Tag Archives: Experience

How Do You Transition to a New CEO? Four Strategies

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.

How Do You Bring Children into the Company? Seven Observations

Situation: The CEO of a company is looking at her succession plan. The preferred option, from a family standpoint, is to groom one of her children to eventually become the CEO. A concern is how current key employees will react to this plan. How do you bring children into the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • As preparation for a key role at the company, have your child gain experience at a company that has been where the business is today but has grown to a higher level. Learn from them what they went through and what they would change were they to do it again.
  • How did Peter the Great become the greatest leader of Russia? As young man, and son of a czar, he apprenticed in England and Holland – in ship building and other important arts that were scarce in Russia. He was able to leverage what he learned to help build the country when he became czar.
  • Have them develop the leadership qualities and maturity that they need to run this company in another company – where there is the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Bring this wisdom and experience back to the company. It will help gain the respect and loyalty of company employees.
  • Have them take on tasks which are not comfortable – for example, sales. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to visit a new customer. This is the key role of the principal of any company.
  • A parent/child relationship can be difficult in business. It can get tense when business, money, survival of the company and making payroll are on the line.
  • The son or daughter must be aware that in a new role one doesn’t start out in control. This may be achieved in the end, but it is not the starting point.
  • An option, once experience has been gained in another company, is to have the individual start a new branch of the company in a different location. This will provide a valuable learning experience and will demonstrate both capacity and success to company staff.

How Do You Choose Between Strategic Options? Four Points

Situation: The founding CEO of a technology company is considering options for the future. The company is doing well, with two options for future development either within or outside the company. How do you choose between strategic options?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Domain expertise is less important than business experience, P&L experience, and fund-raising success. A diversified background and successful experience as a CEO are as important as specialty industry experience.
    • Continue to pursue all options for the time being. See how the new opportunities mature before making final choices, and either split time between the options or assign good managers to oversee each.
    • Ownership agreements should be based on cash investment of the parties – not time and effort.
  • Option #1 – Focus on the primary company.
    • A challenge is that most of the Board members just see the numbers, not the dynamics of day-to-day operations. They don’t know the CEO’s contribution.
    • Assure that the Board understands the CEO’s contribution and is rewarding the CEO appropriately.
  • Option #2 – Focus on New Opportunity #1.
    • Is this option more like a product or a company?
    • Consider this option as a product incubator rather than a single product company – producing and spinning off a series of ideas for development.
    • This can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.
  • Option #3 – Focus on New Opportunity #2.
    • Software development can be self-funding. Compared with manufacturing, software is inexpensive to develop and requires little investment to scale and sell once the code is written.
    • The trick is to rigorously focus on market opportunity while minimizing cost.
    • Watch staffing commitments. Use scarce resources to lock up irreplaceable capabilities. Hire or offer equity only for significant contributions such as IP development. For labor, use consultants, independent contract arrangements, or look for what can be outsourced.
    • Like Option #2 this can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.

How Do You Introduce a Product into a New Market? Five Ideas

Situation: A technology-based company has a very successful product in a niche market. The team has been brainstorming about additional markets into which the product could be introduced. The only experience that the CEO and team members have is with the existing market. While other markets are appealing, they lack the experience and contacts to penetrate new market opportunities. How do you introduce a product into a new market?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Hire someone, either an employee or a consultant, who intimately knows and can introduce you to the new market. If you have more than one good candidate consider hiring them both.
  • Start with clients that you already serve in your current market but who also serve the new market. This can provide quick wins and proof of concept. Overlap is important because you will have a shorter sales cycle with these clients.
  • Another company moved from on-site consulting to turn-key services. They found the purchase process to be completely different. Originally, they were unprepared for this, so the transition took longer than it might have.
    • Talk to existing customers and learn about their companies’ purchasing processes to organize your fact gathering and strategy.
  • Read case studies of other companies’ experience moving a single platform between markets.
  • Another company moved from niche photography – holiday photos – to photos for Fortune 500 companies. This was the same expertise, but the market and decision processes were different.
    • Key to the successful move was understanding the people in Fortune 500s who were making the buy decision and the structure of their decision process. The CEO of this company registered for conventions attended by client prospects. This provided a quick way to meet and learn about key people and their decision processes.

How Do You Market to Company Insiders? Three Suggestions

Situation: The key to a career development company’s growth, historically, is leveraging relationships with insiders in potential client companies who know the needs of their own companies. The key benefits to these people are access to good people, no recruiting fees and feeling good about the experience. What is the marketing message to this group? How do you market to company insiders?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Ask them. You already have a number of company insiders who work with you. Develop a detailed survey to query what they see as the key benefits of working with your company, and which of these benefits are most important to them.
    • Consider a broad quantitative survey that you can administer via the web.
    • Complement this with a smaller in-depth interview survey to understand qualitatively how they benefit from their relationship with your company and the service that you provide.
  • Your equity is the experience that these people enjoy when they work with you – this is your leverage.
  • Your pitch is emotionally oriented. Stick with this. Saving recruiting fees will not be as important given your focus and the company insiders that you are likely to attract.

Have You Hired People with Disabilities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is expanding. Some jobs that need to be filled are either utilitarian or don’t require full mobility. Labor through agencies runs $20/hour including agency fees. The CEO considering hiring the disabled including wounded warriors for this work. Have you hired people with disabilities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In San Mateo County California there is a group called Community Gatepath. They assess the work and work requirements and the company pays for disabled services a fair price piece basis. This worked well for sample product with simple packaging.
  • National groups include SourceAmerica.org and the Small Business Association which can assist with any regulatory questions pertaining to hiring the disabled.
  • Working with Easter Seals one company hired high functioning disabled individuals. For everyone involved, it was a very positive experience.
  • If you are interested in hiring disabled veterans, organizations like Hire Heroes USA provides both resumes and assistance. Tax credits are available for hiring disabled veterans.
  • There may be issues around how disabled workers process information or how they handle emotional situations that are different from non-disabled workers. Sensitivity among those supervising is important.
  • Interview and investigate the sponsoring organization and arrangements. Make sure that they are set up well for your needs as well as those of the disabled workers.

How Do You Find and Evaluate New Markets? Four Factors

Situation: A company has determined that market shifts off-shore have neutralized their strategy for the past two years. They need to find new markets that offer growth potential. How do you find and evaluate new markets?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a classic competitive strategy challenge any time a company wants to expand within or beyond its core business. Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School is a top expert on competitive strategy. You can find talks that he has given on TED Talks and elsewhere on the Internet that can help guide your efforts.
  • Do a SWOT analysis. First, figure out your vision and analyze the strengths that you possess that will fulfill that vision. At the same time analyze your weaknesses to provide a counterpoint on what should not attempt to do. Then consider both threats and opportunities. Have these analyses in place before you expend major effort responding to or developing new opportunities. There are more opportunities out there that will end up as dead ends than there are profitable opportunities.
  • Don’t discount the expertise that you have developed over the years in your specialty. This is the area of your greatest profits both now and historically. It is likely to remain so in the future.
  • If you need additional resources to meet existing or new client demand – particularly if these involve activities that are less profitable to you – explore partnerships to access this expertise instead of trying to do everything yourself.

How Do You Attract a High Powered Individual? Three Thoughts

Situation: An early-stage company is in discussions with a high-powered individual who could invest, join their Board, or help them more directly as an executive. They want to involve him enough so that he is interested in working with them. How do you attract a high powered individual?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • You are still in fact finding mode. Get an NDA ASAP! Backdate the NDA to your first conversations.

o    This individual needs to meet face to face with your current team. See how the dynamics work; be very sensitive to conflicts and jealousies. These can wreck an early stage company.

o    You need to see how the new individual interacts with your current team to check chemistry before you go too far.

o    Be gingerly with your co-founders about adding another “founder.”

  • Create a high level straw man for this person’s roles and responsibilities.

o    Ask the individual what he sees as the potential for the company and how he foresees being able to contribute.

o    Develop a business plan for this individual – with the appropriate title. Spell out roles and expectations.

  • If you offer an equity position, be sure that shares are on a vesting schedule and that you have a shareholder’s agreement.

o    Be creative in your vesting. Rather than vesting on time, consider vesting on individual and company performance against milestones. If the company doesn’t hit the milestones what is the value of the shares? Make the milestones consistent with the individual’s objectives – bringing dollars into the company based on investment or revenue hurdles.

o    If this individual wants to come in as a “founder” insist on some investment to demonstrate commitment – you and your co-founders have funded the company to date.

How Do You Move from Manager to Strategist? Four Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a small-to-medium business wants to reduce day-to-day management activities and spend more time focusing on new opportunities. How do you shift focus from management to strategy and how do you identify the right person to take on the management role?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • As CEO your primary focus needs to be on the future more than the day-to-day. As a smaller company, the management role needs to be filled by an individual with broad multidisciplinary experience. To replace yourself, you need a Renaissance person – someone with industry knowledge and experience who buys into your business model.
  • As you evaluate candidates, look for attitude, not resume.
    • Analytical skills are critical – mental capacity.
    • These need to be complimented by guts – emotional intelligence.
  • Your current business is not the business that you and your co-founders started. It is a larger entity, more solid, and you need to bring in people who can take it to higher stages of growth. Finding the right person to fill your role is a long-term process.
    • Bring in 3 to 4 solid candidates as employees in important roles. Test them with challenges to see who can grow into the larger role of company manager.
    • Look for people who can grow your downstream businesses as candidates to manage the full business.
  • In the current market you have time on your side. While hiring is improving in some regions, there are still many more candidates out there than available jobs. This is unlikely to change soon.

When is “Good Enough” Enough? Five Factors

Situation: A company is about to launch a Beta version of their web-based software. The CEO strives for perfection. What is sufficient for launch, and can the company tolerate imperfections in Beta version? When is “good enough” enough?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Many successful software companies – think Microsoft – have realized that finishing the last 10-20% of a new release can be as expensive and time consuming as the first 80-90%. The challenges are often greater and it’s difficult to prioritize the final pieces. So they release when the software is 80-90% complete, prioritize the final pieces based on user feedback, and focus on quick response to user feedback.
  • You really have no idea how users will experience a new web-based program until you hear it from them. They will tell you what does and does not need to be fixed. They may even be able to help you fix it! Craig’s list stinks from a pure GUI perspective, but is highly popular and successful.
  • Get the Beta program out ASAP. What you perceive as imperfections may not appear as problems to young Beta users, and may in a way add a quirky appeal to the user experience.
  • Find a customer or group of customers who will pay for the program. Only this proves its actual worth. There can be conditions for a Beta release and discounts, but if nobody is willing to pay, where is the value?
  • Consider releasing your Beta version in a college campus environment and invite both participation and feedback. College students are very web-savvy, more tolerant of Beta programs, and crave the opportunity to contribute.
    • As an additional bonus, when you are ready to launch, college students are great at helping you generate buzz and early adoption because they talk to so many of their friends from both college and high school.