Susan Cook | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Susan Cook


Tysons Corner, Virginia-based MicroStrategy is a global leader in enterprise analytics and mobility software. For over 25 years, the company has been providing software solutions and services, as well as an analytics and mobility platform with applications for both business and IT.

The Mistake:

One of the biggest mistakes I made was leaving a company based upon one manager.

Anybody who is in business long enough will come across a direct manager who is a really bad manager for whatever reason. They’re a control freak, they’re one of those screamer types, or they’re verbally abusive to their employees. I think all of us can enumerate reasons why someone you work for was not a good fit for you, and you were really unhappy at that situation.

I was working for a person and I started to think, “I just can’t work for this person, I’ve got to get out of here.” The problem is I’d been with that company for five years, and it’d been a great run, and it would have been a great career. I made a huge mistake to leave that company where I’d had a great five-year run solely because of one bad manager.

I advise people all the time that in your career, you shouldn’t run away from something, you should run to something. And what did I do? I was an idiot and I ran away from something without doing due diligence and being excited about where I was going. I just took the first opportunity that fell in my lap, and it ended up being the one blip in my career, the one place where I was only there for a year. And it was only because I was so hasty in getting out of a bad situation, so I ran away and got into a situation that really wasn’t that great.

I realized it was a mistake within the first two months. Then I did what any of us do, I said, “I’ll give it the old college try. That was a mistake, but darn it I’ll fix it. I’ll work harder and apply every skill I have to make this situation better.” I wound up staying for another eight months afterwards and realized I can’t fix it, I’ve got to go. It was really the first time in my career I decided to leave a situation in less than a year.

I violated my own advice that I always gave to people, and sure enough it bit me.

You shouldn’t run away from something, you should run to something.

The Lesson:

What I always tell people is to run to something in your career. Be excited about it, do your due diligence, do your research. Know what you’re getting into, and be excited and passionate about it.

You get into one situation, and the person is so bad you let it negate everything else about that company and that career opportunity. It blinds you a little bit, and it even blinds you to your own common sense. Sometimes emotions get the better of us and it dictates a career decision, and lord knows emotions aren’t the best thing necessarily to dictate career decisions.

You should never go into an opportunity without checking with multiple sources first. The company and whoever’s interviewing you are going to extol all the positive virtues of their company, because they’re selling you and putting that opportunity in the best light possible. It’s your job to check with other employees that you can find through your network, and check with other consultants who’ve worked with that company. Check with customers or analysts or someone who’s not directly involved in trying to sell you to take that opportunity.

Now when you do make a mistake like mine, you have to own up to it. You have to explain why you made the mistake, why it was a mistake for you, and what you learned from it. At least on my resume, honesty was the best policy and I could put that one situation in context.

Most people I’ve explained it to react with, “Oh I’ve had one of those,” and they’ll share their own personal story. Everybody’s had one bad relationship and one bad job hop—we can all relate to that mistake.

Don’t do it is the big lesson, and then if it was a mistake, own up to it and be honest about it.

MicroStrategy is on Twitter at @MicroStrategy.

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