This CEO’s Reason For Stepping Down Will Surprise You

randfishkin-2400pxI was doing some reading recently and came across an article about a CEO/Founder of a very successful company who was deciding to step down as leader. Now this isn’t overly newsworthy on its own but what makes the story interesting is his reasons why.

Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz just doesn’t love his job anymore and felt “poorly suited, especially from an emotional resiliency perspective” to handle it.

It takes a big person to admit that and a bigger one to do something about it. As much as he loves the company he helped build and bring to success (in a fiercely competitive industry), he wasn’t enjoying the journey from 75 to 135 employees as much as the one from 10 to 75.

Who can blame him? The startup culture eventually fades away once the realization comes along that a more corporate culture is necessary to continue growth. Along with that come the typical bureaucracy, HR, conflict resolution, process and system building and many other things that Fishkin admits to not being prepared for when talking to Entrepreneur Magazine recently.

Founder Syndrome or Something Bigger?

I personally don’t think that a founder needs to leave their business nor do I believe there is a right or wrong time for them to leave their business. Founders are entrepreneurs.  Just because you’re an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you understand how to run a big business.

When you think about being the entrepreneur of a business and being responsible for moving the business forward, does that mean that you must be the CEO?

Not necessarily, it means that you need to be the visionary of the business.

There could be a problem as you continue to grow the business: when and will you have enough resources to allow other people to run your company while you maintain the vision?

You Can’t Do It All

You might find that you lack the time or energy to put out the vision while moving the company forward because it’s growing so fast and you’re forced to deal with a lot of crap. You’re stuck dealing with HR, payables, cash flow and all these other important tasks that feel like such a burden.

The reality is that most people do not have the skills to handle all these different areas.

Just because somebody is skilled at coming up with great ideas that work within a certain industry does not mean they can run a business, less so a very large and fast growing business.   It also does not mean that they will succeed at running this part of the business, they may have no passion for it.

When It’s Time To Move On

The right time to pass that torch on is as soon as you recognize you are beyond your expertise and you have the resources to allow somebody else to help you. You can do that by:

  • Hiring a CEO as an employee
  • Bringing in another owner
  • Hiring an advisor from outside

No matter which route you choose, there are lots of different ways to deal with that situation. The bottom line is that you can pay people to run a business but you can’t pay people to come up with the vision. Dare I say we are learning that from Apple since the loss of Steve Jobs…

Separating Vision From Managing Logistics

As an entrepreneur and founder of the company, when the company gets too big for their comfort is when they can no longer see how their vision goes beyond it. When the entrepreneur no longer has vision for the company is exactly when I start to get concerned. When you as an entrepreneur are getting tired or the company has gone above and beyond your vision for it, that’s when it is time to start thinking about what your position really is inside the business.

If the answer is that you no longer fit in the company, you no longer have the passion to continue or perhaps it has outgrown your vision, then maybe it is time to step back and let someone with a new vision take the company to the next level. Sometimes it’s necessary to give yourself a pat on the back and call it a day.

Besides, it’s probably of benefit for you to stick around in an advisory role to continue giving advice and additional vision as the company grows. In the case of Rand Fishkin, that worked out as a win-win for everyone in the end.

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