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The former professional soccer player reveals the mentors he turned to while building a successful high-tech company.

by Joann S. Lublin

Jim Kavanuagh at WWT's Tech Campus in St. Louis, Missouri, in December 2020. PHOTO BY WHITNEY CURTIS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Jim Kavanaugh, a former professional soccer player with blue-collar roots, lacked money to help kick off World Wide Technology LLC when he co-founded the reseller of tech equipment at age 28 in 1990.

Today, the WWT chief executive presides over a global enterprise with $13.4 billion in annual revenue and about 7,000 employees. It provides an array of high-tech services to major companies, government agencies and nonprofit groups.

And Mr. Kavanaugh now has a net worth of $2.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He also often earns accolades for his collaborative leadership style at privately held WWT, which is headquartered in St. Louis.

He ranked ninth among the 25 highest-rated U.S. CEOs for their leadership during the pandemic, according to a Glassdoor analysis of employee approval ratings earlier this year. Common traits among top-rated leaders included prioritizing work-life balance and maintaining frequent, clear communication.

Yet his lofty accomplishments didn't inflate his ego. "If you are too enamored with your success, you are potentially setting yourself up for a big fall when things don't go your way,'' the 58-year-old executive with salt-and-pepper hair warns. "Ego can destroy great companies and (prevent) great teams from ever getting to their full potential."

Here, his four of his most valued advisers weigh in to the Wall Street Journal on their personal and professional relationships: Michael Dell, Chuck Robbins, Joe Koenig, and Michael Bush.

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