While we all know that a bigwig is a person in a position of responsibility, the U.S. Navy in days gone by, defined a bigwig as anyone of note who wore a wig to denote power or prestige. A naval officer of importance donned a large wig and the lower deck hands would refer to him as a “bigwig.”
Carl Russo took bigwig to a whole new level in late 1998. Most of Cerent’s board meetings were held in Petaluma, the heart of Telecom Valley. Carl was a consummate strategist and the orchestration of these events was meticulous. He knew the value of everyone knowing their roles and the importance of team building. So much so that Hui Lui, Cerent’s hardware engineering director, recalls the time Vinod walked into the office at Cerent’s 1450 North McDowell Boulevard location with a very formal appearance and a dour face.
But Carl worked there and such a visage would not be tolerated.
Carl, in short order, made Vinod wear a wig and not only that; Carl made Vinod walk around the office wearing the wig. This lightened the mood in those hectic days of moving early product from the lab to the field. Hui still laughs to this day, “Vinod wore a big wig and walked around like a little girl. Well, that’s the charm of Carl. He was able to work with everyone and although he can be funny and his message was ‘get this thing to work,’ he was really encouraging.” He had a way with people too, because, as Hui says, “He is such a charming guy.”
Carl viewed Vinod, chairman of the board, as Cerent’s bigwig, so he made sure Vinod played the part of big shot by wearing a big wig. Carl saw to it that Vinod understood his role as the figurehead of Cerent, but Vinod was not the CEO or the strategist or the marketer or the salesman. Soon the rest of the Cerent team knew Vinod’s role as well as their own.
This object lesson is the stuff of team building. Play your position well, and only your position, so the team can succeed.