April 11, 2011
The human connection
By Tatiana Tomljanovic
Six months into his role as CEO of Mozilla—the Silicon Valley company behind the popular web browser Firefox—University of Calgary graduate Gary Kovacs is back at his alma mater getting ready to address a couple hundred eager students standing on the precipice of their careers.
Kovacs leans down for a good luck hug and kiss from his eight-year-old daughter Erin before getting on stage. She whispers that she knew he’d be nervous so she wrote him a note and passes it to him. He brought his family with him to Calgary and it becomes clear in less than a minute, why.
“We define our life by our career or worse our company,” he states looking anything but nervous. “Don’t mix up poetry and pragmatics.”
What might initially come across as a conflicting statement from a man, who’s known as the leader of Mozilla, quickly becomes clear. Kovacs doesn’t define himself by his job title. His focus is on people, on relationships, whether that relationship is with his daughter, his colleagues or future professionals set to graduate from the U of C. The poetry is the relationships and the passions. Pragmatics is basic needs and money. Both need to be in balance.
Kovacs embodies Mozilla’s bottom line. But that line isn’t about what makes the most money. It’s about what’s best for people and for the future of the Internet. It’s a philosophy that Kovacs followed before joining the high profile tech company and it’s the reason he joined them. Mozilla’s free open-source web browser currently has more than 400 million users and is rapidly evolving. Firefox 4 was released March 22, 2011 and Firefox 5 will be released June 22, 2011. The reason? More than 50,000 volunteers help build a better Internet that is free, open and accessible to all.
“At a certain point, you care what’s good for the world and not what’s good for you,” says Kovacs. He’s got the audience’s attention. Kovacs’s theory is that you give back to the world. It’s something he picked up from one of his mentors and he’s had several. The Haskayne School of Business’s Dr. Allan Conway is one of them. He taught financial strategy while Kovacs was working towards his MBA. “He was something special. He took a personal interest in me,” says Kovacs. “At a time when I was trying to figure out career directions.”
Conway and other mentors like him are the reason Kovacs is back at the U of C. The new Mozilla CEO had been invited to speak at several U.S. educational institutions and while walking down the path of a notable university, it struck him that if he was going to give his time to something it would be to the places and to the people who had given to him. Kovacs picked up the phone and dialed the number on his alumni newsletter, ArchE.
His time at the U of C helped give him foundational learning in statistics and finance. “I can travel my way around a balance sheet,” says Kovacs. Even more importantly, the collaborative work with fellow students including presenting and putting together projects taught him how to stop and listen to what they’re really getting at and the assumptions behind the opinion.
“It’s all about people,” says Kovacs. What motivates them? What are they passionate about? He gives the same advice to U of C students that he plans to give his daughter when she’s old enough to choose a university and eventually a career, “Go into something that’s meaningful, that really excites you.” And most importantly, “lighten up”, laughs Kovacs as he shows an embarrassing PowerPoint slide of himself and his daughter in Mexico. “We hire human beings. We don’t hire computer scientists. We don’t hire MBAs.”