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.
Situation: An early stage company is preparing for an IPO. The founder and Board have selected a new CEO with experience taking companies public. How do you facilitate a CEO transition, and how can the founder best position himself to support the new CEO?
Advice from the CEOs:
Get clear on your own strengths and desired primary responsibilities, but prepare to be flexible in negotiating responsibilities with the new CEO. For example, if the founder’s strengths are marketing, IP and early stage fund raising, see how these compliment the strengths of the new CEO. Then select a title which will allow you to leverage your strengths without impinging on the focus of the new individual. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself with your new title; keep it as broad as possible, for example Executive Vice President.
If you, as the founder, have a good long-term relationship with your VCs and the Board this will be one of your strengths. Be prepared to counsel the new CEO on individual personalities and objectives of this group. The CEO will form him own relationship with the VCs and Board over time.
Chemistry between the founder and new CEO will be very important. The job of the new CEO is to captain the ship. Your new job is to be a superior first mate.
It appears that you have an excellent learning opportunity. Learn as much as possible from the new CEO as well as the experience of the IPO process.
To smooth the transition personally between the two of you, take the opportunity to tell the CEO that you believe that the Board made the best choice and that you look forward to the opportunity to learn from him. This might be best done outside of the office, for example taking the new CEO to dinner.
Maintain your relationship with the key VCs on the Board. Let them know about your future ambitions and that if the right opportunity opens up in one of their portfolio companies, you could be interested.
Situation: A company has hired a new employee with excellent skills who reports to a Director. This person is a self starter who prefers little supervision. Friction is starting to develop between the new employee and the Director. How do you resolve this conflict?
Advice from the CEOs:
This person was hired for their talent. However a successful hire takes account of talent, but also role, cultural fit, organizational placement and the needs of the company.
For example, if this person is strong in operations but they are now in client services, is this the right role?
Similarly, if the culture of the office emphasizes teamwork, collaboration and support, is this the right culture for this individual?
Be cautious before tweaking the org chart to create a new role for this person..
Consider both your current staff and the new person. You may be creating additional conflict if your actions appear as favoritism.
The dominant factor is YOUR plan. If the employee is wrong, replace the employee.
If an employee can’t get along with others it is a difficult situation to repair.
When you meet with the employee what should be said?
First, don’t try to solve the situation before you have a clear strategy.
Question and listen. “You’ve been with us a short time, and I want to check in with you. What do you think of your role?” Let the employee talk, probe for clarification of what is said. Take note of what is said. Acknowledge any requests but indicate that you will put them under advisement.
Do the same in discussion with the Director.
The key is that you are in control. Look at your objectives, and where you fit resources best within the org chart. Once you have your plan, communicate it.
Interview with Eric Bauswell, President, SurfaceInk
Situation: For a domestic engineering solutions company, one of the challenges is engaging potential customers with the idea that a domestic solution can cost-effectively meet their needs. If you can combine a manufacturing solution to the service solution, this helps. What have you done to effectively communicate your solution to potential clients?
Know your clients. Clients have expertise of their own. However, they may lack expertise in all the disciplines necessary to create a full product. How will you fill the gap?
Know your strengths.
Design is an iterative development process. If you increase process efficiency you can complete more process cycles in a given timeframe, advancing to final product more quickly.
Identify your key differentiators. Target clients for whom your differentiator is a critical need. For example, we do not encourage all of our clients to manufacture overseas, but if they insist and lack experience managing overseas vendors, we can handle this for them.
Consistency of personnel across the life of a project is important, particularly the core team.
“Invention & Innovation” require a plan to mitigate the risk they represent. Develop the design along parallel paths, stage higher risk components or pieces of the design that represent critical path inventions such that they are proven prior to moving forward, or even take that feature out of the current design in order to develop it to a production ready solution for the next product on the client roadmap. Sometimes an invention or innovation is THE reason for the new product. In these cases the key is managing the client’s expectations regarding the significantly elevated risks that come with invention and proceeding with the understanding that the phase gates and even the production dates will slide according to the progress against developing that critical path invention or innovation.
Expertise in material selection and understanding what can be done with materials in the manufacturing process is non-trivial, as is vendor qualification, particularly with new materials.
Know your competitors. How do they handle similar challenges to those that you face?
Know your vendors. “Right-sizing” your contract manufacturer to your client’s product is important. Things will go wrong, and you must assure that the contract manufacturer will give you the priority to get things back on track to meet your launch date.
Situation: The CEO questions whether he is the right person to lead the Company. The Company has solid revenues and profitability, but growth is lower than expected. How can the CEO improve his situation and solidify his leadership?
Advice from the CEOs:
The primary functions of the CEO are to assure the maintenance of company values, to provide vision, and to monitor resource allocation within the company.
Identify your strengths, and the most important areas where you need help. Create an organizational chart not of positions but of strengths that are needed within the company. Compare these positions with your own strengths, and focus your own activities on your strengths. Promote or hire talent to support you in the latter areas.
As you hire or promote and delegate, make sure that you are allowing those with new responsibility the latitude to run their areas of responsibility.
Should I consider hiring a CEO or COO?
Maybe. If you do, first identify the key leadership traits that we most want to see in a candidate.
If you hire a CEO, this individual should have skin in the game. They must be perceived as a leader, and there must be a clean hand-off.
Consider hiring a COO. This can be someone willing to take this role with the understanding that your long-term objective is to replace yourself as CEO. A person unwilling to come on as COO and to develop into the CEO may not be the right candidate.