iHeart CEO Bob Pittman
Michael Seto/Business Insider
  • Owen Grover recently became a CEO, but spent most of his career at iHeartMedia learning from its famous CEO, Bob Pittman.
  • The best advice Pittman ever gave him was how to hire for genius.
  • "These are people who are so quirky that their genius is often completely missed," Owen described to Business Insider.
  • It's the polar opposite of what most managers do today when they hire for "cultural fit."

Owen Grover spent most of his career at iHeartMedia studying at the knee of its famous CEO, Bob Pittman. Pittman is an icon of the music industry, the founder of MTV who went on to hold various CEO and exec roles after, from Six Flags to AOL Networks.

Grover's career has been a wild ride, a jet-setting life zipping around the country on Pittman's plane putting together unusual deals, rising inside iHeart to General Manager and, most recently, leaping to become CEO of Pocket Casts. Pocket Casts is a podcasting app recently bought a coalition of public radio stations.

The best piece of management advice Grover ever got came from Pittman when Grover was a young manager in the company's fledgeling digital unit, Grover told Business Insider.

"Bob told me to always accept people with towering weaknesses as long as they are accompanied with towering strengths," Grover recalled.

"These are people who are so quirky that their genius is often completely missed. It’s easy to want everyone to get along, or to hire people that are easy to manage. But doing so is how you get B's hiring C's hiring D's," Grover said.

That's the opposite way many think about hiring with today's emphasis on "cultural fit." 

Managers these days are warned repeatedly to be wary of hiring a "toxic" person and are looking for "superstars" who are not only bright and capable, but also socially suitable.

Owen Grover

Pittman's view is contrarian. "If people have strong strengths, encourage them, even if they don’t fit in," Grover said.

Former Netflix HR manager and author Patty McCord agrees. She wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article that "finding the right people is also not a matter of 'culture fit.'"

She wrote about hiring outside-the-box, like taking on a humble programmer from an Arizona bank who didn't have the ego of the Valley rockstars he would join; or the manager with a stutter who struggled through the interview but could take the most complex ideas and make them simple.

The key part of Pittman's strategy is a “no a-------” policy, Grover recalled.

People have to be respectful, even when they disagree. But if someone with great ideas isn't great at math, someone else can do the math for them. If they are technically brilliant but not good at words, someone else can do the words for them. 

Everyone contributes just their strengths, and isn't judged, berated, or required to shore up their weaknesses.

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