
“When Arora meets with founders, he knows what he wants to discuss, and it’s probably not on the CEOs’ Power-Point deck. “You get two slides in, and he’s off on another thing,” says Kunal Shah, who sold his payments company, FreeCharge, to Snapdeal in April.”
It turns out, you’re not the only one who gets bored in meetings. Well, if you’re Nikesh Arora, you can shut them down when they get less than thrilling. But when he cuts off a CEO in the midst of a slide show, it’s not just that he’s short on attention.
“Arora says that’s a test: Any founder who insists on walking you through every one of his slides isn’t adaptable enough to change course at a startup.”
The lesson is simple: the idea is always more important than the presentation. PowerPoint and fancy designs won’t strengthen a weak or uncreative business idea. His unconventional style led him to draft an advertising proposal for Snapchat’s CEO, Evan Spiegel, on the back of a loose-leaf notebook with a Sharpie.
3. He has paparazzi
“After an awards event in Bengaluru, Arora finds himself pulled in front of a videocamera with a giant boom mic and blinding light. A crowd of reporters, entrepreneurs, and hangers-on assembles until there are several rows of people waiting to meet him, ask him a question, push a business card into his hand. As he walks toward his next engagement, three photographers with loud paparazzi shutters surround him with clackclackclackclacks.”
India loves Arora the way they love movie stars. That’s partly because he’s been very supportive of young Indian entrepreneurs and remains a respectful liaison for other companies interested in doing business there. He advises investors to appreciate that relationships are more important than cash to Indian business. Young Indians love that he’s going to bat for them, even as his status expands far beyond his home country.
4. He’s got a following in Japan
As saying goes, Arora is big in Japan, thanks to the enormous faith Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, has placed in him. Despite his loose grasp on the language, Arora’s decisions have already been beneficial and Son is prepping Arora to take the reins after the Japanese business scion retires within the next few years. It’s an enormous responsibility but it’s one that Arora looks forward to. He’s already invested half his wealth in SoftBank, a bold and maybe dangerous move, but one that is par for his course.
“Anytime you can predict your trajectory, you should change it.”
That’s Arora’s advice for young entrepreneurs. We can’t think of anything more rock star than that. Read the rest of Erin Griffith’s Fortune profile.
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