Monday, February 11, 2013
I often end up in the same conversation with ambitious entrepreneurs. They want to run their own business... they have an idea, or are frustrated with their current position, they are building a plan to get to being CEO of their own company and they want advice.
Thursday evening I was in just such a conversation with a talented pending entrepreneur - and it's a coaching moment. Before you get too wedded to the idea it's important to think through how long you plan to be CEO for. 2 years, 5 years, 10 years... or as long as it takes.
The reality is that unless you are fired by your board, or your company's life ends (by being acquired or failing), this is the last job you'll ever have. You don't get to just quit when you don't like it any more - too many employees and investors and customers depend on you. It's not hard to think about staying with your company "forever" when it's an exciting new startup that you believe in. But it's important to think through how you'll feel if it's not i.e. if it's not meeting your expectations.
It seems a romantic idea to run a company but I have seen a few CEOs really struggle in the long haul with their spouse's lack of support, worry about their long term income prospects, their need to pay for kids college fees and the long term effects on their health when the company they dreamed of doesn't happen.
It's very important before you sign up to lead a company, whether it's yours, an existing founder's or a spin out to be sure you have the ability to stick with it as long as you are needed. Don't do it unless you can see yourself sticking it out no matter the outcome. But if you can visualize yourself in the saddle for more than 10 years then go for it!
p.s. Clearly this isn't the case if you are the CEO of a public company. In that case the turnover rate is high in the first 2 years, and on average it's now 8.4 years, but in the public company case there are established processes for succession planning so it's easier to move on if you want to.