What exactly should one look for in a leader? Should it be persistence or the ability to rally the troops? What about a team? Is grit and pulling together to make the deadline most important? For super-investor Shervin Pishevar, who financially backed some of the most successful once-startups of our generation, there are many traits to look for in both the groups that create the services and tech we use today and the leaders that guide them where they need to go.
Here are four of the traits that Shervin Pishevar looks for in groups and teams.
For Harvey Mackay, businessman and prolific columnist, loyalty is the glue that holds a team together. According to the best-selling author:
“Employee loyalty begins with employer loyalty. Your employees should know that if they do the job they were hired to do with a reasonable amount of competence and efficiency, you will support them.”
With Shervin, however, loyalty has a deeper and more personal meeting. When controversial Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick faced an ouster by his own board, Pishevar stepped in, warning management that if they changed the rules and essentially silenced the voices of investors, he would sue. Pishevar, an early investor in Uber who is widely seen as a visionary, showed his own loyalty by (temporarily) saving Kalanick from what would turn into shareholder revolt. Kalanick has since moved on to other ventures, but it was Pishevar’s show of loyalty that illuminated Kalanick’s contribution in making Uber what it is today.
Tech teams often throw the word “grit” around as a sort of catch-all for hunkering down and working hard. And while those are things Shervin Pishevar no doubt likes to see in his teams and leaders, it was his time growing up that the truly understood – and lived – the meaning of this four letter word.
Shervin Pishevar grew up in Iran, when the country was in the middle of a war. At one point, he and his mother were caught out in the open as the bombs began to fall. While Pishevar’s mother ran door to door, knocking frantically to be let in, no one responded. So she held him as the bombs fell – one of Pishevar’s fondest memories of her, and perhaps one of his first introductions to the true meaning of the word grit.
Other examples of grit in Pishevar’s life? After his first startup failed, he drove around for three days, without a change of clothes. During this tumultuous time, he also became a single dad to two children. Pishevar also remembers cleaning hotel rooms with his beloved mom after they moved to America, and spending hours upon hours in his dad’s taxi, as his father drove it around to support the family while he got another advanced college degree. Pishevar knows struggle. Grit made him the success he is today.
In 2013, as Shervin Pishevar was on a humanitarian trip with Elon Musk, the investor convinced the inventor to take rough plans for a train that ran through tubes, reaching airliner speeds of 700 mph+, and try and make them a reality. At the time, the idea of this new type of railway was exactly that: just an idea. The thought that someday the world would be looking a real track and vehicle for the project, which Shervin named Hyperloop One, was unfathomable.
For Shervin however, making Hyperloop One a reality would require the one thing others didn’t have: Tenacity. After building a team, bringing investors on board, and helping to put together a test track in the Nevada desert, Shervin was able to take specs and plans and conceivably build what might just be an evolution in travel for both humans and cargo. With Abu Dhabi, Chicago and Mumbai sketching out their own plans for they Hyperloop, Pishevar’s tenacity has shown to be contagious.
Beyond his wildly successful track record as an investor, Shervin Pishevar has also shown a real capacity for empathy. A prolific fundraiser, Pishevar has raised money for a long string of charities, from nonprofits that provide fresh water wells to impoverished villages, to the Bay Area’s Boys & Girls Club.
Part of Pishevar’s empathy comes from his own life experiences – and he’s made a goal to “pay it forward” to others. Creating the Cyrus Award, Pishevar chooses one Iranian or Iranian American inventor, and gifts them $100,000 over three years to support their research, education, or creation of an innovative company. When Pishevar gave the first award to Arash Ferdowsi, the technologist behind Dropbox, here’s what he had to say:
“Success always calls for greater generosity — though most people, lost in the darkness of their own egos, treat it as an occasion for greater greed. Collecting boot [is] not an end itself, but only a means for building [an] empire. Riches would be of little use to us now — except as a means of winning new friends.”
While Ferdowsi doesn’t really need the money – his company is worth millions – many argue that the Cyrus award goes a long way toward recognizing talent like Ferdowsi, one of the innovators of our time.
The 2nd round of the award, instead of going to a developer at a hot, new startup, went to Rostam Zafari, for the work he did in developing a portable kit to determine if a person has contracted ebola. Perhaps sensing the empathy flowing from Pishevar, Zafari took all $100,000, and used it to fund education for students who want to create their own startups.
Shervin, no doubt would be proud.