I don’t know many entrepreneurs who aren’t better served by the opportunity to talk candidly to their peers and others in the startup community, from VCs to mentors, angels and executives who’ve been there, done that — and mentor other up-and-comers along the way. Even when we’re in the thick of running a startup, we look to others in the ecosystem at large for motivation, bold new ideas and perhaps most importantly, leadership cues.
That’s why I recently asked a panel of 12 successful young entrepreneurs the following question:
If you could take your team inside any company in the world and shadow their leadership for a day, which company would you choose and why?
Below are their top picks — including some longtime favorites, and a few surprising picks as well. Which company would you pick?
1. The Virgin Group
I think Richard Branson is a genius, and I would love for my team to see how he and his team successfully manage a group that controls over 40 companies with a common brand and culture. I think that the way Virgin has scaled into so many industries is truly inspiring; I’d love to have my team meet the people behind it.
- Jessica Brondo, The Edge in College Prep
2. The White House
The senior White House staff never gets a vacation from the business of running the country, working with Congress and state leadership, managing international relations and reviewing a constant influx of data, ranging from economics to healthcare. It would be a fascinating glimpse at how the leader of the nation leads his team and how they maintain sanity in the midst of chaos.
- Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems
3. Baby Einstein
That they started out of the house of a woman in north Atlanta (much like myself) and grew to become a household name is noteworthy. Even more so is the array of products they created; their exit strategy with their sale to Disney mirrors my dream for Finance Whiz Kids.
- Darrah Brustein, Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments
4. Tesla Motors
Elon Musk is applying the startup model and methodology to two completely new industries (aerospace and the car industry). The insights that Tesla is discerning, and the challenges they’re facing, make them a unique case. Other groups, like Apple or Google, may have better processes, but Tesla is approaching problems that those companies have never encountered. That makes them a great case study.
- Liam Martin, Staff.com
Valve makes video games without actually having a company hierarchy. It’s a flat organization, without bosses. There aren’t a lot of details on the way the company actually operates, but they have an in-house economist who has written about the context for such a structure (as well as topics like in-game economies).
- Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting
I would choose Google. They absolutely have it right in terms of leadership and taking care of their employees. From their modern workspaces to their employee perks (which include free haircuts, laundry services, and gym facilities), they definitely know how to take care of their staff, which is a key to long-term business success.
- Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
7. W.L. Gore
W.L. Gore makes many of the products we use every day, such as Gore-Tex. But they have a no-title culture, which makes them exceptionally effective at getting work done without creating hierarchies. They fly under the radar, not focused on getting press for their culture, but for building a successful business. We should all operate with that mentality.
- Susan Strayer LaMotte, exaqueo
I greatly admire the company Jeff Bezos has built, and it would be incredible to bring my company, Poshly, to the firm for a day. Not only did Amazon succeed in creating a web-based venture that services hundreds of millions of people every year, but they also have dominated new business lines like outsourcing (with Mechanical Turk) and cloud services. Amazon for a day would be a phenomenal tour.
- Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.
9. The Walt Disney Company
Sure, I’m already looking forward to hitting the theme parks the next day, but Disney is probably the best example of a company that’s super big, but nonetheless continues to grow and innovate (especially on the web), and has a world-recognized, killer company culture. I’d love to know how they balance all of it.
- Derek Flanzraich, Greatist
We stress service above all else. Tony Hsiesh and Zappos have been better than anyone else at executing on amazing service. We’ve found that going above and beyond in service not only leaves us more fulfilled in our work, but it also has tangible business benefits with increased referrals.
- Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Test Prep
I’m perpetually impressed and humbled by their founder, Rand Fishkin, and their transparent, collaborative culture, which they’ve nicknamed TAGFEE (Transparent, Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, Exceptional). They truly walk the walk and have created a great, growing company. I know my entire team would love to shadow them for a day, and we’d learn a lot we could bring back with us. Rand?
- Mitch Gordon, Go Overseas
12. Any Major Nonprofit
I’d prefer to hop into a quality nonprofit. Let’s look at the Red Cross, or WWF — organizations that never have enough money, talent, or “lucky breaks.” Yet they do have a ceaseless determination to see through a powerful mission — and one that will never be realized, fully — day in and out. Their decisions save lives…literally. We need more underdogs. We need that leadership.
- Charles Bogoian, Kenai Sports, LLC
Image credit: AFP / Getty Images