After decades in the business of finding and fitting executives for organizations, I have had more than a few painful lessons branded into my backside. One relates to the risks of assuming certain responsibilities in entrepreneur-led firms.
We were once invited to present our qualifications to an entrepreneur who was launching a search for a Vice-President of Sales. The context was described as one of ‘natural progression’. The business was growing nicely and the time had come for the founder/CEO to extricate himself from certain day to day responsibilities. Though the firm had built a functioning sales team the founder/CEO admitted that he still found himself involved in almost all of the deals that closed. The board was strongly suggesting that the founder/CEO find a capable VP of Sales, relinquish his day to day involvement with the function and focus on matters of strategy and general management.
We won the search and recruited what we considered outstanding candidates with the requisite experience, track record and disposition. We were careful to screen for experience working with entrepreneurs along with the requisite ‘thick skin’ and low ego that tends to be needed to make such relationships work. An individual was hired who by all accounts should have been a great success.
He lasted two years. When we subsequently debriefed with the candidate, the HR Director, the founder/CEO and several of the board members we concluded the following…
- Be very wary replacing an entrepreneur in his or her dominant domain. If you are hired by a sales oriented, outward-facing entrepreneur to manage finance, engineering or operations, while you will have to fight to prove you have the right stuff, there is at least a chance that the entrepreneur will eventually direct his attention to other areas of the business. In other words, trust and independence are possibilities. On the other hand, if you are hired by a sales oriented entrepreneur to run sales the odds are exceedingly high that the entrepreneur will struggle to relinquish a heavy involvement in that function. Despite being hired to drive and mature the function, you can expect what seems like endless micromanagement and second-guessing. Many will quit in frustration while others will surrender to the situation extending their stay until the entrepreneur tires of the lack of progress in maturing the function, which is in effect still being run by him or her. The failure which awaits this downward spiral will always be attributed to the ‘poor hire’.
- Be very clear to determine whether the decision to hire was the entrepreneur’s or the Board of Director’s. If it is the former it will be exceedingly difficult, if it is the latter, it will be mission impossible.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.