Situation: A company founder was advised by her Board to help them hire a CEO with more experience to run the company. This new CEO is now in place. As the founder gains more experience, the Board has indicated its willing to consider her as CEO. How do you transition to a new CEO?
Advice from the CEOs:
Become the fire hose! Build a tight relationship with the new CEO and together build the future strategy that will enable you both to win.
Others will focus on past issues. Keep your approach and advice positive. Position yourself as a partner, not an adversary. Emphasize your supportive and collaborative capacities.
Become the new CEO’s go-to person: trustworthy, objective, knowledgeable, reliable. Nurture the development of chemistry with the new CEO.
When the new CEO asks what needs to be done, produce the plan. Leverage your knowledge and expertise to become his greatest resource.
Enlist the CEO’s support of one or more of the focused strategies that are already in play within the company. Build the support of the Board and focus on boosting company value to 2x sales. The Board won’t forget who produced the original initiatives.
You have more power than you imagine – both with the Board and the new CEO – due to your knowledge of the marketplace and the business. Use it wisely.
While there is a new CEO, the company has already been profitable and company operations are clean. The Board will remember this.
How do you boost the chances to eventually be named CEO by the Board?
Tie yourself very closely to the new CEO – be this person’s more important resource. Build and cement your position as his most important ally within the company. It will help you to gain his support for implementing your ideas.
Segue your relationship with the Board members to become the company’s next CEO.
At the same time, grow your successor within the company so that you will be ready to move up to CEO when the opportunity arises.
Situation: The CEO of a service company sees that 20% of their business is serving large corporate customers. These accounts have proven to be more profitable than smaller clients. Their objective is to increase the large corporate client base from 20% to 60% of their business. How do you expand your large client base?
Advice from the CEOs:
Emphasize the differences and unique talents of the firm in comparison with the competition. Trust in the company’s abilities and act like a big-league firm.
Top shelf prices for services are not an issue for large clients; in fact, they expect quality firms to have high prices. Find the “clinch” price – where the client says, “you’re expensive, but because of your special talents you’re the firm that we will choose.” Compliment this with the firm’s ability to utilize lower cost outsourced services to offer an appealing overall cost of services. Clients will pay a premium for top shelf when they need it but will like the fact that routine needs can be met within their budgets.
Use the lessons from Blue Ocean Strategy to create advantages for the company’s services that existing firms don’t or can’t offer because of their structures and cultures.
Highlight the company’s high-touch culture, with great personal service. This provides a welcomed relief from the typical client experience with service firms.
Create buzz around the company’s leadership. Focus on speaking opportunities. Enhance the references to the company’s leadership on the company web site, including a listing of upcoming speaking engagements that are open to potential clients or individuals interested in the company’s expertise.
During speaking engagements to local groups on topics of high interest, build an educational library of edited flash content that hits the high points of the talks – not the full talk, but the most important 2-3 minutes on a given topic.
Add a library of these short videos on the company website.
By charging premium prices for select services, while sourcing research and expertise from personnel in lower cost geographies, the company will generate additional profit. Allocate some of these profits to community outreach to further enhance the company’s reputation and buzz. Be the firm that gives back.
Situation: A CEO is concerned that the current management team is not mature enough to support planned growth. Sales skills are necessary to start an office, but there is a wide range of business acumen and people skills among the managers. How do you develop current managers to support growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company policy requires manager candidates to demonstrate competence in at least three of five areas: sales, technical skills, customer management, customer management, and business acumen. A coaching or mentoring process from senior management would be beneficial.
A minimum number of clients is required to start an office. There are important differences in the skills needed to grow and sustain an office. More evaluation of the managerial skills of manager candidates will help.
Another CEO shared story of a regional office with a manager who was technically competent but had poor business development skills. This created a growth issue. Clear, mutually agreed upon, written goals helped. Office growth requires good administrative performance as well as technical or sales skills.
Frequent group meetings with managers and a deliberate agenda help. There is merit in allowing the field people to contribute to the agenda, having a “round table” type of review, and peer dialogue. In addition to current individual weekly telephone conversations and quarterly operations reviews, there is an opportunity to modify the format.
Sometimes there is a double loss in taking a good individual contributor and making them a poor manager. For example, of a good salesperson may turn out to be a bad sales manager. The transition may not play to the person’s strength. A more rigorous selection process will help.
Another CEO shared a story of one of his plant managers who reached the limits of his competency and could not continue to grow the plant. He was moved to a support position and a new plant manager was hired. The former manager found new satisfaction in the support role and was successful sharing his knowledge and skill with the new manager and a broader audience within the company.
Situation: A CEO has had to shift half of the company’s employees to part-time due to reduced business. This has hampered new product development. The situation has been exacerbated by slow payments from customers. Where should you focus for the next year?
Advice from the CEOs:
The company has a lot going on. Validate the company’s market potential for products in development, and start gearing up the marketing program so that it will impact this and next year’s sales.
Get a feel for how many customers want the new products in development. Invest in some market research to validate this.
The bottom line is that product development only pays if the company can sell a lot more product! The team needs to know whether customers for the new products exist, in what numbers, where and who they are, and their most critical needs. Without this market intelligence, the company is in no position to tell whether there is a market, nor is the company prepared to address it.
Assume that there is a market, that it can be quantified. Once the company knows who and where the customers are and knows their most critical needs, the next step is to prepare to attack this market. This is not something that is done in 1-2 months, after the product is ready to sell. The company needs to be starting now if marketing is to be initiated in 6-8 months.
Past practice has been to split R&D costs with the customer. The company has the expertise, the customer the money – this is close enough to 50/50. There is no need to show them the numbers. R&D should not be funded through future sales but should be making money now.
One project has been taking so much attention that it is hobbling the company. The company is so focused on getting this “just right” for the customer that sales and market development have been neglected.
For the next 3 months, focus on completing this project, getting it out the door, and getting the company’s focus back on growth. A sense of urgency is needed!
Situation: A CEO wants to increase awareness of company products and services. They have a strong customer list and a long history of successful projects. How to they increase awareness among potential customer decision-makers? How do you boost awareness of your products and services?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are three stages to a good awareness strategy:
The company already has great products and services. Hire a quality PR Firm and have them highlight this for company trade shows, blogs, YouTube, etc.
The objective is not broad awareness but getting to specific decision-makers – what will get to them?
Generate broad awareness of company capabilities through entertaining videos to excite the team members of prospect companies who report to the decision makers.
This is a complex strategic sell. If recommenders think that the company’s stuff is cool they will pass the word – create a campaign to encourage this.
The priority is to close more business. Why not brand or co-brand and promote the company’s products? This may ease reaching the target decision makers.
The PR advice is good – but how will this play to the crowd that’s writing the check?
What makes current customers comfortable working with the company? Is it repeatability? Credibility? Creativity? Referenceability? Decide which it is and highlight it.
Everything that the company is doing on the “cool” side falls under the marketing strategy. Efforts in PR and sales must support this marketing strategy.
Consider a campaign on YouTube – How do the parts of “Sally” work? How did we design it? This attracts a smaller audience, but it may be the right audience.
Within company capabilities, there are two distinctions to clarify – both are important but require different emphasis:
Situation: A CEO wants to raise money to expand the company. Target investors will be private equity investors with a minimum investment threshold of $10 million. What are the key points to make in an investor presentation?
Advice from the CEOs:
To demonstrate the company valuation, and the potential increase in value to investors, calculate the EBITDA trend for the last 3-4 years and project it out for the next 5 years.
The valuation is the whole company – not just the investment piece.
Show the increase in exit valuation with and without the target investment. Show impact.
Show revenue and EBITDA on the company’s current trend and what this will become with the investment.
An alternate view: Don’t focus on valuation. The company is profitable and growing. Pitch the plan and the financials associated with the plan. Let the potential investor come back with an investment proposal and terms. KISS – Keep It Simple Silly – take all the risk out.
There are periodic Shake the Money Tree events in Silicon Valley, sponsored by SVASE – Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs. Start attending these.
Ask for advice – not money. There is an adage in Silicon Valley is that if you ask for money you get advice; whereas if you ask for advice you get money.
There’s a subtle difference between the two asks. The point is that potential investors don’t just want to invest money. They want to be involved in the decisions as to how the company spends that money. By asking for advice, a potential investee demonstrates that they respect the opinions and input of potential investors and will listen to them.
Situation: A CEO has a staffing issue. The company has four product areas but only three strong leads. There are no back-ups for these leads. The CEO feels that the company can’t afford full-time back-ups and is concerned that the presence of back-ups may threaten the leads. How do you create an effective staff back-up system?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two problems, not one.
The leads may not be great managers and may not even like managerial responsibility.
The company has one administrator with support from the leads.
The company’s vulnerability is having an effective lead leave and taking their key core team members with them. This would create a significant hole in the company’s offering.
Change the structure – put manager administrators at top and let the leads do what they love to do. Fit the jobs of the leads to their skills and talents.
Hire the best #2s that can be found to back up the effective leads. Replace the less effective lead with a new lead.
Replace current team members who aren’t as good with new staff. This will provide the funding for the new people.
Then separate managers from architects in terms of role. This does not mean a change of compensation, or necessarily even titles. It means aligning roles with talents. It will also mean that individuals will be happier in their roles and will be less likely to leave.
Don’t do this all at once, but in gradual stages to avoid panic and allow individuals the time to adapt to their new roles. Act as a coach adjusting the whole team to a new playbook.
Consider adjusting the compensation structure to retain the key leads.
Situation: The CEO of a small company is concerned that the loss of a key individual could seriously impact operations. Alternatives include adding an assistant to the affected department or cross training another individual who could serve as a short-term back-up in case of an absence of 2 weeks or more. How do you mitigate temporary loss of personnel?
Advice from the CEOs:
In cases like the current pandemic, planning for multi-week personnel absences is essential. Though systems are documented, subtleties of key jobs may not be documented. This is where cross-training becomes an important alternative.
Train another employee as a backup for the person in question and refresh the training every 2-3 months. If the company runs into an emergency due to short or longer-term loss of an individual, hire a replacement for the individual and have the individual who is cross-trained train the replacement.
Have the key individual and the individual who is cross training refine the ISO 9000 documentation as the key employee trains the back-up individual. This will assure that ISO 9000 documentation is being updated regularly.
Establish a plan with appropriate procedures that all positions must have a back-up. Include this within the company’s personnel procedures.
Rewarding the key individual with a bonus for selecting and training his or her back-up is the wrong thing to do. It’s both the wrong incentive and the wrong reward. Training a back-up is an essential part of each key employee’s job, not a special task that deserves separate recognition or reward.
Situation: A company has a technology that was developed by but not of interest to a major corporation. The company continues to have significant business ties with the corporation, but the corporation wants to be assured that they are never connected to the technology in question. How do you create a Chinese wall around a product?
Advice from the CEOs:
The challenge facing the company is this: representatives of the large corporation don’t and can’t sell the services offered by the company, however exclusive clients of the corporation represent 25% of the available market for the services provided by the company. To date the large corporation has been unwilling either to reward the company for selling to these clients or to assist them in the sales process.
A solution: show the large corporation that the company provides a higher value or potential value to them than they receive on their existing products.
Show them the potential financial value to them of a symbiotic relationship.
Does the company develop the capabilities and value of the technology on their own, or do they partner with client companies in the market?
Many the potential clients in the market appreciate the technology and want to work with the company in some form so a partnership is possible.
The issue is that an open partnership might offend the large corporation who may then perceive the company as taking advantage of their clients.
How does the company establish a Chinese wall so that neither the large corporation nor the clients who purchase the company’s product are concerned about any activity that the company undertakes in the market?
Set up a separate entity and license the technology to this entity. The company would be an investor and would do some of the work but through a client/service relationship with the separate entity.
Get independent M&A advice on how to structure this entity.
Investigate other companies that have set up similar structures. Determine how they have addressed concerns such as conflict of interest, and what structures they have set up to avoid this.
Situation: A CEO has an opportunity to combine with another business to expand their market geographically. A lead to work with the current owner to manage the transition has been identified. A second option is to bring in a new manager from the outside to manage the transition and the expanded business. How do you construct a deal to expand?
Advice from the CEOs:
Basics that are needed prior to initiating negotiations:
Define what the seller wants – both financially from the sale and in terms of ongoing involvement in and support of the business.
Without a lengthy transition period, the value of the business is not significant. The value is in the current owner’s relationships – both with clients and his team. It is critical to retain both.
The other big question is what the seller wants personally.
Is it legacy? Is it the opportunity to transfer knowledge?
The seller knows the CEO’s company and approached them about a sale. Play on this.
Are there potential complications to the deal?
Do any non-compete clauses exist with other companies?
Do other agreements exist that impact the value of the acquisition?
What other aspects of the deal does the group recommend?
Within the new organization, put the current owner under the recommended lead. This gives the lead more prestige and demonstrates trust. It also raises the bar for the lead.
A bonus is that the current owner and the lead get along. This will facilitate the current owner’s mentoring of the lead – like the child that he wishes would have taken over the business.
The current owner is a savvy businessperson, and the existing relationship between the seller and the lead will facilitate his ability to pass this knowledge on to the lead.
The current owner’s key assets are his connections and knowledge of the business. This will include subtle aspects to the business of which only the current owner is aware.
The option to bring in an outside office manager potentially complicates the situation.
Bringing in an outside office manager to manage both the lead and the current owner is the worst case – the most likely to blow up.
This arrangement puts the current owner two reports away from the CEO.
With an additional person involved, the personal dynamics become more complex. Keep it simple.