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Finger in every pot

Scenario:

Guy starts a software company in his garage, targeting a market he knows pretty well.  He teaches himself BASIC programming, and the resulting product is successful...

Fast forward ten years.  The founder is now CEO.  The product has advanced, and whole new products have been made for the market.  Products now in C++, etc., with a dozen programmers.  Founder has long since bowed out of programming.  However, despite having hired a product manager, development manager, etc, he feels a need to be very involved with the product.  He consistently "helps out", overruling the product manager and development manager.  He means well, and has the best interest of the customer at heart, but employees have learned that if they disagree with their manager on something, all they need to do is pull the founder aside and gee-whiz him into agreeing.  This is particularly true with the more senior folks, who have long since learned exactly how to flip the CEO.

It's a good company with good people that are trying to do their best, but since the founder is constantly worrying about the details, there isn't much long range planning going on.  This leads to more detail work, since there wasn't any anticipation of needs.  Quality and deadlines suffer.  It's not just a technie thing, since the same thing happens in sales and marketing.

Its a common story, I'm told, part of most growing businesses.  Has anyone learned how to adapt themselves to the pattern, or convince the founder that he can't continue to have his finger in every pot?  I fear the best advice is "move on and let it die".

LetItBe?
Thursday, November 08, 2001

Ask the managers he hired and seems to trust to tell him to go have a couple of talks with a psychiatrist. That would help him understand that he must let his child leave home for college :-)

Frederic Faure
Friday, November 09, 2001

It sounds like the founder and the company would be better off if someone else were CEO and the founder had a different role. That will probably only happen if you have a strong board of directors. In small companies, a lot of boards consist only of friends of the CEO and meet the minimum number of times each year necessary to comply with state law. A real board of directors will meet quarterly and is usually chaired by someone other than the CEO.

You probably only have a strong board if you have outside funding.

If you have a strong board, either talk to the chair yourself, or talk to someone who knows the chair well about the problems. Depending on your relationship with the founder, you might want to talk to the founder about your concerns first. When talking to the board, don't completely slam the founder. Make sure that you point out his good qualities too.

After this is raised with the board, don't expect instant results. It will probably take several months and may even take a crisis before something happens.

The founder will consider your actions disloyal. Your actions will be disloyal to him personally, but are loyal to the company.

Michael Bean
Friday, November 09, 2001

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