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7 Questions on Leadership with Eric Truebenbach

Name: Eric Truebenbach

Title: Managing Director

Organisation: Teradyne Robotics Ventures

Location: United States

Eric currently manages a corporate venture capital organization. Starting as an engineer, he's worn many different hats as an architect, project manager, director, founder of two internal startups, as well as in corporate development and M&A.

Eric is also an Engineering Fellow, with over 20 patents covering a range of technologies, and is licensed to practice for the US patent office.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Eric's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Communicating effectively. This is something I still try to improve every day. One has to understand the audience, how to motivate them to listen to you, and how to adapt to their style.

(It doesn’t help that I am constantly making new connections in my mind as I’m talking).

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

It was unavoidable.

I started out as a straight-up electronics design engineer. I enjoyed the technical challenges, and I tried to exceed expectations in my designs.

Then I worked on a project that was struggling with its schedule and was often blindsided by unanticipated setbacks. I didn’t like being on a struggling project, so I volunteered to keep the schedule in addition to my own work. That required talking to all of the staff frequently, figuring out whether they were being realistic, working with them to recover from problems, etc. Over time this grew in to wider project management and people management. I learned that leadership is a combination of questioning, listening, and guiding.

I also continued to find more and more places where new thinking was required. I found holes in the market, new technologies that could create new products, better ways of doing what we did. That required convincing others to change and then helping them do it. I have lead an advanced R&D team, founded two internal startups, did M&A for nine years, and eventually founded a corporate VC fund to help other entrepreneurs capitalize on new ideas.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

When I worked directly with project teams all day, I would always come in an hour or two early, to give me time to collect my thoughts and set priorities. I’d make a point of always being home for dinner, to be with my family and to give myself some down time.

Currently, I may be meeting with people across 20 time zones, and I travel 25% of the time, so I have to be more flexible. I’m careful to get enough sleep and to exercise. I use my ad hoc exercise time to do a mental reset, and if I can’t exercise, I meditate. I’m fortunate that I can just step out of my office and walk in to the gym or get on my bike.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

It takes a long time to gain people’s trust, and it can be lost in a moment. Since I am pushing for change and improvement all of the time, I bank heavily on people trusting that I am promoting the right thing. I am very mindful that everyone has their own goals and I should not be inadvertently undermining them.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Though these hoary old books are often cited and (mis-) quoted, Andy Grove’s "Only the Paranoid Survive" and Clayton Christensen’s "The Innovator’s Dilemma" both impressed on me the need for constant vigilance and renewal in a technology-driven company. These books showed me I would need to lead and not just follow if I wanted to have a positive impact.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

"Gnothi seauton." Understand your strengths and limitations. Adapt your leadership style to your strengths first, and work on your shortcomings second. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

I once managed a group that developed a new automated system. The first installations were all conducted by the development staff, in Thailand, under the watchful eye of the first customer. It was very difficult work, in a difficult environment, with a new product and any support from the company being days away.

I had to manage a demanding customer, communicate with the team back home, help solve logistical and technical problems, and keep morale up among my very stressed and overworked group.

There were anti-government protests going on at the time. At one point, the protesters occupied the airport and shut down all outgoing flights. We had a very junior staff member in the air, two hours away from landing. We tried, but there was no way to meet her and get her through the mob at the airport.

Fortunately, she joined with some other passengers, walked a few kilometres to where they could find a taxi, and managed to get to the hotel. After a few days of increasing unrest, we paid an extraction service to drive the entire team across Thailand to another airport and get them home. The customer was not happy, but the team’s safety was more important.

After a few weeks, things had calmed down and we went back to Thailand to finish the job. You have to take care of your team, but you also have to take care of your customer.

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