When I started my first company at age 26, I’ll admit, it was lonely. Even though we were only a team of six, there was a clear dividing line between me as founder and CEO, and my staff.
I learned how to pull in expert help, but I had a lingering feeling over the years that I took the business more seriously than anyone else on the team. Especially cash flow. And making payroll. Eventually I built a successful company, but not until hitting every pothole I could find. Hindsight is 20-20, but an executive-level leader alongside me would have spared so much pain.
This was my driving force to becoming an interim executive myself. Helping owners and founders to get over hurdles that, left to their own devices, would take years to master, and in many cases skills they didn’t otherwise need or enjoy. I focused on high growth tech companies, getting them to market and eventually for M&A events that would bring extraordinary returns to investors.
This is still what drives us today at InterimExecs: to empower companies to reach their full potential by building world-class leadership. Whatever it takes to accomplish projects, goals, growth initiatives, or in some cases fixing what’s broken.
I’ve had the good fortune of talking to a lot of owners and executives over the years, and the universal advice from all great founders is that you have to hire better than yourself. Some of the advice from these conversations:
Have a Strong Foundation
Mahendra Vora, founder of Intelliseek, said the key to his success was having his first five key hires empowered to each hire five great people. Five led to 25, which then led to 125, and ultimately a business that would be worth $100 million.
Find a Good Partner
We laud champion founders like Steve Jobs – and sometimes overlook his partner Steve Wozniak. Walt Disney gets the limelight, brother Roy Disney waits in the wings. Rarely does a solo individual really accomplish much alone. Bill Gates had Paul Allen and then Steve Ballmer. Brian Sullivan, inventor of the PUR water filter, graduated college with a liberal arts degree and credits his first engineering hire as a key partner in all his water filter technology successes. Even if it doesn’t involve equity, great company builders nurture key internal partnerships.
Stay in Touch
Dane Miller had the rare distinction of growing Biomet faster than Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway over a 25 year period, ultimately building a $12 billion company that launched the worldwide artificial hip and knee industry. Despite massive success, Dane would occasionally drive the company bus, anonymously schlepping employees around the campus or picking up job applicants from the airport. And he insisted that all employees, from the C-suite down to the janitorial staff, have equity in the company. His touch kept him human and down to earth.
The misuse of the term “interim” especially in the US is due to a wrong idea that you can only bring in great leadership by kicking someone out. The truth is far from it. Most great engagements involve additions to the team, not subtraction. The strength of the business model is its flexibility and additive quality, regardless of business size.