Mark Cuban: Managing By E-Mail

Harry Stonecipher could learn a thing or two from Mark Cuban, the billionaire serial entrepreneur.

Stonecipher was forced out as chief executive of Boeing when his romance with another executive was laid bare via electronic mail.

By contrast, Cuban is known for his technology savvy and good timing. Cuban and partner Todd Wagner sold their video-streaming business,, to Yahoo in July 1999 for between $4 billion and $6 billion. A year later, the bottom fell out of the technology economy. Cuban then bought the Dallas Mavericks basketball team for $280 million.

Cuban manages his businesses, his social relationships and even his press interviews by e-mail. Here’s Cuban’s advice to Stonecipher and other CEOs, as told in an e-mail exchange with Baseline editor-in-chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld.

What advice would you have had for [Boeing CEO] Harry Stonecipher if he had asked you about the right way(s) to use e-mail inside a company?

First, know the culture of the company and the direction you are trying to take it, and make sure any e-mails you send reflect that. People will react in kind to the tone and nature of your e-mails.

With that in mind, e-mail is the most effective way to reach the greatest number of people in the shortest period of time. It allows you to convey a message that might otherwise take a long time F2F [face-to-face].

How many e-mails do you receive a day?

Not including spam e-mails, probably 1k or so.

How many of these do you reply to?

All employees and biz related, all customers and about 10 pct of strangers.

How much time every day do you spend on reading? On responding?

3 to 4 hours per day.

Who gets the quickest response and why?

Someone who wants to spend money with one of my companies. For obvious reasons.

What expectations do you have about instructions contained in e-mail you send to employees, managers and executives of companies you’re doing business with?

That they are received and understood as if I were standing there telling them the same in person. This is how I communicate with employees. It’s how I expect their first line of communications to be with me.

When and why do e-mail messages get misinterpreted?

When they are emotional. When you try to convey some level of emotion in an e-mail, you can expect that it’s often going to be misconstrued. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you know the implications when you write the e-mail.

How do you guard against that?

I try to make it very short and to the point. The shorter the e-mail, the easier it is to understand.

What is the most effective way you’ve found to use e-mail, to get things done?

E-mail is more productive for me for several reasons.

1. It’s non-linear. I can respond to e-mails based on priority to me at any time of the day

2. They take less time to read, respond and complete than a phone call or meeting.

3. Most importantly, e-mail serves as a tickler file and relationship history. I can go back through 15 years of e-mails in some cases and know exactly what we discussed, accomplished or didn’t.

4. E-mail is most effective when you respond quickly. If people get used to it as an alternative to phone calls, they start to realize the productivity gains and prefer it.

Are there contexts for your business communications in which you will not use e-mail?

No. If it’s important, I want a record of it. If it’s personal, I want a record of it.

Where have you tripped up on e-mail for business purposes? (Anecdote or two)

Not really for business purposes, but one time I sent out an e-mail to a broadlist to vote for the Mavs on the Internet All-Star ballot. I mistakenly had the script put the e-mail addresses in the CC rather than a BCC, and that created a deluge of messages from people upset about their e-mail [addresses] being shown.

What was the message that got you the most [beneficial] impact and why?

Asking my wife out on our first date.