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The Unassuming CEO

No one would have guessed that the dapper gentleman sipping wine alone at the bar rubbed elbows with Bill Gates. Or, that the scruffy fellow engaged in jovial conversation with new acquaintances ran the 7th most visited site on the Internet. Equally unusual was the t-shirt clad 20-something carrying a stack of shot glasses, who also happened to have co-founded the Web’s most influential news aggregator … So went my curious encounters with CEOs Chris Anderson of TED, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, and Kevin Rose of Digg. Each one of them is a titan of the Internet, yet they happily wore a camouflage of nonchalant friendliness surrounded by a forest of no-name admirers.

These three were demonstrating, by example,  that our economy does not hinge on unadulterated greed. As the old model of the ‘economic man’ leads us into a time of economic turbulence and angry Senate subcommittee meetings, I’m optimistic that the Internet is trailblazing a new class of industrial leaders. The very structure of web itself is a social medium; the striking characteristic of each one of these CEOs was, simply, that they liked people. Their charm was infectious. Before I knew it, I was voluntarily contributing to each one of their organizations.

 When I introduced myself to Chris Anderson (at his own event), he immediately shifted the conversation to me: my work, my life, and how I thought he could make the conference better. Hearing of my interests, he handed me off to one of his right-hand women, Lara Stein, who told me over email that she wanted to design a TED-based curriculum. A brilliant idea! Two weeks later, I contacted my university’s expert on communication curricula, and am now in the process of piloting the course.

Kevin Rose was equally sociable. I and some new friends were chilling poolside with Digg’s senior staff at an LA bar when Kevin had an idea: Why not dare DiggNation’s cameraman to jump off the roof of the hotel into the pool? Needless to say, a good laugh was had by all (the only existing picture of the pool-soaked cameraman can been seen below). I stayed in touch with the staff and have since become an evangelist for their business development team. And, Diggs’ user-experience programmer agreed to come speak at our university’s technology think tank (much to the pleasant surprise of our program director).

My time with Chris, Jimmy, and Kevin brought new friends, good memories, and business opportunity all at the same time. I suppose it’s true that the dog-eat-dog mentality can still bring wealth. But, with both options now on the table, why choose anything else?