A CEO is considering her exit strategy between five and ten years out. She
wants to do what is best both for her, the company and her employees, assuring
that both personal and company needs are met and the company is ready for
transition. What are your five- and ten-year plans?
from the CEOs:
personal side and the company’s future are closely linked. The solutions and
strategy must fit both the CEO’s priorities as well as those of the company. By
looking at the CEO’s role, the current and future needs of the company, and any
changes that need to be made, the CEO is preparing for an eventual exit.
CEO must decide what lifestyle she wants – both as she prepares for eventual
exit and as she prepares the company to continue under new leadership.
must decide what she wants to do with her time in an ideal world. What will
make her happy as she prepares for the future?
must be considered both for herself and her business partners. Have conversations
to align both business and personal expectations.
a strategic planning retreat on the future of the company as well as the
transition of leadership.
a talk with significant others to align personal expectations.
changes in leadership are necessary to implement the plan? What are the key
roles and who will fill them? What is the succession plan for each key role?
Are current personnel in place to fill these roles, or is additional hiring and
an ESOP or a virtual stock program to enhance employee incentives and sense of ownership
in the company’s future.
what exit means on a personal level.
from founder to leader gets the CEO more involved in the company.
on priorities and engage in ongoing discussions with key personnel to jointly
plan the future.
Situation: A growing company needs new space for operations and back office functions. They have grown steadily over the last two decades. Prospects for the future are positive. Options include expansion near their current location or to another, lower cost city. The CEO is also considering whether to sublease space or rent. How do you plan for expansion?
Advice from the CEOs:
Consider whether the company needs to expand in one step or whether it is possible to expand in stages. Also consider whether functions will benefit by being close to the primary base or whether, using Internet and telecommunications, the new location can be remote. This requires a careful analysis of not only the company’s functions, but also the strength of the management team and the willingness of key managers to relocate.
There are trade-offs between subleasing and working directly with the landlord.
The landlord will generally offer market rates, but the company gets to determine the terms and term of the lease.
Subleasing can save money, but the company is then at the mercy of the priorities of the tenant from whom they are subleasing. When things get busy, the company may disrupt the operations of the tenant. In another company’s case this resulted in a forced move with 30 days’ notice at the end of their sublease term.
Consider the cost of both moving and having to re-outfit the space to meet the company’s needs against the savings from subleasing.
Consider leasing a larger space, one which is convenient and enough for the company’s needs, and then subleasing excess space until it is required. This may cost more short term, but it puts the company in charge of their own destiny regarding space availability and utilization.
Another option is to buy a building and sublease the excess space until it’s required for company operations.
Situation: A company wants to effectively position itself for a recovery. The CEO believes that it is time to sit down with his team and focus on those areas which will help them to emerge during the recovery not only stronger than they were when the recession started, but ahead of their competition. How do you create a value proposition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Creating your Value Proposition starts by analyzing and understanding your most important strength. Is it Product Leadership, Operational Excellence, or Customer Intimacy?
No company can succeed today trying to be all things to all people. Choosing one discipline as your most important strength is the choice of winners.
To set your Value Agenda, ask your team “How do we compete and win in our marketplace?” This is not a single discussion, but requires three rounds – best done as three different sessions.
o Round 1 focuses on understanding where you stand in your marketplace.
o Round 2 focuses on understanding what your customers perceive as your “unmatched value.”
o Round 3 focuses on building an operating model that enhances your unmatched value and helps to consistently communicate this to your clientele.
Once the three rounds are completed, formulate the top findings of each round into your Value Agenda for the company.
o A Value-Driven Operating Model gives your company the ability to deliver on your Value Proposition.
o Your Value Discipline is the combination of operating model and value proposition that will allow you to be the best in your market.
Situation: The CEO of a company has a Director of Operations who aspires to more professional responsibility, but who is also hesitant to take on more work. This conflict in the mind of the Director poses a challenge for the CEO. How should the CEO work with this individual?
Advice from the CEOs:
Key managers in certain roles, for example operations and finance, are naturally more conservative in their outlook. Often this is desirable for the role and is characterized as protector behavior in contrast with the ambitious entrepreneur’s builder behavior. These complimentary behaviors are essential to a successful enterprise – the builder to push the envelope and the protector to assure that the company’s resources aren’t stretched too thin.
Take the time to determine the source of hesitation by asking questions. Is it because the individual is meticulous and precise, or is there something else behind the hesitation? If the former, then a plan of action will enable the person to assess whether the next level of responsibility is in line with his or her expectations. If there is something else, work with the individual to define what this is and whether it is a barrier to additional responsibility or a temporary situation that can be alleviated.
Because this individual aspires to additional responsibility, be precise in explaining the demands of the next level position and the performance that you expect at this level. Develop a plan and objectives that will demonstrate whether the individual is ready to take on additional responsibility or not. For the meticulous, precise individual the plan will serve as confirmation of what is expected and will help him or her determine whether they are ready for more responsibility.
Situation: A company’s Board is pressing the CEO to hire a COO to oversee operations. The Board’s concerns include succession planning for the CEO and a desire for the CEO to put more focus on the vision and strategy of the company. There are no current candidates within the company. How do you identify and bring in a COO?
Advice from the CEOs:
Think beyond roles and responsibilities and consider how you would describe the ideal candidate. This includes attitudes and behaviors, talents, experience, and essential skills. Map these attributes and use them to guide your recruitment and selection process.
Increasingly, companies are using a values-based process to evaluate personnel both for promotion and outside selection. Tony Hsieh of Zappos talks about this in his book “Delivering Happiness.” This doesn’t substitute for skills and experience, but helps to identify candidates who will help to strengthen your company’s culture.
Assure that you have a full process in place that will help you to recruit and select a good candidate. If it has been a while since you last recruited a high level executive, consider securing outside resources to assist. One of the CEOs even hires a 2nd expert to vet the recommendations of the primary expert.
Where can you look for good candidates?
Talk to your key vendors about who is really good in the industry. Look for a high potential individual in another company who doesn’t have room to grow in their current situation.
Also look at related industries where there will be cross-over knowledge and skills.
Don’t overlook the military. Talented officers are regularly rotating out of the services – people who have exceptional experience leading and motivating people.
On-boarding a new senior executive is different from a lower level employee. If you choose the right individual and they fit your culture, this will ease the process. Be aware that some of your current senior employees will likely be upset that they were passed over and may be difficult. If you haven’t done this in some time, it is worthwhile to secure counsel on the best ways to bring a new COO on-board.
Situation: A small company wants to land one additional large account per quarter. They utilize an array of marketing activities but aren’t sure where to concentrate their efforts. From your experience, how do you identify and land your next big customer?
Advice from the CEOs:
Landing large accounts is more of a relationship game than a marketing game. Develop a list of targets. Determine who you want to approach as the key decision maker, and work your own network and those of friends to gain a personal introduction.
If you and your principal target customers have operations overseas try to develop relationships between your and their overseas managers. Social networks abroad can be more accessible than in the US.
If you plan to introduce a new product or service, ask current customers whether they know of anyone who might be interested. This can prompt their interest or get you a significant lead.
Once you identify potential targets, conduct third party surveys of their industries. These can yield valuable insights into your targets’ organization and needs and help you better position your offering.
If a target customer has multiple divisions, initiate a relationship with a single division first and then leverage this relationship to develop additional business across the company. A number of small companies have figured out how to do business with multiple divisions of a single large company.
Trade shows are underutilized by many companies. Schedule meetings with target contacts In advance of the show. Even a simple visit to their booth can lead to a significant meeting. If you have limited resources, simply register as an attendee and use the show to network with potential customers.
Situation: Few economists predict a robust recovery. We know from past recessions that in a slow recovery some companies will fail while others rise to the top. What are the three qualities of the companies that will thrive and become the companies of the future?
Advice from Philippe Courtot:
Companies of the future will have three qualities. The first is a keen sense of who your customers are – what characterizes them and their buying and use decisions. You need to see yourself through their eyes. This will give you the ability to shift more easily as their needs shift. Making this shift is easier for a service company than for a manufacturing company because the infrastructure of a service company is more flexible.
Second is an intense focus on operational excellence. Everything is measured with the objective of obtaining the highest levels of productivity as well as the opportunity for ongoing learning and improvement. The companies of the future will have superior systems for gathering and tracking performance data, as well as cultures which allow them to learn from what they track.
Third is a culture of continuous innovation. The company of the future will be the company disrupting itself. Germany provides a wonderful example because of its culture of excellence in small, family owned companies. You may be surprised to learn that it is these small companies who are the true drivers of German innovation, not the big companies like Daimler or BMW. The small companies follow the three rules outlined here. Their success has been aided by the emphasis in German education on math and engineering which means that there is an ongoing supply of domestic talent to feed these jobs.
Interview with G.K. Sally Solis-Cohen, President, CEO Intronet
Situation: An early stage company is simultaneously undergoing geographic expansion and broadening its network to include new audiences. This mandates finding the right people to run the new opportunities while staying focused on existing operations. How do you stay focused on core operations while building new opportunities?
Advice from Sally Solis-Cohen:
First and foremost, understand your own limitations. Know what you can do, what you can’t, and delegate what you can’t do. This means choosing the right people to whom you can delegate important initiatives. As a start-up you have few people to whom you can delegate. Make sure that they see the opportunity as you do and have the skill and personality sets to handle their responsibilities. The choices that you make in selecting your core team will be critical to your success.
Make sure that your team talks back to you – your need their perspective and feedback, especially when their perspective differs from your own. Listen openly to their ideas. At the same time listen to your customers; they will keep you focused on your business and marketing plans. Focus more on listening, thinking and doing than speaking.
Have a very clear set of priorities and a to-do list. Focus on your A priorities. Delegate the rest. When you’re growing it doesn’t double your work, it quadruples it with travel and extra distractions.
Stay focused on your core value proposition. Keep reminding yourself why you started the business. Observe the validation that you receive from your customers and users. Live your value proposition.
If you are talking to nay-sayers, you’re talking to the wrong people. Surround yourself with positive people who are heading in the same direction that you are and who can present alternate points of view in a positive tone.