Hey Mint.com, Digg Chiefs, Who Is Your Favorite Fictional Executive?

Mint.com founder Aaron Patzer and Digg CEO Matt Williams kick off our inaugural edition of The Cold Call.

Welcome to Cold Call, where we zing a question to our favorite CEOs, entrepreneurs, VCs, and tech evangelists to see how they answer — and how you'd respond. Joining us today are Mint.com founder Aaron Patzer and Digg CEO Matt Williams.

Some of the best known executives are fictional, from Jack Donaghy to Miranda Priestly to Don Draper. The way they run their companies can offer lessons and inspiration beyond the boilerplate in a Donald Trump-approved business 101 handbook. Take Mr. Burns, from The Simpsons. Try to think of another exec who runs an empire with as much of an iron fist. (Steve Jobs, anyone?) Is he the the archetypal Machiavellian ruler, or just another a-hole boss not worth emulating?

Who is your favorite fictional exec? What lessons have you gleaned from that character? In what ways, if any, have those lessons applied to your business?

Scrooge McDuck is the ultimate saver and investor. He holds a diversified portfolio of companies, real estate, and most importantly, hard currency (gold) instead of fiat (paper) dollars.

Rather than spend recklessly, he's known for going out of his way to save a dollar or two: walking vs. taking a taxi, or denying Huey, Louie and Dewey their allowance if their chores are done poorly. This is definitely the way to run and grow a startup when cash is king: pay low salaries (at Mint we paid 1/3 the market rate for the first 6 months, then half the market rate for the next 6 months), cut costs, focus on cash flow, and pay contractors based on performance.

Accounts receivable are nothing—it's money in the bank (particularly gold coins you can swim through) that matters.

While I can't claim true Trekkie status, my favorite fictional exec would have to be Captain Kirk. He embodies numerous character traits worth emulating as an executive. No coincidence that his ship is called the Enterprise.

Building the right team is perhaps the most important job of any leader, regardless of situation. Kirk chooses a range of strong crew members who not only have skills that complement one another, but who also help to fill gaps in his own knowledge. He delegates well, knows his crew's limits, and challenges them accordingly.

Kirk jumps into the fight personally and is not afraid to sacrifice himself for his ship, crew, or mission. As an executive, rolling up your sleeves and submerging yourself in a given issue or crisis is often the best way to stay connected to the customer, partner, or your own team.

Similarly, Kirk has a bias for action. He leans into situations instead of sitting back, and he makes confident choices with as much data as he's able to gather in the moment. Indecision is perhaps one of the worst traits for an executive to have. When faced with a tough decision, it’s important to always press forward (or to boldly go) as Kirk does.

Most of all, Kirk is always learning from adventure. He risks the unknown and is often humbled by his discoveries. Having come from a family of entrepreneurs, I too am an explorer and adventurer. Working at Digg, I am part of a social news industry defined by daily innovation. I appreciate the humility required to lead a business into unpredictable, constantly shifting frontiers.

Agree with Aaron or Matt? Who is your favorite fictional executive? Leave your answer in the comments below, or reply via twitter with the hashtag #coldcall. We'll highlight the best in next week's edition.

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  • Mike Summers

    Come on, we all know the best fictional exec out there is....... ARI GOLD. He's funny, charming, savvy, ruthless... What more could you want from a CEO? Agreed, he's not the most appropriate when it comes to dealing with his employees (or ex-lovers!), but if I'm starting a business, there's no one but Ari who I would want at the helm...

  • Aaron Primer

    I'd have to go with Peter Venkman, CEO of Ghostbusters (Nasdaq: ECTO). Not only does he have a degree in psychology AND parapsychology from Columbia University, he has also exhibited impressive business acumen during his tenure.

    When purchasing real estate for his start-up paranormal extermination business, he avoids overpriced midtown locations in favor of New York's Tribeca neighborhood, which, at the time, was described as "a demilitarized zone." It would go one to become among the most sought after locales in Manhattan, a tremendous return on a risky real estate investment.

    And while he may have convinced fellow employee Ray Stantz to fund the project by taking out a third loan on his family property at 19% "without even bargaining with the guy" ($95,000 in the first five years alone), he shrewdly predicts that "the franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams" indicating his larger goals for the company to go national, or even international.

    Venkman is also a strong negotiator. After the first bust, with no business model in place to dictate fees, he demands "four bigs ones" for the entrapment alone, plus a charge for "storage of the beast," at $1,000. In total, $5,000 for a first time service in 1984. When the manager balks at such a high cost, Venkman informs him that they can "put it right back in there." Venkman gets paid.

    Venkman knows his clientele: "We're ready to believe you," is a solid business slogan, correctly addressing client fears that their concerns might be seen as baseless. Also, Ghostbuster employees are "on call twenty-four hours a day to serve all your supernatural elimination needs," a good match for the "city that never sleeps." Venkman is even willing to lure customers with promotional products, such as a "Ghostbusters hot thermal mug and free balloons for the kids."

    But best of all, Venkman has a heart, and knows when his duties to his fellow citizens supersede a payday. When Gozer The Gozerian descends on New York City to bring about the end of times, Venkman enthusiastically demands to "run some red lights," eager to save the day when no one else is around to do the job. And despite the fact that this gets his company sued "by every state, county, and city agency in New York," effectively ending his ghostbusting business, he nevertheless comes to the rescue five years later when Vigo the Carpathian emerges from a painting at the New York Museum of Art to wreak havoc on the city.

    So I submit to you: Peter Venkman. Is there anyone out there you'd rather have at your company?

  • John Schiner

    I agree with Aaron on this one. Owning enough gold coins that you can swim in them is pretty awesome, and he embodies the key traits needed to own and run a large business. Having people around you is overrated, especially when they're not as smart as you. I would argue that Mr. Montgomery Burns also possesses these qualities and would also get my vote... But definitely Scrooge over Captain Kirk...

    Damn Trekkies

  • Tom Kazanski

    No doubt: Don Draper.

    Not only is he the quintessential business man, he's also rather dashing. Draper sells a product like no other, but it's his management skills that have kept his company alive, even when facing bankruptcy.

    When a larger conglomerate threatened a corporate takeover, Draper put it all on the line, taking the top dogs away to start his own operation, a la Steve Jobs circa late 1990s.

    "I want to build something," he said at one point. "How do you not understand that?"

  • Louise Mooney

    I vote for Captain Kirk. Scrooge may be tight with the money, and I admit that is a good thing. But he also was a loner and Captain Kirk built a team, along with lead by example, being in the front of the line when the going got tough! In the business world today our executives need to be tight with their budget, for sure, but they also need to be surrounded by smart and loyal people to be successful in the long run.