Jeff Green | Crain's Los Angeles

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeff Green


Jeff Green is CEO of programmatic advertising company The Trade Desk, Inc. He started The Trade Desk after founding online advertising exchange AdECN in 2004, which later sold to Microsoft Corporation. Green studied a variety of subjects in college, such as business, psychology and British literature, before discovering his interest in digital advertising. 

 The Mistake:

The biggest mistake I made, especially in my early thirties as a manager, was not letting go.

There was a place in my career when I realized I loved the digital advertising industry, but I did not love the company I worked for. It was not a very healthy place, so I decided to quit. I went to my boss and said "I need to talk to you," and she said she needed to talk to me, too. She said “I just quit, and I’m leaving in five minutes. What do you want to talk about?”

I said, “Nothing, I’m good.” I helped her pack up her things.

And then I went in to her boss, having only had three months experience in ad buying, and said, “I can run the department. I think I can do it better than she did it if you just give me a chance.”

That ended up being one of the better things I’ve ever done, even though I didn’t like the company. There were times it was painful but it made it possible for me to learn an industry and run a department that I was not qualified to run, so I learned really fast.

I was young enough that I believed I could make it better. After working there for a couple years I decided to start a company, to change an industry, and I was young enough and dumb enough to think I could, but it turned out that we could.

Everybody’s different. People need to be themselves.

The Lesson:

There’s a reason Michael Jordan may be the best basketball player ever, but he’s not really a coach today. There just aren’t that many players who go from being a great player to being a great coach. You just use different muscles.

I had this belief that I could change things and I could do things well myself. As a leader and a manager, it took me a while to get to the place where I could let go and try to inspire other people to do it instead of doing it myself. It took me a while to make the adjustment from being a player to being a coach.

Part of what I was struggling [with during] that time of finding my voice as a leader was [that] I’m inspired by so many people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. They’re all remarkable people, but those people are all very different from me. In finding my voice I had to realize that trying to emulate [someone] is a really bad idea. My first piece of advice is to be you. Everybody’s different. People need to be themselves.


Jeff Green is on Twitter at @jefftgreen and The Trade Desk is at @TheTradeDeskInc.

Photo courtesy of The Trade Desk

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