How do Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey manage their email?

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Answer by Anon User: I used to have this job for someone many of you have heard of. On an average day there were 800+ pieces of mail. On days when there was news of some sort, it could hit 2000.

  • Personal mail (almost) always goes through
  • Media stuff goes to the communications agency
  • Job requests go to the hiring manager
  • Some goes to what in this business would be akin to customer service
  • Charity requests go to the family foundation
  • Solicitations from scantily clad women looking for a ‘mentor’ go to trash
  • Some stuff goes to the lawyers

There were some other rules I’ve now forgotten, and plenty of exceptions to the rules above.

The exceptions on personal mail were the joke emails, political stuff, anything that would qualify as Facebook material, etc.  That didn’t go through unless it was from someone on the white list. The white list included spouse, kids, parents, and a decreasingly small number of friends. (The list was not determined by how close you were, but rather by how judicious you were about email.) Any mail that I could deal with got dealt with, including setting up appointments (I managed the calendar, too).

What would best be described as ‘fan mail’ went through, usually with a pre-drafted reply that my boss could use. (He always answered them personally.) These replies were always gracious, but discouraged further contact. He would sometimes add a line or two to what I’d written for him. Critical mail that did not qualify as hate mail went through, sometimes with a pre-drafted reply. Hate mail went to the same place as the scantily clad women mail, unless it were threatening enough, in which case it went to the lawyers and sometimes to law enforcement (although the lawyers dealt with that, not me).

There are many people doing this job in Fortune 500 companies around the globe. I am sure the rules vary from CEO to CEO. In my case, if you wrote to my boss, you gave up any expectation of privacy. Everything was accessible to me, and anyone who wrote to him understood this. (I never read anything if I didn’t have to, but sometimes he would unexpectedly be called into a four hour meeting and would ask that I reply to personal mail that needed a timely response. My usual way of managing this was to leave the mail unread and just send a note from me saying, “He’s tied up until 4, does the mail you just sent need a reply before then?” )

It’s a uniquely intimate relationship in that I knew almost everything about my boss yet he knew very little about me. There’s a lot of trust involved, not just in terms of privacy, but in terms of judgment. On any close call, the mail went through; often it came back to me with a comment from him noting how to deal with it. I would guess that it took about six months before he was completely comfortable with my decisions. I didn’t have that same sense of comfort for another few months. In terms of pay, 10% of the salary was for the work, the other 90% was for the discretion.

If you send cold email to a CEO, you’re likely to have it end up on the desk of someone like me, and they will determine whether or not s/he sees it. That’s something worth keeping in mind when drafting an email. If you really want to be sure that your mail gets read by its intended recipient, befriend someone who’s had my job. We know the magic words.

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