Tag Archives: Strategy

What is Appropriate Compensation for a Founder CEO? Four Points

Situation: A founder CEO established her company with a significant personal loan, which is being repaid. To compensate herself for the original investment, she is considering several options including an employee stock option plan (ESOP) through which employees would be able to establish ownership of a certain percent of the company. What is appropriate compensation for a founder CEO?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The critical question is: what is the CEO’s goal? The next question is – what options best serve to achieve goal?
    • If the goal is long-term goal is maintaining or increasing current income combined with long-term security – like a Trust Fund – seek the counsel of a financial advisor who can help model how the options under consideration will satisfy the goal.
    • This individual can also evaluate the tax advantages associated with various options.
  • Is there a clear exit strategy in place?
    • Every company needs a written exit strategy, as well as a plan to put this strategy into action.
    • The simple existence of a strategy and a plan does not preclude adjusting either the strategy or the plan as conditions or opportunities change.
  • There are two important corollary points:
    • Having a strategy and plan is the only way to build a structure of accountability within the company; and
    • Recalling a lesson from Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great, the successful companies selected a solid strategy and stuck with it; the less successful comparators continually changed strategy and never allowed momentum to build.
  • To assist establishing an exit strategy, seek the advice of one or two consultants. There are several highly qualified exit advisors that can be researched through current professional contacts or via the Internet.

How Do You Prepare for an Acquisition? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is purchasing another company to expand its product offering. The CEO is concerned that the employees need to stay focused through the closing date. He is also concerned about retaining key employees both of his company and the company that he is buying. How do you prepare for an acquisition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Until the deal closes, don’t change anything about your current direction.
  • As you negotiate and move to close, be mindful of competitive bids.
    • This will help to keep the deal in place.
    • It may also open the option to put together the deal and then seek competitive bids to fund the deal through private equity groups.
  • Get three second opinions – learn what could go wrong with this deal so that you can plan and anticipate.
  • To assure that you retain key staff take the following steps:
    • Hire consultants: HR, financial, see what they recommend.
    • Offer key employers favorably priced options for a combined minority position in the company. This offers them an upside and will be an effective retention package.
  • What else can be done to retain key employees.
    • Let them know how this acquisition will position the company as the Dream Team company in your space.
    • Explain how this acquisition gets the company closer to a true exit strategy which will be financially beneficial to them.
  • If you can assure key employees that they will not experience any change in their job, title, responsibilities or compensation, retention may not be an issue.

Do You Merge, Sell or Revive a Business? Four Areas of Focus

Situation: A company is at a crossroads. They are no longer growing as they have in past years. The CEO is assessing alternatives including a merger, selling the company or restructuring. What are the essential questions to determine whether you merge, sell or revive a business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Do you really have the information to determine whether it makes sense to merge, sell or revive the business? The questions to ask are:
    • Is your core competency important?
    • Do you have the talent required to revive the business?
    • How much of your business is from repeat customers?
    • Is your platform still being used by a significant number of companies, and are they likely to shift their software soon?
    • If the answers are favorable, then the only remaining question is whether you have the energy and inclination to continue.
  • Having developed a profitable business model, why would you give up control or ownership?
    • Tighten up the business by focusing on the basics and turn the company around.
    • Identify where you can make money, and
    • Determine which portions of the business need to be restructured or eliminated.
    • Essential questions are:
      • Do you have a clear picture of where the profitability lies within the business?
      • Do you have a clear statement of your key competitive advantage – your “Main Thing”?
      • Can you establish a pricing strategy that pays you fairly for the value you provide?
  • Look at bench time among current employees.
    • Identify, and fully utilize the most important contributors, perhaps by giving them additional responsibilities in other areas.
    • See that all retained employees are fully utilized.
    • Eliminate those who are on the bench the most, or transform them into contractors so that you only pay for active time.
    • Utilize contractors to fill the “full service” slots that are important to your service offering but which do not contribute significantly to your bottom line.
  • Most importantly, reformat your role so that you are doing that which you truly enjoy. Your own enthusiasm and passion are the most important long-term drivers for your business, and will be the most important motivators to your staff.

How Do You Get Managers to Honestly Rate Teams? Seven Points

Situation: A company is preparing for end of year reviews. They use several performance measures to evaluation employee performance, including 360 Reviews. The challenge is that both managers and peers tend to rate everyone at the highest levels – even though everyone knows that this is not valid. How do you get managers to honestly rate their teams?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a common problem for companies. The central issue is that managers want to get on well with their teams, and may fear that giving someone a less than stellar review will impact individual and team performance. You have to change both the perspective and the methodology.
    • Start with the basics. Performance reviews are about communication and documentation.
    • Expectations should be based on an up-to-date Job Description for the position.
    • Job Descriptions should address skills, expertise and behavior. Clarity and specificity are essential.
    • They should anticipate growth, and include standards of performance to measure growth.
    • To prepare for a review meeting, the manager rates the employee against the standards specified in the Job Description, as well as any objectives established in past reviews. The employee self-rates against the same measures.
    • Following the review meeting, the manager must document the discussion and objectives for the next period set during the meeting. The employee reviews and signs this document.
  • For managers, a key performance measure is quality and substance of reviews.
  • Besides individual reviews, have your managers rank their people 1 to X along several metrics:
    • Team performance
    • Reliability on the job
    • High or low maintenance
  • Use zero based thinking: Knowing what I do now, would I hire this employee for their current position?
  • Align the review process with the company’s goals.
  • Do a total ranking among company employees. Tell managers that those ranking last place(s) must be upgraded. The CEO approves the final ranking.

How Do You Handle a Side Project? Two Considerations

Situation: An early principal of a company has done a lot of work on a product that no longer fits the company’s business strategy and focus. The CEO wants to reward this individual for past work. An arrangement could include equity plus a big chunk of whatever this individual can make marketing the product that he created. What is the best way to handle this side project?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There may be benefits to working with this individual as proposed. Letting the individual play in his own sub-market gives you an additional customer and may lead to interesting but yet unknown opportunities. Take care that this does not impact critical timelines for the company’s principal strategy.
  • A set of guidelines for this arrangement may include:

o    No grant of additional stock in the company – the opportunity to pursue the project should be sufficient incentive.

o    Keep this side project as company property.

o    Give the individual a sizable chunk of any revenue that he can gain from the product.

o    Task the individual to manage and solve technical challenges so that this does not impact company priorities.

o    Retain control of timelines and quality sign-off so that this project does not conflict with your higher priorities.

o    Give the individual sufficient support so that he is more likely to succeed.

  • Are there concerns regarding brand risk?

o    Draft an agreement to allow this project to operate cleanly and treat the principal an early small customer. Define the requirements of the project, release timelines, and branding options so that they do not interfere with the company’s larger goals.

How Do You Recruit Outside Board Members? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company wants to recruit outside members to its Board of Directors. Currently, all Board members are founders except for a single early investor. How do you recruit outside Board members?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Board Member selection is a strategic matter. You want to have people on your Board who have done what you want to do strategically with the company.
  • A Board does not run the company. Board Members provide input and perspective to help the CEO make better choices while running the company.
  • Board Members have fiduciary responsibility – to the Shareholders, the government (to assure that the company is being run legally), to customers, to employees, and to vendors. Their role is to assure that the company does what it says it plans to do.
  • How affordable are Board Members?
    • Stock options are very feasible if you have little cash to pay salaries. Much will have to do with the prospective member’s buying into your vision.
    • You will need to secure Directors and Officers Insurance for Board Members – $3K+ per year per member.
    • The rationale behind payment in stock is for Board Members to have the same incentives for company success as shareholders.
  • Target remuneration of Board Members is, for a pre-IPO company $100K per year if the company is successful, but if not then $100K over 5 years. Members of the Audit Committee are generally paid about double what other Board Members receive.
  • Is there a downside of having numerous minor shareholders?
    • Not really, except perhaps nuisance. You run the company. As long as you retain majority share ownership, Board members can only advise.
  • Sitting on another Board is one of the best ways to improve your own abilities as CEO. Advising another CEO on how to run their company is a learning experience.

Special thanks for input on this topic to Bill Rusher, founder of Rusher, Loscavio and LoPresto.

What Leads in Building Brand Focus? Five Factors

Situation: A company faces a question branding a new product – what should lead the branding focus: product design or product attributes that will be an eventual part of the branding strategy? Which should lead in building brand focus?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two areas of focus – each an important part of the overall trademark and branding strategy:
    • A distinct name or symbol, for example Amazon.com or eBay, will gain the right kind of attention and be easy for potential customers to remember. The prime risk here is stepping on someone else’s mark.
    • Your overall branding strategy. The point here is not confusing your customers. Marketing people will advise you to KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid! One tack is simplifying the complexity of technology.
  • It is important to develop a consistent set of product attributes – one that you know through research will resonate with your client base – before your Alpha launch. It is dangerous to conduct an Alpha launch without clarity on this point. Subtleties of the eventual brand do not need to be finalized, but the overall framework of key product attributes should be consistent and clear from the beginning.
  • Design and the development of important product attributes ideally take place in synch with each other. Positioning will depend on your audience, and the unique needs and expectations of the audience.
  • The name itself could be important. Being clear and easy to spell may be important. Test alternative names for this trait.

Are Your Folks Getting Offers from Others? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company’s employees are increasingly getting offers from other companies. They believe that they have a good team, a good work environment and offer a competitive pay and benefit package. However, they are concerned that the job market in Silicon Valley is heating up. How do you keep your employees on-board when they start receiving offers from others?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make sure that your wage and benefit scale continues to be competitive. The Silicon Valley Index, published by Assets Unlimited in Campbell, is the best local survey covering Silicon Valley and the San Francisco technology market.
  • Survey after survey finds that compensation is basically a hygiene factor – it has to be good enough so that needs are satisfied, but it isn’t one of the more important factors in retention. The Gallup Organization has determined that respect, challenging responsibilities, and personal recognition are much more important factors in employee retention. Be sure that you are actively involving your key personnel as leaders in formulating and updating your processes, and that there are plenty of opportunities for recognition and celebration for your staff.
  • If you are generating a profit, share this with the employees as an incentive. This may well be better spent in fun and team-building activities like a weekend in Tahoe for a team, or supporting their creative needs by sponsoring their efforts in engineering design competitions. Whatever is appropriate for your company, involve your employees in setting company performance goals and give them a voice in determining how achievement should be rewarded. Making them part of the process builds better long-term loyalty.
  • On the sales side, establish a reward incentive structure for bringing in new business for the company to prompt field personnel to develop and exercise their business development skills.
  • Whatever you and your team decide, be sure that your choices support your overall strategic plan.

How Do You Develop Leaders and Managers? Five Factors

A company has focused on developing future leaders and managers. They do this both to increase their managerial and leadership bench strength and to boost employee retention. What has worked for you in developing managers and leaders?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Trying to make a leader doesn’t work. Leadership is a trait, not a skill. Leaders can arise from anywhere within the organization. An effective CEO recognizes this and works with both the leaders and the managers, whatever their position.
  • The Gallup Organization found that exceptional managers and exceptional leaders are not often the same people. Usually, the best managers are people who excel at bringing out the best in their employees, but may not be either visionary or strategic thinkers. Leaders, on the other hand are those to whom others look to for guidance and direction. Good leaders know how to identify and delegate to good managers.
  • Identify and develop strengths within your people; don’t try to fix weaknesses.
    • Gallup found that talented people have identified and developed their strengths. Instead of fixing weaknesses they find ways to work around weaknesses so that they are not harmed by them.
  • Use informal mentoring. Assign mentors to employees, and include cross-departmental mentor assignment to extend skills development, as well as managerial and leadership development.
    • Ask mentors to report progress to the CEO on occasional basis.
  • As you develop your talent pipeline, track the number of employees added to the pipeline per year as a key company metric. As an additional metric, look at the number of individuals in your pipeline compared with the number that you believe you need to fill future needs.

How Can You Reestablish a Key Partner Relationship? Four Suggestions

Situation: A company has a long-standing relationship with key partner which has become strained for the last 9 months due to a combination of conditions. The partner’s Board recently terminated their CEO and their management is now in flux. Is there an opportunity to reestablish the old relationship by approaching the partner’s Board and how would you go about reestablishing this key partner relationship?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • At this point, the Board of the partner is likely focused on selecting a successor to the CEO, and dealing with internal matters in the interim. It may not be timely to approach them now, as they may dismiss your entreaty as a distraction.
  • If this tactic is to work, you will need a champion within the partner to promote reestablishment of the relationship. Try to identify such a person and approach them individually instead of approaching the full Board. The champion may be a Board member or someone with whom the Board has a strong relationship. This carries less risk than approaching the full Board. If the champion is not receptive, your likelihood of success with the full Board is slim.
  • Is there a past President or senior executive of the partner company with whom you have very good relations? An individual like this can act as a quasi-third party to help you to reestablish relationships with the Board or key management of the partner company.
  • Because of the risk involved, it may be best to do this quietly through a party whom the potential champion will respect and listen to, and take the lead from the champion if this individual is supportive of your cause.