10 Questions: Rao Mulpuri, CEO, View – Fortune Tech
FORTUNE — We’ve all seen glasses with special lenses that go dark once the person wearing them steps into direct sunlight. Rao Mulpuri’s company, View, does the same thing for windows on a building. The Milpitas, Calif.-based company manufactures “dynamic glass” that promises to be more energy- and cost-efficient than the conventional stuff — no small matter when most modern office buildings are more glass than anything else. As CEO, Mulpuri has worked with an array of organizations — NASA, the Marine Corps, hotels, universities, and medical centers — in his quest to make glass structures smarter around the globe.
Mulpuri, 44, grew up in India, and is an engineer by background. (He holds a Ph.D. from Boston University.) The 44-year-old businessman — and attendee of Fortune‘s Brainstorm Green conference — spoke to us.
1. Which companies do you admire, and why?
Apple (aapl, +0.51%), Google (goog, +0.17%), Samsung, and Tesla (tsla, -0.83%). All of them make great products that people want.
2. What is the best advice you ever received?
One of the most important ones that I repeat often to my company is: Take care of your customers; this is an egg business, not a chicken business. What I mean by that is, if you own a poultry farm, you can raise chickens to lay eggs, or you can raise chickens to sell them for meat. What one of my mentors taught me is the way you take care of those chickens is very different if you depend on an egg being laid every single day. We have to remind ourselves that this is a business where we need to continue to take care of customers. They will buy more from you, and they will lead others to buy more.
3. What would you do if you weren’t working at your current job?
I would teach, and I would travel. I could teach school kids basic things like math and physics, and I would inspire them to think about careers in science and technology. I could teach college kids to not be limited by the degree they have gotten or the field in which they perceive themselves as experts. They could really be thinking about where they would have the most fun or be the most impactful.
Traveling is one of my most favorite things to do. I enjoy meeting people from different walks of life, different backgrounds. I learn something new every single day, and travel makes it even more interesting.
4. What is one characteristic that every leader should possess?
Caring for your employees. I learned this fairly early on in my own development as a manager and leader, and that’s that the definition of a good leader is someone whose people are better off because they work for that person. So if they can at least say, “Hey, I got more done at work, I made more money, I’m a better person, I learned more skills, and this person is helping me get farther ahead than I could have on my own,” to me, that’s the most important definition of leadership.
5. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?
I have many, but the one that definitely sticks out is to be a good role model for my son. I have a nine-year-old boy, and I want to make sure he turns out to be a good person.
6. What daily steps do you take to promote sustainability?
I struggled with this, because I can’t say I always turn off the faucet when I brush my teeth, and I don’t drive the most efficient car in the world. I’d say for me, the biggest one is try to get faster adoption of dynamic glass and to be relentless until every window is built this way.
7. What do you do to live a balanced life?
I don’t have a balanced life. You can’t do what I’m doing and be a good leader for an organization like this with a mission as big as we have at the company and still be able to have a balanced life. If someone has figured it out, I would love to learn that. But thanks to my wife’s tremendous support we are able to provide nurturing and meet our child’s needs because of the choices we both made together.
8. Describe an ideal day.
A major technical breakthrough, delighted customers, and lots of time with my family.
9. What was the most important thing you learned in school?
I think I learned how to learn. Most of this I figured out while doing my Ph.D. People think that while you’re doing your Ph.D., you become an expert in that field, and that’s true. But I think that if you look at what you actually learn, it is how to take on an original problem. You need to then define the problem and figure out what are some approaches to attacking it. Then you have to do research and experiment, then you summarize and show people how you’ve done what you’ve done. And so that process of solving problems teaches you a lot.
10. What do you do for fun?
I play Mario Kart Wii with my son. I love driving. I love cars. My son likes video games, and since he can’t yet drive, I find that he and I have an intersection. Believe it or not, most of the time, he wins. He figured out how to drive a digital car on a display with a handheld device better than I can. I can beat him on the road, though!