How being called a ‘hypocrite’ taught Dropbox chief Drew Houston the importance of company culture

Dropbox Drew Houston

Dropbox chief executive Drew Houston at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2013. Source: AAP/Keystone/Jean-Christophe Bott

Turning up late to a meeting is never a good look, and turning up late to a meeting when you’re the company’s chief executive is even worse.

What about if that meeting is one you organised to discuss the importance of punctuality? That’s a look bad enough to crack mirrors.

No, we’re not making this up; this is what happened to Dropbox co-founder and chief executive Drew Houston, who spoke to Inc about how that exact experience taught him the importance of acting on company values.

It was the early days of Dropbox, when the team was still around 10-15 people, and Houston recalls being “annoyed everyone was showing up to work at noon”. So he called for a company-wide meeting for the next day at 12 noon.

“The next morning, I’m running late. I jump in the cab and look at my watch. It’s 12.01pm,” he says.

“So I get in the all-hands [meeting], where I’m supposed to be telling everybody that they’re supposed to be on time and starting early. But it’s just a couple of minutes, so we finish the all-hands, and it’s fine.”

However, Houston says one employee didn’t think it was fine, pulling the founder aside after the meeting and telling him: “I can’t believe what you just did”.

“I said, ‘my cab was late, I’m really sorry’. We were starting to go back on forth on this, and I was thinking, ‘how is this important? It was two minutes’,” he told Inc.

“I realise that’s not what he’s saying, that I’m two minutes late, he’s saying: I’m a hypocrite, the rules don’t apply to me, I don’t respect the team. This is what he was feeling.

“I was like, wow. We can write down all the pretty words about our culture and values that we want, but people pay 1000 times more attention to what you do as a leader.”

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