Agony Lance: The big guns

Agony Lance: The big guns
How do you know when the time is right to hand over the reins to a professional CEO?

When should founders ‘liberate’ themselves from the business and bring in a professional CEO? Brad Booysen (@bradbooysen

I speak to a lot of younger founders who believe they’re unable to stay with the company as it grows, but also on the other hand, I also speak to founders who insist that they will be the ones to take their baby into the stratosphere. The air is thin up there, and in both cases the right answer is probably, ‘I’m not sure, but I’m willing to give it a go, and to step aside if required’.

With their wide remit, fast pace of growth and constant change, many founders don’t appreciate that their pace of learning is well beyond that of others in the corporate world who may have better CVs. The best founders will take a breath now and then, and have a solid board, management team and other advisors around them who will give advice where required.

The very best, and there are quite a few, don’t need to be advised twice, and are characterised by their rate of learning as well as their focus on the overall goal. That goal, as I see it, is to be the champion of the customer cause and the mission of the company, and to be the guiding light for the staff, investors and customers.

Vaughan Rowsell from Vend and Rod Drury from Xero exemplify this, with Rowsell even having a ‘tip’ jar on his desk where he is supposed to place $10 each time he commits code to the product. (Or perhaps he is just a lousy coder.)

With each growth phase transition, the role of the CEO changes, gradually becoming more and more removed from day-to-day activity and with increasing emphasis on management processes, staff, external relations and investors.

That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and at some stage it may be good to have the self-awareness and take on board the advice that it’s time to move on, or perhaps sideways. Try to promote a replacement from within if you can – they understand the culture and the cause, but if the company has lost sight of that, then it may be time to look for experienced hands elsewhere.

Lance Wiggs is a business consultant and acts as agony aunt for distressed Idealog readers. Get inside his head at or ask him a question @lancewiggs.

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