Founder CEOs: Creators vs. Builders

Founder CEOs: Creators vs. Builders

Every founder CEO begins as a “creator”. Not every founder CEO graduates from “creator” to “builder”. 

Creators eventually self-implode (Elon Musk, Tesla and Travis Kalanick, Uber) whereas other founders are able to scale over the long-term. For example, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are builders (We provide a list of Builder CEOs at the end of this note).


Creators don’t necessarily reveal themselves to be creators until they blow up. Company insiders however can identify creators more readily. Creators can be impulsive, volatile, unable to stick to a long-term plan and prone to emotional decision-making. Creators micromanage processes. Apparently Musk continues to manage in this fashion (high turnover at Tesla since the company’s inception), questioning his executives at every turn. Your best people will walk if you don’t trust them.

The creator’s unpredictable management style may not fatally damage a company in the earliest days of its existence. However, it will prevent a company from scaling should the CEO not re-calibrate his/her management style.

We know of one former public company CEO in Boston that insisted on signing off on all company expenses above $1,000 (that’s right, one thousand dollars). Not scalable behavior.


Builders on the other hand are a rare breed. They have the ability to both create and to lead over the long-term. Steve Jobs was a builder. Sam Walton was a builder. Bill Gates was a builder. Builders are passionate about the present and are equally passionate about the future. Builders love their employees, (they help the company fulfill its potential). While builders can be tough on employees, they don’t undermine them. Top talent didn’t run for the exits during the tenures of Jobs, Walton or Gates.

Here is a list we compiled of founder CEOs who are builders: BUILDER CEOs