Posts Tagged ‘skills’

Should The Business Owner Remain CEO?

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

From time to time a business owner we’re working with will ask if we think he or she is the right person to take their company to the next level.Should business owners remain in or relinquish the position of CEO?

This concern has its roots in a broader question.

Can entrepreneurs scale the companies they start or should a professional manager/CEO be brought in at some point?

Arguably this is a leadership not a strategy issue. But the two are interwoven, perhaps even inseparable.

Randy Ottinger nicely summarized the alternative approaches in a recent article.

1.  The founder stays on as CEO

This theory, like the others, is supported by research from very credible sources.

The conclusion – founding CEOs consistently outperform professional CEOs on a broad range of business and financial measures. The founders of technology companies, in particular, have core competencies an outsider may not have.

Some high profile companies with successful founder CEOs are Starbucks, Amazon and Apple.

2.  The founder forms a partnership (not necessarily in the legal sense) with a professional CEO

This time, the research concludes that founders maximize the value of their equity by giving up the CEO position.

The founder of LinkedIn supports this alternative. He argues that retaining the founder prevents the loss of the essence and entrepreneurial nature of the company, while at the same time gaining the expertise to scale the company in the professional CEO.

Other companies, which went this route, were eBay and Google.

3.  The founder is replaced by a professional CEO (brought in from another company)

The third alternative is to replace the founder with an outsider.

But Jim Collins, amongst others, concludes that great companies have a much greater chance of success if they hire from within rather than go outside to find a CEO.

So where does all of this leave us?

4.  The fourth alternative – common sense at work?

Clearly, not all situations are the same.

So, perhaps it’s not about choosing either a founder/CEO or professional/ CEO, but about using the leader whose skills and abilities best match the requirements of the task at hand.

Founders typically are innovators with entrepreneurial drive who may not have the skills needed to execute. Professional managers typically know how to execute or scale but are not strong on innovation.

The question, in both cases, is does the individual have at least some of the missing skills and the desire to build on/improve it? (Which ties to one of my theories.)

If the answer is “no” then a “team” approach may be more effective. Titles can always be massaged (e.g. 1 person is President, the other CEO; 1 is CEO, the other COO).

But the job responsibilities must be clear and unambiguous.

You can read Randy Ottinger’s article here.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Don’t Shoot Your Strategy In The Foot.

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The Single Biggest Thing A Business Needs To Grow

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I’ve been working with business owners for almost 15 years. So, when someone asked me…The need for, and a willingness to change in order to grow successfully

“What’s the single biggest thing that you think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t?”

…I realized that I needed some time to think about it.

As I weighed one thing, then another, over the next few days, I came to the conclusion that the answer is NOT about having:

•    Plenty of cash
•    A price advantage
•    Top quality products and services
•    Products or services protected by patents
•    A broad customer base, not just 1 or 2 really big ones
•    A presence in several markets
•    Great people (which you will know, if you read this blog, I think is huge)
•    A winning strategy
•    A great culture.

Yes, you need all of those things – and others I haven’t mentioned. But they become worthless if one thing is missing.

The single biggest thing that I think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t IS…the business owner understands that he or she personally will have to change, and they are willing to make those changes.

At first I thought the answer was just the owner understanding that she or he needed to change.

Then I remembered that we’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have demonstrated that. But they have subsequently been unwilling to make the changes.

In some cases, what we perceived as unwillingness may have actually been inability to change – either because they couldn’t see the need or they lacked the skill to make the changes required.

The owner’s role remains constant – to provide the direction and to put the people, processes and other resources into place in order for the company to grow. However, as each revenue plateau is reached, the way in which they do that has to change in order for the company to successfully scale the next one.

They not only need to learn new things and hire people with the skills they lack, but they may also have to adapt their management/leadership style and even their behaviour.

And they have to do that while ensuring that the other challenges – for example, adapting to changes in the market or industry; funding growth; maintaining product/service quality; recruiting good people, fending off competitive action – are dealt with.

This is not easy. So it shouldn’t be surprising that some owners either choose not to do it or that some simply can’t.

I don’t believe that it’s for us, or anyone else, to judge a business owner by whether or not they do or do not grow their company. Just starting and building a business requires courage and the willingness to accept a level of risk that many people can’t, or won’t, take.

So that’s not my point.

It’s simply my opinion that the single biggest thing that separates companies that grow successfully from those that don’t is the owner’s understanding and willingness to change him or her self.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

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Execution – Flexibility In Practice

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

There’s been a lot written about the need to be flexible now that uncertainty plays such a part in the new normal. And, like so much else, it sounds like good, profound advice. Especially when you’re giving it, which, as strategy consultants, is something we have been doing for some of our business owner clients.

But, every now and then, life hands us a very practical opportunity to practice what we preach.

For example, for a number of reasons, I have to go to the U.K. at Christmas. For the first 5 or 6 years I did this my travel plans went smoothly. Last year I had a few weather related challenges coming back to Canada. Still, it was manageable.

But this year I have already been handed an opportunity to develop my flexibility – and I haven’t left yet!

I was supposed to fly out last Sunday night but, that morning, my flight was cancelled. Not a “biggie”, I reworked my strategy, developed an action plan and began to implement it.

I had to react quickly because there were lots of competitors also trying to grab the available seats. I had to alter my route, but I saw that as an opportunity to avoid Heathrow and the ongoing threat of bad weather there. And I may have saved a few dollars on the cost of the original fare. Bonus!

As in business, there were “knock-on” effects. But I rearranged the rental car and called in additional resources – my relatives. Their offers of help were gratefully accepted.

Now, it looks as if we (my wife is also scheduled to leave tomorrow night) are going to continue to have opportunities to work on our flexibility. Will our connecting flights be operating and will the roads on the final leg of our journey be passible? Then, in 10 days’ time, we have to get back home.

However like, I suspect, some of our business owner clients I find the mechanical aspects of being flexible – e.g. changing schedules or the start or completion dates of action plans or modifying budgets or forecasts – relatively easy.

But developing and executing an action plan to deal with the intangible aspects is more difficult. Chief amongst the intangibles in the case of my example is the impact on the person we are going to see – my Mother. She’s 82 years old, lives alone and her health is not as good as it used to be.

Reassuring (while not promising) her that everything will be fine and that we will be there for Christmas requires different “skills” than re-booking a flight or a rental car. Recent changes in her health have created new threats because she lives alone and mean that, while we’re there, we have to find new opportunities to provide support for her.

I find that responding to the requirements of being flexible is much harder when I’m managing people and their needs and expectations. I suspect that some of our clients find that too.

So perhaps being reminded that there’s more than one dimension to flexibility is the real lesson of the last few days. It’s an essential one because people are much more important than anything else.

And so my first New Year’s resolution is to bear that in mind when I work with our clients in 2011.

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