The Way It Was: Michael Ruettgers

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If there is one trend that stands out in case studies of successful CEOs, it is that most of them spend time in blind alleys before they get to the executive suite.

Michael Ruettgers is a typical example. An indifferent student at the University of California, he spent most of his time at the beach or playing bridge. Cal sent him packing.

He got the message. He finally got a college degree and went on to Harvard Business School.

Fast forward to the late ‘80s. Ruettgers is executive vice president of EMC, a computer storage company that was on the ropes. The company was trying to stay afloat after shipping faulty products to customers.

Ruettgers met the challenge head on. The company guaranteed replacements even if the product was working just fine. It was a near run thing. The company, which was doing $123 million in sales, went through all but about $3 million of its bank loans to stay in business.

Ruettgers earned a reputation as a tough, aggressive competitor. By the mid-1990s, EMC had knocked of IBM as the number one provider of high end storage.

He made bets on new markets and acquisitions throughout that time. Ignoring doubters, he pushed storage boxes into non-mainframe servers, connecting to different types of servers. Soon that market made up more than half of EMC sales. Today, EMC’s market capitalization is more than $30 billion.

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