Max Schireson, the most unusual CEO I know

My boss, Max Schireson, announced yesterday that he is stepping aside as the CEO of MongoDB and will become the deputy Chairman of our board. And he probably wrote the best piece ever that I have read from an outgoing CEO .



Last year, when I was considering employment at MongoDB – there were two things that drove me to that decision primarily. First – the promise of the product (which did not exactly need much convincing to be honest). Second – the chance to work with and learn from the most unusual CEO I have ever met . I had a few other options at great companies – and they had great CEOs too. But those were people who fit the “normal” definition of CEO – 100% extroverted, totally sales focused, impeccably dressed , driving a car as expensive as my home , bashing competitors in every sentence and selling me hard on why working for them was the best choice ever.

Max was a 180 degrees different from that ! If he claimed to be the CTO to me – I would not have suspected otherwise (well, at least till I met Eliot, the real CTO). He could switch from discussing business strategy to discussing query parallelization and database locking without missing a beat. 

My first meeting with Max was at the old MongoDB office in University Drive in Palo Alto. We had a good conversation – but I left that meeting with a feeling that he probably did not see a role for me. He barely looked me in my eye ( something I have been accused of in the past too when meeting people for the first time, and a “problem” that I have had to work really hard to minimize) – but he asked me a lot of questions on what I liked and not liked and so on . As you can imagine – I was confused on whether he was totally uninterested or REALLY interested in what I brought to the table.

So like what anyone else would do these days – I googled him, and found his blog. It was a fascinating read. Once I figured out he was a math geek – it all made sense to me quickly 🙂

Max invited me to meet other executives and founders and investors over the next few weeks . And he and I met a few times over breakfast and lunch in various Palo Alto restaurants. And in each successive meeting – the quality of conversation kept getting better (and yes, we looked each other in the eye a whole lot more) . Throughout the whole process – he never once pushed me to expedite my decision, or tried to sell me hard. He explained everything logically and made it clear that it was my decision to be made in as much (reasonable) time as I needed. I am usually pretty good in replying to emails on time – Max was about as close to real time as someone can get when I had a question for him. 

Max’s youngest daughter is the same age as my daughter – and I could clearly see how much he cared for his three kids and his wife. and how much he missed being with them given his busy schedule. That is something I could readily empathize – I struggle with that all the time too. I would not have had a good career if my wife did not make huge sacrifices. One day not too far from now, I hope I can do for my family what Max just did for his. 

It is not an exaggeration to say – when I accepted the job, it was as much about MongoDB (the product and the team Max had assembled) as it was about having a chance to work with Max. And after I joined and started to know other colleagues at MongoDB better – it was clear that this was a common theme. 

Max is sharp as the sharpest CEOs I know in technology. He can assimilate a lot of information quickly and run what-if scenarios . He is as passionate as anyone else at MongoDB today – but I have always admired how he put his head before his heart when he made decisions. When he felt he made bad decisions, he had no difficulty in acknowledging it and taking corrective actions. I have worked for him for only 4 months and I have broken a fair bit of glass in that time – and not once did I had to pause and think whether I had his support. If he wanted me to course correct – he just told me so. I can’t express in words how much it means to have a boss that gives me operational freedom, and still be available to help any time I needed his counsel. It definitely has helped me adjust my own leadership style.

Max says this in his blog

I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role. Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe.

My response is – you are absolutely wrong, Max ! Whenever you decide the timing is right for you – I think there will be plenty of great CEO opportunities for you to choose from. Thanks for everything you did and continue to do at MongoDB, Max . You have set the bar high for all leaders in making tough decisions for themselves and their companies . Rock on !





Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

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